Monthly Archives: September 2014

Palmer United Party Motion

30 September 2014

Senator O’SULLIVAN (Queensland—Nationals Whip in the Senate) (20:08): I rise to talk about the outcome of a motion put before the Senate earlier today, a motion moved by the Palmer United Party. I have had to remain back to take this speaking opportunity tonight, because it was absolutely clear that the Palmer United Party, along with the Labor Party and the Australian Greens, were going to ensure for certain that this place never got the opportunity to debate the motion that was presented today not for the first time, but for the second time. There may not be any ongoing debate, but it will not deny me the opportunity to bring some matters to the attention of Palmer’s new parties—the Palmer Labor Party and the Palmer Green Party.

We particularly need to alert our friends in the Greens about some issues that have occurred between Palmer and the Queensland government. This is probably the most unusual alignment that I have seen in a long time. One of the country’s biggest miners in industries that disturb more of the environment than most now has a partnership—where I think Palmer is the senior partner—that relates to matters of the environment. Mr Palmer, in a private capacity through his companies, has been seeking to get approvals in my state of Queensland that will create wholesale disturbance of enormous tracts of land. These are the things that the Greens have rallied against for all of their time in this place, and yet today they surrendered to Palmer to join him in an action to advance their own cause, their common cause. That cause would be the hatred of our very, very popular and increasingly popular Premier of Queensland, Mr Campbell Newman—one of the best premiers we have had there, certainly in the last quarter of a century, Premier Borbidge aside.

Here are some interesting facts. I am going to speak slowly—pick your up pen and take some notes. Seriously: this is what you have signed up to. This document here is the terms that Palmer has presented in an attempt to settle failed litigation with the Queensland government. This is very, very important. The opening sentence should alert you all and strike fear into your hearts. One of the conditions is that the government, if they accept these terms, must use all of their endeavours to have Clive’s agreement ratified by the Queensland parliament. And listen to this one— this is an interesting one for our oldest political party in the country, which pretends to support law and order: they must not invoke or use any provision of the law brought into force by the Economic Development Act, build or act on Palmer’s investments. He is seeking—

Senator McLucas: Mr Palmer.

Senator O’SULLIVAN: Mr Palmer—call him however you will. He is seeking to take his companies outside of the reach of the law. He was unsuccessful with this up until this afternoon, and yourselves and the Australian Greens have now provided him with the opportunity to do that. Part of the agreement was that the state government would be denied the ability to alter, to Waratah’s detriment, the size of the project or the identity or number of its tenements. This is at a time when this company was under order from our state government relating to some issues relating to the tenements. Another term is to ensure that the current significant project status of the project is adopted by the department of Natural Resources. Not to ‘attempt to’, but to ensure that, in exchange for him withdrawing his litigation against the state government, his project is adopted by the department of natural resources. Another is to ‘grant to Waratah an exemption to the current proposed relinquishment of any of the tenements of the project.’ This document in and of itself is outrageous, and this will get a better and fair airing when this inquiry moves to Queensland, because I intend to sit on both sides of the table up there in terms of giving and receiving evidence. In respect of any future offences under the code, they are ‘not to commence any litigation, judicial or administrative applications to seek any orders’ in relation to the Palmer companies. They are ‘not to seek or forfeit or reduce any tenements held by Waratah in the Galilee Basin.’ This is the place that the Australian Greens have rallied against being developed almost every other day since I have been in this chamber. Today, I have to say, was a terribly sad day. From time to time debate in this chamber is robust and we have fierce exchanges, but I had believed from my short time here that the Australian Labor Party, in particular, had understood the basic tenets of the operation of the Senate. Today we have seen, on a second occasion, an attempt simply to turn this Senate’s power into a blunt instrument to advance the political fortunes and the personal fortunes of Mr Palmer. This is payback. The Senate is not the opposition’s play place. They do not get to turn it into a blunt instrument. We understand that you and the Australian Greens have very little in common with Mr Palmer, except that you all want to advance your political fortunes in the state of Queensland. I understand, by jiminy cricket, that you will grasp at anything. You were reduced almost to non-party status in that state.

I invite those opposite and any media listening to look at the terms of reference carefully. Whoever drafted them made a fundamental error. On the advice we have—very senior legal advice—only paragraph (1) of the motion is confined to the current state government of Queensland. The balance of the motion, all the good bits, will also relate to looking at the Labor government. It is not time barred. The opposition’s friends the Greens have done a deal with them to inquire into the overthrow of the approval of the coal-seam gas projects in Queensland—but they were all approved by the former Labor government. It is going to be an interesting time up there. Now that the inevitable has occurred, we are looking forward to it in Queensland. Plans are afoot, and if you are finding your time in the Senate boring I recommend you get onto a participating member in Queensland because when you go across the Tweed things change. We want you to come to Queensland. Plenty have come before you in the belief that they were going to do Queensland over, and they have all left with their tail between their legs —the few left with a tail at all. I urge you to give this some real consideration and allocate some time in your diary to come on up to Queensland and get a feel for it. The mangoes are in full blossom and we will be in full blossom too. Once those mango blossoms get you, you change dramatically. The mangoes will ripen around Christmas time, so come and join us in Queensland for a fun couple of months.

