Jul 22, 2019

Future Drought Fund Bill 2019 – Second Reading – Monday, 22 July 2019

Mr ALBANESE (GrayndlerLeader of the Opposition) (20:51): Last Thursday in Dubbo, I was there with the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. They had a whole gaggle of ministers there from the federal government. I stood up. There were hundreds of people there. Declared, I offered Labor’s support for this drought fund. I offered it. Five hundred people were there, and I said, ‘We support it. We’ll, support it not just for $100 million; we’ll support it at any level you’re prepared to put forward. We can bring it forward to the current financial year, not 12 months time. It could be more than $100 million, and we’d vote for it.’ That’s what I declared in front of 500 people on live national TV, and ever since last Thursday this mob over here have been campaigning for us to reverse that position and vote against the drought fund.

The truth is that they are determined to play politics because they do not have an agenda for the future. They’re scared of the present but terrified of the future—terrified of acting in the national interest. I mentioned something when I spoke to that drought summit and I used two words that the Prime Minister didn’t use. Guess what they were? Climate change. Because you can’t talk about drought in this country without also addressing the long-term impact of climate change. The need for mitigation. The need to make sure that we build resilience in our farms. That we are as strong in this chamber as farmers are on their land. That is what we need in this country.

Yet, what we had from those opposite was a Prime Minister who went along to a drought summit and offered—let’s be very clear here; forget about $5 billion. There is nothing in this financial year in this legislation. There is $100 million to be drawn down the following year and $100 million the year after that. So the total funding for drought relief to assist farmers to build resilience, to build infrastructure, over this term of the 46th Parliament is $200 million. This mob give that to mates over a cup of tea when they’re getting out their various pork funds that they’ve established. This mob waste more than that before breakfast. $200 million—that’s all they offered.

Here’s what I said: ‘Don’t play politics with this. It is too important. Just stop it. Provide funding with appropriations, as you should, and we’ll back it—any level you want, done.’ That’s what I said—without being given any notice or the courtesy of a discussion with the Prime Minister, who stood up before that meeting and made this grand announcement. Sorry, he did make another one as well: we’re going to have a parliamentary committee. But he didn’t have anything to say about significant infrastructure funding. He had nothing to say about climate change. He had nothing to say about real assistance with regard to the people who are really doing it tough when it comes to farmers. And then he has the hide and the arrogance that he’ll play wedge politics with this.

What has he said this debate is about? Has he said it’s about the need of the rural communities? Has he said it’s about farmers? No. He has said it’s about Labor. That is what he has said and what he has said about every bill he’s introducing and debating before the parliament this week—that it is about Labor. Well, I’ve got news for the Prime Minister. He won the election. He should start acting like the government, instead of like an opposition in exile, scared of governing. That’s the way he’s behaving at the moment, the immaturity of the way this debate has been conducted. In the 23 years that I have represented Grayndler in this parliament—I’ve been leader of the House and I’ve been Manager of Opposition business; I’ve dealt with the former member for Warringah and others, who like to think of themselves as hard nuts—I’ve never seen anything like this, whereby they couldn’t get their act together to get the legislation through that was announced in October. They couldn’t get it through the 45th Parliament—couldn’t be bothered even putting it to the Senate. They couldn’t be bothered having it amongst the 26 pieces of legislation that we introduced in the last sitting week. But they come in here and say, ‘We’ve got a plan: we’ll stop the Labor caucus getting a say in what happens.’

Well, congratulations. You’ve achieved that, because there’ll be a vote tonight, even though a minister went up there and said to me and the crossbenchers that the parliament would adjourn at 7.30 so as to allow proper processes. And then they say it’s urgent. Not a cent flows before July 2020. I’ve never seen anything less urgent. What is urgent is the needs of farmers. What isn’t urgent is your response to that need. You have failed, and you underline that failure with your arrogance and your contempt for the proper processes of this parliament. I have respect for this parliament. I have never, ever ratted on a deal that’s been done across the chamber. If I give my word, that is it—crossbenchers, the other side, the relationship I had with the former member for Sturt. Some might criticise that, but at the end of the day, if you behave like this it catches up with you. It is the arrogance writ large of a government in search of an agenda, of a Prime Minister who thinks the Australian people all think that everything he says is okay, that it’s a free for all. I say to the crossbenchers: think again next time they give you a commitment, next time they tell you that during a debate. This wasn’t a commitment a few hours ago. They couldn’t last half an hour from when they said it would happen. That’s why the position of the government is, quite frankly, untenable. And what’s the objective here? We said we’d support the drought fund, and we will.

