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Coalition federal budget 2023/24 reply covering fresh food tax, JobSeeker, housing, nuclear reactors, mental health and truckie tax

Parliament House held a press conference covering topics such as the budget reply, fresh food tax on farmers, JobSeeker, migration, housing, small modular nuclear reactors, mental health, and truckie tax.

By news@gippsland - 12th May 2023 - Back to News

One of the biggest announcements last night was the Coalition's commitment to scrap the fresh food tax on farmers, a tax that not just farmers will pay, but households will pay at the grocery store. To think that an Australian government would put a tax on Australian farmers so they can pay the biosecurity costs of their foreign competitors, to bring their product into this country, is perverse. In what parallel universe would any sovereign government tax their own farmers so their foreign competitors can bring their products in?

Government aimed for a cost recovery model, where foreign importers shoulder biosecurity costs through a container levy

Government aimed for a cost recovery model, where foreign importers shoulder biosecurity costs through a container levy

Fair import solution

It's just insanity that we are asking Australian farmers and consumers to do that. We, as a government, before the last election, were bringing a cost recovery model. There already are charges on farmers for exporting their goods, but on imports, what we're saying is the foreign importers should pay not Australian farmers. And so there was a cost recovery model that was to be put in place on charging where the risks were, from those importers, but also to supplement and complement that with a container levy charge.

This was something that was recommended in the Craik Review in 2017. We were about to implement it and Covid-19 struck. We paused that to make sure that there were no perverse outcomes for the economy.
And in fact, the last instructions that I gave before the election in March last year was to the Department, to finalise the consultation with industry. So the cost recovery models and the container levy could be implemented by December last year. This government has decided that they intend now to tax farmers, rather than their foreign competitors.

Unfair outcomes

That's not common sense. That's a perverse outcome that Australian farmers and Australian consumers will pay. We're also very concerned that in this Budget, again, the infrastructure spend that we put in our Budget, $23 billion has been ripped out. Now $120 billion is on pause. We've got to ask a question, what has Catherine King been doing for 12 months to announce a 90-day review two weeks before the Budget?

It smacks nothing more than political opportunism to make sure that Jim Chalmers, on his big night, didn't have to give the bad news to regional Australia again, that they were going to lose their infrastructure, yet put an increase on the road user charge on our truckies that'll be passed onto you, but they're not going to get the roads that they're paying for this.

Government's put that aside, and again, they failed regional and rural Australia on childcare. We don't have an affordability issue. We have an accessibility issue. I went to their Job Summit and made it very clear that the $4.7 billion that they're putting into childcare affordability needed to have some element for childcare accessibility in regional areas. There's a cost living crisis for regional Australians, and that's because they can't go back to work because they can't find a place for their children to have childcare.

Regions need fair support

And so what we are saying is give regional Australians a fair, go create the programs that we put in place, and back it with real dollars to make sure that we are getting those places in regional Australia, so that regional families can fight this cost of living crisis that they put in place. And obviously, healthcare, again, regional Australia got missed, missed the boat again on this one.

They're raising over $3 billion in cigarette excise. Yet nothing's going to regional Australia. In fact, they're ripping our doctors away. You understand, there are towns in rural and remote Australia that don't have doctors today because of Anthony's actions to extend the designated priority areas from foreign doctors just working in rural and remote areas, allowing them to work in peri-urban areas, in cities.

Healthcare crisis

So they're leaving to go to the cities rather than work in rural areas. That's leaving small towns without doctors at all. And now, with the addition of the changes of the PBS, not only will there be challenges for people in rural and remote areas to get access to critical medicines.

We're also going to see that this government's asking small businesses, pharmacists, to bear that cost. And what that means is they're going to leave, they're going to shut up shop, and they're going to leave many of these rural and remote communities. You've got to understand that sometimes our pharmacist is their only primary care in many towns.

