Questions without notice (farm finance)

I, too, rise to take note of answers given by Senator Ludwig to questions from Senator McKenzie and to the responses we have heard from senators Urquhart and Stephens. Regarding the comment about the 4.5 per cent loan being at a reasonable interest rate, I do not think anyone is disagreeing with this. But this is actually not the point. The point raised is that 4.5 per cent is actually 1.5 per cent over the interest rate at which the government can borrow this money. So we have a situation where the federal government are crowing about helping out our farmers by providing them with concessional loans, while they are actually profiting from it. That is the crux of the issue. It is about profiteering on something. They have gone out there and made it sound like they are jolly good chaps because they have put these concessional loans in place, but it is really just a revenue measure. Those opposite then have the audacity to say that it is the fault of the state and territory governments for not taking this up. But it is they who have been left with the actual cost and expense of administering these loans, while the federal government are making money out of it. I think this shows extraordinary hypocrisy and it is something the government need to be called to account on. It is a complete and utter outrage.

The other thing Senator Urquhart crowed about is the fact that it is a plan for farming and a strong economy. When you announce a policy there are two things you do: you announce it so that people know what you are doing and then you have to put the policy implements and actions in place to support the policies. But, when it comes to agriculture across the whole of Australia and how this government is dealing with our primary producers, what we seem to be seeing is that they talk about lots of things. They talk about things like the national food plan. They talk about Australia being the food bowl of the world. They talk about the Asian century and the opportunities that this all gives to our farmers and to our country. But at the exact same time as they are out there trying to convince people that they are the party looking after rural and regional Australia they are enacting other policy mechanisms and instruments that are destroying our agricultural and farming sectors. We have heard time and time again about the impacts of the knee-jerk reaction of the government to the live exports situation. We have heard time and time again about the implications on the sovereign risk of this country from the reaction to the Margiris, the ship that had legitimately collected fishing quotas—but, no, the government decided on a knee-jerk reaction from a GetUp! campaign that this particular thing could not go ahead.

The government talk about cost recovery. This is another example of the government saying, on one hand, 'Yes, we're going to do all these wonderful things to assist our farming and agricultural sectors,' but on the other hand taking the money back. They are clawing back and putting things in place that are detrimental to or an encumbrance on our farming sector. The AQIS cost-recovery situation and charges we have been talking about in this place recently is a classic example. When we went to cost recovery there was supposed to be a suite of cost-saving measures that went with it, but we have gone to cost recovery and have not seen any of the cost-saving measures.

I say to the government: if you are going to announce these sorts of policies and talk about how you are supporting rural and regional Australia, you cannot just say it; you have to do it, too. Talking the talk does not pass muster; you have to be able to walk the walk. Unfortunately, this suite of packages to which the questions are referring today is just another classic example of talking the talk and not putting the things in place that will enable these sorts of projects to be implemented.

Back to the states: the states have been asked to implement these projects, but none of the states, apart from Queensland, had in place a mechanism by which they could deliver the money to the farmers. Now we have big brother, the federal government, smacking the state governments because they have not done something that the government thought was a great idea, but the government did not give the states the time and did not consult with them. The states had no capacity whatsoever to deliver this package because they did not have the things in place.

This is a real outrage. I also take offence at concessional loans on the basis that they are just bandaids on the cuts that have been inflicted on the rural sector by this government. Let us stop sticking bandaids on things. Let us stop making the cuts in the first place. Let us address rural and regional policy so that we can give the opportunity to our rural sector to be successful, instead of just propping it up by these pathetic means.

tags:  speech