BILLS: Primary Industries Levies and Charges Collection Amendment Bill 2016, second reading

t is always good to follow the member for Hinkler, the Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister. I listened closely to his contribution. I tell you what, it was a lot better than the member for Hunter's effort earlier in this debate. I heard the member for Hinkler say quite clearly that, for every dollar of research and development levy money spent, $13 goes back to the farmer and $30 goes back to the wider community—and he is so right. R&D is so important, and that is why it is crucial that the Primary Industries Levies and Charges Collection Amendment Bill 2016 be passed by this parliament. This bill amends the Primary Industries Levies and Charges Collection Act 1991 to allow for the distribution of levy payer information to rural research and development corporations, RDCs, for the development of levy payer registers.

Just as I listened carefully to the member for Hinkler, while sitting in my office a short while ago I also listened very carefully to the member for Hunter, the so-called shadow minister for agriculture, who rubbished the decentralisation of research and development corporations to regional areas. He ought to be sticking up for regional areas. He ought to be advocating for decentralisation. He is one of the alleged Country Labor members. You would think he would be coming into this place and talking up decentralisation, talking up the relocation of RDCs to rural and regional areas.                 

I have to say that Wagga Wagga, my home town, is the beneficiary of one of these decentralised projects. Wagga Wagga, on 10 February this year, was announced as the new home of a dozen jobs in the core function of the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, RIRDC, in a shake-up announced by the federal government. I welcomed the announcement.                

Mr Champion: I bet you did!                

Mr McCORMACK: I did, Member for Wakefield. Of course I did. It is jobs. You stick up for jobs in your electorate, as you should, as I do—any jobs. When it was announced, it was a dozen jobs. That might not mean much, but I tell you what, it is 12 large pay packets. It is 12 professionals. When 12 professionals of that ilk move into a city the size of Wagga Wagga—admittedly it is 66,000 people; it is a good sized city—they bring not just 12 large pay packets. Quite often they bring two or three kids, who go into the Catholic or public schools. They end up getting involved in school parents and citizens associations. They get involved in local Rotary clubs, Lions clubs and sporting groups. They contribute so much to our community. Not only was it a dozen jobs, Member for Wakefield, but, on 5 March it became 21 jobs, because there were nine additional jobs with that particular RIRDC. So there were 21 jobs in total. They will provide a very much welcome boost not just to Wagga Wagga but to the wider Riverina region.                 

Everyone in this place ought to know, because I have talked about it often enough—goodness knows the member for Barker has heard me say it often enough—that our region is a proud and productive agricultural hub. This commitment by the coalition government, by the Nationals in government, builds upon the region's leading agriculture research at places such as Charles Sturt University—what a marvellous institution that is—as well as ensuring more government agencies are on the ground in the regions and closer to the places where our food and fibre are grown and produced. When it comes to food and fibre, the Riverina is a leader.                 

Decentralisation is not just an abstract idea; it is a real priority for this government. It is a significant priority for the Nationals in government. The 10 February announcement is living proof of our election commitment being put into action, with a dozen jobs and then, on 5 March, an additional nine jobs—21 jobs in total.                 

The formerly Canberra based RIRDC is going to increase its regional presence. When I say 'formerly based', they will still have a presence in Canberra, in the nation's capital, but they will now be extending that to boost jobs and opportunities and prosperity in places such as Wagga Wagga, Dubbo, the electorate of the member for Parkes—what a wonderful representative he is—Toowoomba, the electorate of the member for Groom and other areas. These RDCs are focused on rural research, including grains, fisheries, aquaculture—small and emerging industries—and are taking advantage of the National Innovation and Science Agenda that this government is fostering, enhancing and making a significant financial contribution to. So it just makes good sense to locate them away from Canberra where the boots actually hit the dirt in their respective sectors. I am very pleased that 21 jobs are coming Wagga Wagga's way.                

I listened carefully, as I said, to the member for Hunter's contribution. I did not hear him talk about foreign investment. Foreign investment is good—it made this country great and it continues to make this country prosper—but it has to be in the national interest. I have to say, when Labor has a policy to have $1,000 million being the trigger point at which the Foreign Investment Review Board would look into the foreign takeover of an agribusiness or farmland, I worry. The people I serve worry. The people I represent worry.                

Mr Champion: You worry?                

Mr McCORMACK: I do worry about that, member for Wakefield and you should too. We do not need foreign takeovers that decide what the price of our wheat or our rice is going to be in a boardroom in, for argument's sake, Illinois in the United States of America. We need to have control over our agribusinesses right here in Australia. Sure, foreign capital is welcomed. It always has been. As I said, it has made this country great. But, when the Labor Party has a foreign investment takeover policy that does not even offer a trigger to FIRB until it actually passes the billion-dollar mark, I worry. I know a lot of the people out there on their tractors or in the shearing sheds, working hard and listening to parliament and to this speech—and they do—and a lot of people who will be reading the Hansard are concerned, as they ought to be.                