Because the doctors are gone. And if the pharmacy goes, we have no primary care whatsoever. So the government needs to stop, pause, and actually understand you need bespoke models for regional and rural Australia. But this government's Budget was all about welfare, not about productivity. It wasn't about making sure that it gave people a fair go. And particularly if you're a farmer, you are being asked to pay for the biosecurity costs of your foreign competitors. That just doesn't make sense.

Conversation with the journalist

The journalist asked, The Minister of Agriculture says that this is a modest tax on farmers. It's only under the single digits as far as I'm aware. Given that this is also used to protect farmers and their livelihoods in terms of the kind of impact that some kind of biosecurity risk could have, on farms, isn't that fair enough that they should be paying at least a small amount for that?

Mr Littleproud said, "They're not posing the risk. The providers that are posing the risk are the foreign importers. They're the ones that are bringing the risk to this country, not Australian farmers. And if we export our product to other countries, then we pay these levies to protect their sovereignty. But instead our sovereignty has been ceded to foreign competitors."

Unjust farmer charges

In what country does that make sense? This is a $153 million tax. Make this clear. $153 million will be ripped out of regional Australia when the people who should be paying this are our foreign competitors who pose that risk to Australia's biosecurity and to our environment.

"I just can't understand how this Minister can justify that he thinks it's okay to charge Australian farmers rather than the foreign competitors that bring their products to this country. That doesn't make sense at all. When the opportunities were there, the provisions were put in place, all he had to do was actually sign the piece of paper with the levy container charge and the cost recovery model that we put in place."

"And he didn't have to do this at all. Instead, he chose foreign competitors over Australian farmers. I think Australian farmers are going to look at that and I think Australian consumers should look at that and just wonder why a government would support foreigners over their own people," he said.

Increase workforce participation

The journalist asked, "On JobSeeker, why is it better to allow people on JobSeeker to earn $150 extra, without losing their welfare payments as opposed to giving them the $40 a fortnight bump?"

Mr Littleproud said, "Well, one, they get more, first and foremost. Secondly, we've got 438,000 job vacancies across this country. Why wouldn't we use some common sense and get those people who don't have a fulltime job now into the workforce to increase this nation's productivity to allow them to participate? And statistics do show that if you get people into the workforce, even on a part-time basis who have been on long-term unemployment benefits, they finally find their way into full-time employment."

"So this is a pathway of opening up an opportunity for those that don't have jobs to be able to start that journey and to take that burden off the Australian taxpayer, you're going to take away that direct cost to the Australian taxpayer and you're going to get something for it because they're adding to our nation's productivity, by going and working and taking up some of those 438,000 vacancies. That is common sense," said.

Workforce growth

The journalist asked, "But would you also support the $40 fortnight bump in conjunction? I mean, are these people struggling to find jobs to begin with?

Mr Littleproud said, "Yeah, and we've made it very clear, we want to be constructive with this government around this proposal and we will look at supporting the $40. But we need to have the conversation about what are the options that are available to try and get people back in the workforce to build productivity, not just hand money out, but to actually create wealth and grow the pie in this nation. That's a common sense approach."

Collaborative solutions

The journalist again asked, "What do you need to see from the government to back their $40 increase? Is it impinged on them to allow the extra hours?"

Mr Littleproud said, "Well, well this is where I think in the totality of it, we need to sit down with the government, prepare to sit down with the government. And so this is an idea that will nearly halve the $4.6 billion that they're going to put out for this increase in JobSeeker. Why wouldn't we look at different ways to take that burden off the Australian taxpayer and get a return for it?"

Workforce return and collaboration

Get a return by getting them into the workforce, increasing our productivity, our profitability as our nation. That's a constructive way as an Opposition that we want to approach this. We think that if there's goodwill from the Labor Party, then we can find a pathway through this that achieves the cost of living pressures that are being faced by not just every Australian in the workforce, but those on job security payments that we can support them as well.

