Rural Debt and More Labor Fiascos

I would like to speak on two issues this evening. The first is the Financial Rural Debt Roundtable, which concluded this afternoon and which the Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce hosted. It was a productive meeting, and I want to thank the Australian Bankers Association and other representatives from the banking industry, the National Farmers Federation, AgForce, the New South Wales Farmers Federation, the Gulf Cattlemen's Association and the Kimberley Cattlemen's Association. I have probably missed some, but more than 40 people were there this afternoon to discuss this very important issue.

It was a productive discussion. Of course, not everything was solved in two hours—it cannot be. This has been a problem that has been growing for a decade in rural areas, particularly in North Queensland—the state I am from—and it is not going to be solved in an afternoon. But there were some resolutions from the meeting. We are going to try to get better and more accurate data on the problem. There has not been a rural debt survey in Queensland since 2011. That has partly been because the banks have not cooperated—for their own reasons. We are going to try to resolve those reasons and ensure that we can get that going again.

We are going to restart the national rural debt mediation process, which was in place until last year. That has fallen off the radar. Different states have different processes that handle the mediation of debt, and some of them are working better than others. It seems right and proper while we have this debt issue that we try to harmonise those and come up with the best model across the country. We thank the banks for their cooperation in agreeing to be part of that process.

Finally, as the minister has publicly said, there are some issues with the farm finance packages. They were introduced by the former government and they were expanded and changed earlier this year. There remain some issues in getting that money out to the people in most need. It is a difficult issue because, while the Commonwealth government provides the funds, state government agencies are actually responsible for lending the money.

Those things have been positive outcomes. Obviously there is more that needs to be done. The most important thing is that we try to restore confidence and better prices to the beef markets. This issue has arisen, at least largely, because of a profitability issue that has been driven by low prices and higher costs. A very big contributor to those low prices was the disgraceful decision a few years ago by the former Labor government to shut down the live cattle trade overnight. It has had huge ramifications for beef markets all around Australia. Until recently, people have received record low prices for their beef, in a market where they had no option but to sell due to the drought.

Due to that roundtable, I missed what seemed to be the best show that has taken place in this chamber since I got here, and that was the shenanigans around the Palmer motion. I very much regret missing that. It seemed to me, though—I turned up for the vote at the end—that it was movie that perhaps you only needed to see the end of to enjoy it and you probably did not need to see the introduction and the body of the story. Coming in at the end, I think I got the best part. It was a movie that I thought I had seen before—and I had seen this movie before. It was a movie called 'The hung parliament'.

Only a few years ago we had a hung parliament and we saw just these kinds of shenanigans. Only a year ago we had a hung parliament and tonight we saw the sequel. We saw the sequel because the Labor Party tried to manage this chamber again. They tried to become the managers of the chamber tonight, and we saw how they fundamentally failed once again at being able to manage something as simple as establishing an inquiry. They wanted to establish an inquiry, and they could not even organise that tonight.

I was astounded—although I should not have been, given the Labor Party's record. Whenever the Labor Party are in charge of something or are trying to run something, when you walk through these doors you feel like there should be some music playing. Perhaps it should be the intro to Monty Python. Do you remember that, Senator Scullion? The Monty Python music should come on and a big foot should come down on this chamber—bang! That is what it feels like when they try to run things.

We remember the last parliament when they tried to push through 55 bills in one week. Remember that? They didn't try; they did. They put 55 bills through in one week. Some bills had as little as five minutes of debate. I think some had less. Some had none—just a second reading speech. That is what happens when the Labor Party try to run things. They just cannot run anything. Under the last government, we had GroceryWatch and we had Fuelwatch. None of these things worked. We had 'the war on inflation'. What happened to the 'war on inflation'? We declared peace too early, I think. We had Building the Education Revolution. Remember that? That was a complete disaster too. Tonight we tried to have the Palmer ascendancy. That did not work too well either. They just cannot manage anything.

I must say: I was surprised that they could not get an inquiry started and I was surprised we were able to get the amendment up to change the motion. I was a little bit disappointed that we are not having the inquiry now. We could have had it after the motion was amended. If the Labor Party had supported it, we would have had an inquiry into the former Queensland Labor government and that could have been just a little bit of fun. It is all well reported and we probably do not need another inquiry. We could all have remembered why it is important that Queensland does not have a Labor government after next March. We could all have recalled why it would be disastrous for Queensland to choose a Labor government. We could all have reflected on what actually happened in the last Queensland Labor government. We could all have remembered how they spent $1 billion trying to change the department of health's payroll system for nurses. There was a $1 billion blow-out in that particular program. We could all have remembered how an official in the department of health took off with something like $14 million—I cannot remember exactly how much it was. He explained it to senior officials in the department of health, saying that he had all that money not because he was a bureaucrat in the department of health but because he was a Tahitian prince!

Senator Scullion: "Oh, the Tahitian prince!"

He was a fake prince. It was a bit like that Coming to America movie, Senator Scullion, except I think Eddie Murphy was a prince in that movie. It was the other way around—he was faking that he was not a prince. The bureaucrat was faking that he was a Tahitian prince and he took off with $14 million worth of Queensland taxpayers' money. If we had the inquiry, maybe we could have gone to Tahiti. Maybe the inquiry could have gone to Tahiti and investigated the royal family in Tahiti, just to get to the bottom of it and make sure he was not, in fact, a prince. We have not had to do that. I think Queenslanders realise that we do not want another Labor government in Queensland after March next year. They realise the mess that the former Queensland Labor government has got Queensland in—more than $80 billion in debt at the moment. It was heading towards $100 billion before the government changed. We had a government that was rolling over the rights of farmers and landowners, particularly through native vegetation laws, and they have changed for the better. We now have a pathway back to not only a surplus but to try to get some of this debt down.

Those are all serious issues and there is another serious issue here. It is good that we have rejected the inquiry. It would have been an abuse of this chamber's power to set up an inquiry into another government. That is not what we should waste time on. We should focus on doing what we have responsibility for best. There are other avenues for people to have inquiries into other levels of government. There is a well-established principle of comity, which means that we should not have supported the inquiry, but we must always remember that the Labor Party were going to support the inquiry before it failed. They were going to run roughshod over those longstanding principles, much to the disgrace of their decisions here tonight. Some members of the Labor Party will be disappointed that they chose to try to get this inquiry up. Presumably the reason it has taken us about two months to get this point is that some people in the Labor Party were reluctant to support it. Maybe they should have won the day and it should not have come on, but it did. We are just fortunate that it has not ended up in an abuse of power. We have great privileges in this chamber and we should treat those seriously and never abuse the privileges for the sake of a witch-hunt type inquiry into another government in another state.

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