The member for Hunter is very anti-Nationals. I cannot understand why. He should be getting on board with some of the policies, if he were a fair dinkum country representative. If he were fair dinkum about agriculture, he should actually be endorsing and not rubbishing many of the policies—indeed, all of the policies—that the Nationals bring to the table. We have produced many achievements in just 2½ years of being in government, including abolishing the carbon tax and the mining tax, those job-destroying and regional-Australia-destroying taxes. We have signed preferential trade agreements with South Korea, Japan and our largest trading partner, China. They are very, very important.                

We are unlocking the logjam of Commonwealth environmental laws which are impeding rural, remote and regional growth. We have a drought support package—a comprehensive package supporting farmers, particularly those in north-west New South Wales and Queensland areas which have not seen rain for a considerable amount of time. We recommenced the live export of sheep, cattle and goats to such countries as Bahrain, Iran and Egypt, while rebuilding the live cattle trade with Indonesia. Wasn't that a disaster. Wasn't that an absolute diplomatic disaster. It was an economic disaster. Honestly, to do that over just a television program was an absolute disgrace and one of the worst decisions that many people have seen. It is not just me saying it; many, many people are saying it. It was one of the worst decisions that this parliament has perpetrated on the hardworking cattle producers of this country.                

The National Stronger Regions Fund is already rolling out money to regional Australia. The Roads to Recovery Program enables the food and the fibre to be taken from regional areas to export markets. I did not hear the member for Hunter talking much about those—we provided $565 million in our first year alone to black spots on roads. When I talk about black spots, I also refer to the significant amount of money—tens of millions of dollars—being spent on mobile black spots. Not one cent was spent on mobile black spots during the six sorry years of Labor.                

I am so glad that in my electorate we are finally funding the Bridges Renewal Program. I say 'finally', because Margaret Merrylees, a councillor and a wonderful local government representative for the Murrumbidgee Shire, has fought hard for a new bridge over the Murrumbidgee at Carrathool for many, many years—decades, in fact. Finally, this government, in conjunction with Duncan Gay and his New South Wales coalition government, are funding that bridge.                

At the Gobarralong in Gundagai Shire, there is another new bridge. Just recently, I announced funding for Eunony Bridge, which is a vital linkage to the Bomen industrial area at Wagga Wagga City Council. These are all important linkages which are all providing value or eliminating road network pinch points. I could also talk about the Kapooka Bridge—this side of government provided $27½ million for that. They are all important. They are linking in with primary industry research and development, which is so significant. We have provided hundreds of millions of dollars for the heavy vehicle safety projects.                

I hear those opposite so often condemning the 2014 budget, but it contained $100 million for rural research and development, $15 million to support market access and $20 million in extra money for biosecurity. I have to say that biosecurity was ignored under Labor. I made a trip to New Zealand—a self-funded trip, mind you—to ensure that the potential apple blight did not come across from New Zealand apples and onto those fine orchards of Batlow. When the Asian honey bee incursion threatened our fine honey producers, what did Labor do? Nothing. Absolutely diddly-squat. They did not care, they did not know and they did not want to know.                

I was very pleased to take part in the turning of the soil at Mickleham, in the member for McEwen's electorate. I have to give him credit: he was there too and he was a supporter of the post-entry biosecurity facility just near Melbourne Airport. They are the sorts of things that our government is getting on with and doing in the R&D space in rural Australia.                

The northern Australia push has been complemented by this government looking after southern Australia. Just recently, last August, farmers and irrigators in my area were told that they were going to share in $263.5 million of on-farm irrigation in New South Wales, particularly around the Coleambally area. I had the chief executive officer of Snowy Hydro, Paul Broad, a former guru with Infrastructure New South Wales, in my office this morning. He was praising the work that they do there and the fact that every single drop of water at Coleambally is accounted for. They know where it is. They know how it is being dripped out onto those wonderful rice paddies, the marvellous cotton crops and the vegetables that they grow in the huge paddocks that they supply to many wholesalers and supermarkets.                

It all comes about through R&D. It all comes about because this government is prepared to spend money on infrastructure, research and development and making sure that every drop is accounted for. That is not like those opposite. All they wanted to do was make sure that every drop of water flowed down the rivers, down the systems and down the Murray-Darling Basin and out of the mouth of the Murray. That is all they cared about.                

Mr Champion: What about Broken Hill? Tell us about Broken Hill.                

Mr McCORMACK: I hear the member from South Australia opposite. They forget that our areas are fine producing areas. I know he originally comes from an irrigation area. I know he knows of the importance of irrigation in communities. I know he knows the importance of those farmers who provide the food and fibre that keep this nation great. It is also important that we have water reform. We are doing that. But it is equally important that this primary industries levies bill passes this House, as it will.

Cristy Houghton