So this is just common sense, being sensible in trying to find the practical solutions that takes a burden off the taxpayer, gets a return for that investment by getting them into the workforce and growing the nation's pie.

Reciprocal willingness

The journalist asked, "So no specific demands for now?" Mr Littleproud replied, "No, we just want to have the conversation. I think that's what the Australian people want. They want their political leaders to put constructive ideas forward to sit at the table and to try and nut it out. I did that from the very moment I became Nationals leader."

"I went to the Jobs Summit. I wanted to be the voice for regional Australians in that room, to put the solutions forward to this government. It's up to the government to listen, to understand, and to implement. But we've got to do that with goodwill. We're prepared to do that with goodwill, but this government's got to be prepared to reciprocate," he said.

Lacking infrastructure strategy

The journalist again asked, "Do you agree with Peter Dutton's comments last night that the government's migration projections will exacerbate the housing crisis?"

Mr Littrleproud said, "Well, there's no plan to support it. You want to bring in one and a half million new Australians and there's no sizable plan for the housing or the other infrastructure to support them being articulated. You've seen $120 billion worth of infrastructure projects paused, they're not proceeding with. So how do we know what infrastructure spend that will complement this policy of bringing in one and a half million new Australians?"

"That poses serious, serious questions that if you are living here in Australia and you think your cost of living's tough at the moment, you think your rent's tough at the moment? You think trying to buy a house is tough at the moment, wait until you add another one and a half million. Just wait for that," he said.

Borrowing for investment

What About the Housing Australia future fund, which you're working with the Greens at the moment to block?" Mr Littleproud said, "Well, we've made it clear, just understand this isn't $10 billion to build houses. This is borrowing $10 billion, paying interest rates, trying to get a return on that $10 billion by investing and getting a bigger return than the interest they're paying."

"Hoping they actually make a return above the interest rate they're paying and then maybe put whatever's left into housing. That's not going to shift the dial. It's about supply. It's about making sure that suppliers increase quickly. And the best way to do that, and the ones who can do that, are state and local governments," he said.

Government housing solutions

They hold the planning pen. And this has been an abject failure of state and local governments that we have a housing crisis, particularly in metropolitan areas, in regional areas. Governments may need to inject themselves where there's not competitive tension in the marketplace, where private investors will do it.

But in cities, there is an opportunity to actually lift supply quickly. And that may be an honest conversation with people who want to live in a capital city. You may not get to have the quarter acre block dream that most Australians have. If you want to live in a capital city, then to get supply, the best way and quickest way is to go up, not out.

Planning rule reforms

And if state and local governments change their planning rules to allow developers to be able to go up, not out, then you're going to be able to increase supply quickly. We had a plan and a model of a one and a half billion dollar housing program to actually support and complement and partner with the private sector to get that supply up.

We're not borrowing $10 billion and hoping we can invest it to get a bigger return than what the interest we're paying. That's fanciful and that's risky. Have something that's certain, but make sure that the state and local governments are doing their job and inject yourself where there's market failure in regional remote areas.

Efficient power transition

Chris Bowen said this morning that having small modular nuclear reactors would cost $400 billion, would be unviable, as we don't have the current staffing and knowledge to do it. Would you agree with that figure that he's presented? And also who in regional Australia would want to live next to one of these plants?

Mr Littleproud said, "Well, let me tell you, there's this place called Lucas Heights in Sydney. There are residential homes about a kilometre away. They're selling for $1.3 million at the moment. So we already have a nuclear industry here."

"So let's get the facts right on this. And we've been very clear that these small scale modular plants would go where existing coal fired power stations are, because you then don't have to build the 28,000 kilometres of new transmission lines that Chris Bowen wants to build. And if you think Julia Gillard gold plated at poles and wires, Chris Bowen is going to platinum plate them," he said.

Exploring practical alternatives

And that is just something that you are going to pay for in your energy bill. So small scale modular technology is something that is emerging and we want to explore it without spending a cent, not spending $2 billion on a pipe dream of hydrogen that a couple of well-known billionaires will probably clean up.

