MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE;Rural and Regional Communities
Mr McCORMACK (Riverina—Minister for Small Business) (15:23): We heard from the member for Hunter, 'Here a dam, there a dam, everywhere a dam-dam.' I heard that during the election campaign, too, and I heard it for six long, sorry years, when Labor was in government: 'Here a damn, there a damn, everywhere a damn-damn.' But it was a different spelling, Member for Hunter. It had an 'n' on the end of it, because people were damning the Labor government for its lack of policy, its lack of a plan, its lack of vision. And what did we hear from the member for Hunter over 10 long, sorry minutes? We heard no plan, no vision, no alternative views for regional Australia—so typical of the member for Hunter, so negative. He is obsessed with the member for New England, the Deputy Prime Minister; that is all we ever hear about. But he does not have his own plan. He does not have his own policies.
But we do have policies; we do have plans. I am glad that I am going to be followed by—and the member for Hunter acknowledged him—the member for Hinkler, a great member, a great regional Australian getting on with the job of making sure that his Queensland electorate is front and centre of everything that he does and that we do as a coalition government. He will be followed by the member for Grey, the member for Mallee and the member for O'Connor. I was in his electorate the other day. Kalgoorlie is booming, thanks to the great work that the member for O'Connor is doing and will continue to do—nothing that the member for Hunter ever espoused or came up with in his 79 days as the minister for agriculture. What a memorable 79 days they were—not!
I heard somebody earlier today describe Labor, on their regional Australia policies, as 'inner urban spivs'. I think that was you, Mr Deputy Speaker Coulton! It is not a bad description. It is just extraordinary that the Labor Party would come into this place and lecture the government about its so-called failing of rural and regional communities. It is extraordinary that the very people who imposed the live cattle export ban, who traded votes with the Greens in Balmain before they worried about Brewarrina, would come in here and lecture this government about decisions and delivery. Those opposite are all about the bluff. They are all about the bluff.
Mr Husic interjecting—
Mr McCORMACK: We hear the member for Chifley. I doubt he would even know what a farmer looks like! But he eats three days a week—
Mr Husic interjecting—
Mr McCORMACK: three times a day, and he relies on farmers to be able to do just that. Labor are all about the lectures. They are all about the posturing. They are the knee-jerk reactors to a television program about live cattle exports. That is all they are. There is no plan. There was no consultation when they were in government—none whatsoever.
Yet today those very people come in here and lecture us. Those opposite come into this place and they cry crocodile tears about investments in the regions. They promised the world to regional communities and, as we saw when they were in government, they delivered absolutely diddly squat—certainly when it came to investment in regional mobile black spots. I have heard the member for McEwen yelling and ranting and raving about mobile black spots, but what did his side of politics do when they had the opportunity? They did nothing—not a single mobile tower, absolutely nothing. It took my friend here the minister at the table, the Minister for Urban Infrastructure, and others on this side to make sure that there was a Mobile Black Spot Program for regional Australia. It was this government that committed $100 million through round 1 of the program, which is delivering 499 new and upgraded mobile base stations across Australia. It was this government that committed a further $60 million towards round 2 of the program. That is vision. That is a plan. Make no mistake, in regional Australia this was the issue that was raised with me no matter where I went, whilst they also damned the Labor side. Country people know this is the government that has actually put money into fixing mobile black spots and other issues that are confronting regional Australia.
Another of those is the agricultural competitiveness white paper. It was a great document. It is delivering issues. It is delivering programs. It is issuing good policy for regional Australia. Speaking of agricultural competitiveness, I note that the member for Maribyrnong said this morning:
We've got a big issue when you have got people coming here on 457, 417 visas, these are visas which give people from overseas temporary work rights in Australia yet we've got auto-electricians and mechanics and carpenters who can't get work in Australia. This government should be prioritising Australian jobs. They should be prioritising helping the Hazelwood workers. They shouldn't be playing silly political games.
The member for Maribyrnong is wrong yet again—yes, wrong yet again. First of all, 417 visas are for working holiday makers. Second, Labor wants to give foreign workers on 417 visas a lower tax rate than hardworking Australians.