But we are disappointed with the effort to which the government’s gone to abolish the Building Australia Fund. The Building Australia Fund assists people in regional Australia to get goods to market. They make our roads safer. The Pacific Highway will have fewer deaths as a result of the Building Australia Fund. The fact is that they don’t like transparency. They just want the National Party ministers to decide what happens with money. They don’t want Infrastructure Australia. When you set up Infrastructure Australia, you have to have a fund to fund projects that have been assessed by it, including water infrastructure projects. But, as a result of this, they’ll get rid of the Building Australia Fund. They also want to get rid of the Education Investment Fund. They hate transparency and they hate accountability, and that’s really what this is about.

This is the fourth time they’ve linked the abolition of the BAF to legislation. The worst time, perhaps, was linking it to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. One of the ministers spoke about going low in this debate. That’s going low: if you support the Building Australia Fund, you don’t support people with disabilities. How low is that! If you support the Building Australia Fund or you support drought funding—how pathetic. Here’s some maths for the National Party. Even Barnaby should be able to work this out. There’s $200 million you’re going to get this term for drought funding, but you’re removing $3.9 billion from the Building Australia Fund. You don’t even have to count all the zeros to know that $3.9 billion out and $200 million in is a pretty bad deal. Even the member for New England should be able to understand that. As a result of this, as I declared last Thursday in front of 500 people, as a Labor Party we won’t oppose this legislation because we support the drought fund. That is what we will do.

Mr Joyce: Sit down, you goober.

Mr ALBANESE: This man was Deputy Prime Minister. You cheapened the currency, sunshine; I’ll tell you that. So, in terms of—

Mr Joyce: Come on, you goober. You’ve got four minutes left.

Mr ALBANESE: You’ve got to worry when you can’t make the National Party front bench. In terms of the parliament, we will not be opposing the drought fund. We will be in government once again committed to restructuring Infrastructure Australia and making it a strong body once again by having a genuinely independent board of experts, making sure that it can do its job in driving microeconomic reform and having proper cost-benefit analysis and rigour in terms of infrastructure. We will establish in the future a fund like the Building Australia Fund because we think it is essential that there be a funding component.

Tonight, those opposite show once again that they’re the wreckers. When they talk about genuine economic reform, they are in their third term and they are struggling with the question: what are the big reforms that they have made? Yes, they got rid of a climate change policy that we had, but they haven’t got one for themselves. On economic policy, yes, some tax cuts have got through, but there’s no tax reform. Tax reform is what the Hawke and Keating government did. John Howard’s government, to be fair, brought about some tax reform. What they’ve done is some tax cuts, which is very different from economic reform. On the skills agenda, what have they done? Nothing whatsoever. We’ve seen a decline in Australia’s position. In terms of our engagement with the world, where are we? We’re an embarrassment on so many indicators. When it comes to action on drought and water policy, of course we have in this country an absolute crisis going on in the Murray-Darling Basin, and this government thinks that a bill with $100 million 12 months from now is all that they need to do. When it comes to the forward-looking agenda, they simply don’t have one. They have arrogance. They have hubris. They don’t have an agenda. That is why they try to define everything as being about us. When we raised today, in the first question of parliament, the Prime Minister’s comments about the fact that we’ve supported the unanimous recommendations of the joint committee that looks at national security issues, the Prime Minister dismissed that again. It’s all politics.

What Australians have is conflict fatigue. They are looking for solutions, not arguments. This is a government that is obsessed by arguments. It is obsessed by arguments with itself. That is why they are unable to actually move forward with a forward-looking agenda. We, on this side, will continue to hold the government to account, but we will also be developing a forward-looking agenda to meet the challenges that are there, going forward as a nation. One of those challenges is drought. You can’t deal with that without dealing with climate change. You can’t deal with that without having a sound environmental policy. You can’t deal with that without having rigour and transparency around funding mechanisms.

This bill has been improved from the original bill because of the amendments that were moved by the former member for Indi. That’s why you have proper parliamentary procedure. It’s so you actually have analysis and you improve legislation. That’s why this government’s position, in ramming this through tonight without proper scrutiny and debate, is such an outrage. I say to the government: its performance on the procedures tonight has brought no credit to it and no credit to this parliament. The government really needs to consider the consequences of the way that it has behaved before this parliament. That is particularly given the context whereby I declared, as Leader of the Labor Party both publicly and in discussions with the government, that we were supportive of the drought fund. Under those circumstances, the government’s behaviour is nothing less than bizarre.