9 February 2022
It’s great to be in the chamber, hopefully as the last speaker for the evening, amongst some really close colleagues of mine here, so buckle in for the next five minutes. It’s no secret that regional Australians have been doing it tough under the Coalition. Through fire and flood, through a global pandemic, through significant supply chain issues and through severe worker shortages, our farmers have been struggling, but we need to ask questions: Why have they been struggling? Why have they been struggling on their own? It’s because the Liberal and the National parties have abandoned regional Australia. While farming communities have been crying out for support, the only thing that the Morrison-Joyce government has delivered them is press conference after press conference. Unfortunately this week we have seen many examples of the approach of the government and their attitude towards our farmers. The challenges that are facing regional Australia continue, yet the Liberals and the Nationals are only focused on themselves. Maybe, instead of sending nasty texts to each other, this government could get its head out of the sand and actually take note of some of the real serious issues on the ground that are being faced by Australians right across our regions.
It has been two years since the terrible bushfire season that ravaged so harshly so much of our country right through eastern Australia, particularly in regional areas, but it was reported last year that the Morrison-Joyce government only delivered and set aside 1.6 per cent of its grants program for East Gippsland where 1.1 million hectares of land was burnt. This inequitable distribution of funds has meant that many people in the East Gippsland region have gone without the assistance that they desperately need and deserve. And that’s not all. In October last year it was revealed that of the $4.7 billion that this government promised for bushfire recovery, $0—that’s right: $0—had been spent.
This is just unbelievable. Some Australians lost everything in the bushfires. Their homes were destroyed and their lives were turned upside down. But what support do they get from the Liberals and the Nationals? They get a press conference announcing money that never arrives from a government that never delivers. And it’s because the Morrison-Joyce government refuses to do its job that Australian families are living in caravans. They’ve suffered through COVID restrictions, health risks and economic damage while still waiting for their houses to be rebuilt. This government is all about announcements and no follow-through. It’s all having very real, very severe consequences for the lives of these many, many Australians who are begging the federal government to do something to support them.
Bushfire relief is just one area where the Liberals and Nationals have let regional Australians down. For years, farmers have been crying out for labour certainty. There has been headline after headline, inquiry after inquiry, report after report about worker shortages in regional Australia. Regional areas are producing fresh vegetables and fruit, but they are all going unpicked because farmers just can’t find people to come onto their farms. These issues haven’t just magically appeared, but they’ve also gotten worse whilst we’ve had the pandemic over the last two years. How has the Morrison-Joyce government helped our farmers with this issue? They’ve flip-flopped on the agriculture visa, which they promised almost four years ago. As regional Australia has been desperate for certainty, this government has changed its position on the ag visa at least half a dozen times, and it’s becoming hard to keep up. After flip-flopping for years, the Morrison-Joyce government finally launched an ag visa program about six months ago, but how many countries have signed up to this program, you might ask? The answer is simple: it’s zero. In the Warrnambool Standard last week, vegetable growers expressed disappointment in the program. They are mortified that this government has let them down and let farmers down right across regional Australia.