They'll clean up very well out of Chris Bowen's $2 billion hydrogen fund. But we can peek over the Pacific and we can see what's happening in the United States and America and even into Europe about where this technology is going. And if Chris Bowen's so sure it'll cost so much, then open it up and let the market decide.

Chris Bowen likes talking down to Australians, likes telling Australians how it should be. Well, how is it that you are paying a lot because of Chris Bowen's ideology? His ideology doesn't match the practicality of what's bleeding out of every Australian's wallet.

Energy policy impact

The fact that they've had to put in a $500 rebate for energy to households is because of their energy policies. If you increase supply, then the Australian taxpayer wouldn't have to do this. But instead he demonised the gas industry. And if you want renewables to work and I want renewables to work, the only way to do that is to have this thing called firming.

And firming can come through gas and the policies that they put in place against the gas industry meant that they're not drilling holes anymore. We lost a billion-dollar project from Senex in my own electorate that was going to put 120 petajoules into the East coast market.

That's 10 percent of the east coast market. And we're not talking years to build this. This is drilling holes today and putting it within months into the system. And we've got Kurri Kurri that's on a 12-month delay because of Chris Bowen's pipe drain of green hydrogen.

Market-driven approach

Now Chris Bowen is full of noise, but if he wants to have an honest conversation, let's actually open this up and let the market decide. I think he's talking down to Australians rather than talking with them and to them and taking them into their trust about the options and possibilities that are there.

I think a $2 billion pipe dream on hydrogen that a couple of well-known billionaires will clean up is a disgrace to the Australian taxpayer that they're going to have to fund a couple of billionaires to make a couple of billion more.

Regional mental health

On mental health, regional Australians obviously also deal with mental health stress. Mark Butler said this morning that increasing the sessions from 10 to 20 is a lazy policy. What do you say about it?

Mr Littleproud said, "Well, I'll say to Mark Butler, just go out, come out to a regional area, come out and hear the pain that's out there, from drought and bushfires. And the stress is real. We don't have the capability of seeing a psychologist every day. They're not on the corners of every street in regional towns."

So telehealth and being able to have access to these psychologists is imperative. Mental health has got a stigma around it that we all need to break. And you can do that by saying to the Australian people, it's okay to ask for help and we're gonna help you pay for that.

Misunderstood regional needs

So I just think Mark Butler really doesn't understand the implications of some of his actions, whether it be on the designated priority areas for foreign doctors working in rural and remote areas, whether it be this PBS change that'll have perverse outcomes for regional remote areas or whether it's mental health.

He really hasn't understood the needs of the Australian people and where they're needed. And I just say to him, please, before you start making silly comments, go out, listen, learn and understand and you might change your mind about what your priorities are.

Industry seeks representation

Just on the heavy vehicle road users charge. The Australian Trucking Association has pulled through a form on how that is calculated. Would you support that? And in addition what is your solution to balancing trucking's share of road maintenance use of infrastructure with cost to the industry?

Mr Littleproud said, "Yeah. Well this is where I think the trucking industry is being responsible and wanting to have a seat at the table and we'd like to be there with them. This is a charge that they expect to get something in return, and that's good roads."

Political posturing failed

Mr Littleproud said, "But when you've got a government that has just ripped in their first budget, $23 billion out of infrastructure, and now paused $120 billion worth of new infrastructure, particularly roads, you've got to ask why. You've got to ask, you've got to appreciate, there's a lot of cynicism about this government and the fact that they announced a 90-day review just before the Budget."

"So really why did they do that? It's because Chris Bowen and Jim Chalmers and the whole gang just wanted to have a good news story that really didn't meet the practical reality. So look, we'd work to be constructive with the trucking industry and the government, but they need to get something for what they're paying for and they're not getting. Thanks guys. Thank you," Mr Littleproud said.

Pictures from Agriculture Victoria Facebook page.


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