Mr Bowen: That's not true.
Mr McCORMACK: That is true, Member for McMahon. It is true. The member for Maribyrnong wants auto-electricians, mechanics and carpenters to pay higher tax than foreign workers. The member for Maribyrnong wants small businesses that employ auto-electricians, mechanics and carpenters to pay more tax, and is refusing to support the government's plan to reduce tax for those small businesses with a turnover of between $2 million and $10 million. That is what he is doing. He wants to price Australians, especially young people who want to be auto-electricians, mechanics and carpenters, out of the job market.
Our working holiday-maker reform package proposes a reduction in the tax rate from 32.5 per cent to 19 per cent. It ensures that backpackers will pay a fair amount of tax on their earnings and it is internationally competitive. Labor does not understand regional Australia. We heard from the member for Gippsland, the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, today in parliament talking about the Hazelwood workers. He is surprised by the lack of interest on this issue from those opposite, and I agree with him. Labor has had three days of question time, we have had the news that hundreds of workers will lose their jobs in March next year and not one question from those opposite. Not one shadow minister has visited the Latrobe Valley—what a shame. I think they should. Not one federal Labor MP has asked a question about how the government will respond to this situation, and it is a worrying situation. I feel for the member for Gippsland.
I know how it is when, the people you represent, your constituents, are hard hit by bad government policies, like they were when those opposite were in power and we had the fiasco of the Murray-Darling Basin policy. I absolutely feel for those people and that is why this side of politics is having a cabinet committee to make sure that we do everything we can to help those Hazelwood people. It is no wonder that the blue-collar workers in the Latrobe Valley have called for those opposite to talk about their issue and to actually have some compassion and feeling for them.
Labor is playing politics. Labor is playing politics on everything it does. The stalling of the passage of legislation about the backpackers issue will mean—
Mr Husic: Stalling? What do you mean stalling?
Mr McCORMACK: You are the ones who are stalling it, and it means that the backpackers will be liable to the 32.5 per cent tax rate from New Year's Day, creating uncertainty and instability for the agriculture, the horticulture, the tourism and the hospitality sectors.
Mr Bowen interjecting—
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Coulton ): The member for McMahon will be silent.
Mr McCORMACK: At least he is trying. He might get a chance as the second speaker for Labor.
Mr Husic interjecting—
Mr McCORMACK: He is very trying, I agree with you, member for Chifley. He is very trying and he certainly was when he was the immigration minister, and he was even more trying when he was the Treasurer. Anyway, under the coalition government's changes, a backpacker in Australia will still have more money in their pocket after tax when compared to the take-home pay rates of those working in similar backpacking arrangements in Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. The government has taken action to provide certainty to employers and backpackers to ensure that the new tax rate can take effect from 1 January 2017.
All the Labor Party is interested in doing is creating chaos, dysfunction and uncertainty for regional Australians. They have no understanding—
Opposition members interjecting—
Mr McCORMACK: The member for Moreton has no understanding and no plan. The member for Hunter has no plan. We heard him; he had a 10-minute opportunity to outline Labor's bold policy vision but what have we heard? Nothing—just carping on about the member for New England. As the first Minister for Small Business who comes from the country and who is a member of the Nationals, I am focused on those who do not live in the city getting heard as well. That is why I have been going around the country—not just the capital cities but the regional areas as well—not necessarily talking but listening to the ideas, the views and the outcomes of those people who work hard and who are trying to forge a business for their families, for their communities and for their local economies. I know that the plans to reduce the company tax rate and to expand the number of businesses to which that tax rate would apply are so important to those small businesses. It is the best way to give businesses a plan—
Mr Husic: It's a city plan!
Mr McCORMACK: It is a good regional plan.
Mr Fitzgibbon interjecting—
Mr McCORMACK: Why do you hate regional small businesses so much, member for Hunter? I do not understand. Why do you not give more small businesses an opportunity by getting on board with our 10-year enterprise tax plan and passing it through this place and through the Senate? The Labor Party used to stand for something and now stands for nothing. It certainly has not and does not represent regional Australia, unfortunately. You need to get onboard with a few of our good policies and all of our great plans for the regions.