Australia Post must act on inquiry findings, Qld Senators warn

25 September 2014

Queensland LNP Senators Barry O’Sullivan, Ian MacDonald, James McGrath and Matt Canavan have called on Australia Post to act urgently to ensure the viability of privately owned post offices across rural and regional Australia, following the release of a damning Senate Inquiry report yesterday.

The Environment and Communications Legislation Senate Committee report found Australia Post’s lack of consultation with its more than 3000 privately owned post offices was leading to a “growing divide” that threatened long term viability.

Among the 18 recommendations, the committee concluded that:

  • Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull should commission an independent audit of the functions of privately-owned post offices (known as, Licensed Post Offices) and;
  • Australia Post should be required to renegotiate the terms and conditions of some agreements with Licensed Post Offices to ensure they are fair and equitable.

Senator O’Sullivan said Australia Post must support the recommendations to ensure the viability of privately-owned post offices.

“Some payments to privately owned post offices have not kept up with the consumer price index over the past two decades,” he said.

“This is a great deal of money that privately owned post offices have missed out on. These are matters that make the difference between being profitable and unviable. They need to be examined through an independent audit process.

“Post offices stand alongside hospitals and schools as essential services for rural and regional communities. They are the maypole of some communities and we need to fight for their survival.”

Senator MacDonald said many Licensed Post Office operators had dedicated their life savings to the business.

“My primary concern is for continuation of services across Northern Australia particularly in the rural and remote areas that are more reliant on postal services,” he said.

“I know many small business people who put their life savings into LPO businesses in country areas and we need to make sure they are not being ripped off.”

Senator McGrath said rural and remote and small communities needed vibrant and commercially viable postal offices to ensure the communication services and social benefits they provided were maintained.

“I’m a big supporter of regional and rural and small communities, and I’m quite tired of big business – including statutory organisations – brushing aside the needs of these communities for the sake of saving a buck,” he said.

“Australia Post realises that its outlets provide more than a postal service to smaller communities – they also provide a social function, an avenue to maintain better contact with distant friends and retailers and service providers, and it is vital that this is recognised and valued and that it remains.”

Senator Matt Cananvan, whose office is located in Rockhampton in Central Queensland, said it was in the public interest to ensure privately-owned post offices remained viable.

“We must always be pushing for greater economic resilience across rural and regional Australia – but it cannot be at the expense of community liveability,” he said.

“Post Offices are vital communal hubs in rural and regional areas throughout Central Queensland and the rest of the Australia, and the Senate committee recognises that we must do everything in our power to prevent their demise.”

Joint Statement

Office of Queensland Senator Barry O’Sullivan
Office of Queensland Senator Ian MacDonald
Office of Queensland Senator James McGrath
Office of Queensland Senator Matt Canavan

[ENDS]

Media Contacts

For Senator O’Sullivan: Troy Rowling 0400 386 666
For Senator MacDonald: James Hawthorn (02)62773722
For Senator McGrath: Richard Bruinsma 0438 105 686
For Senator Canavan: 0429 680 276

$35,000 boost to community infrastructure delivered in Oxley

24 September 2014

The Federal Government is delivering on its election commitments to the electorate of Oxley through the Community Development Grants Programme.

Senator for Queensland Barry O’Sullivan today announced $35,000 for the Jindalee Golf Club Safety Fence Upgrade Project had been delivered.

Senator Barry O’Sullivan said the funding was a win for the local community and was another example of the Federal Government’s commitment to building infrastructure for communities across Australia.

“A safety fence has been constructed alongside the Jindalee Golf Club’s first and tenth tee to address public safety concerns,” Senator O’Sullivan said.

“Works included removing the original fence and garden bed, and installing a new screen fence.

“This will provide a significant safety improvement for golf players, as well as local residents to reduce the risk of injury from playing golf.”

The Federal Government is in the process of delivering $314.2 million towards almost 300 community projects across Australia.

The programme is administered by the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development which undertakes a value with relevant money assessment of each project against the programme guidelines to ensure the efficient, effective, ethical, and economical use with relevant money.

ENDS.

Media Contacts
For Senator O’Sullivan: Troy Rowling 07 4638 7555

Australia Post Senate Inquiry report findings

24 September 2014

Senator O’SULLIVAN (Queensland—Nationals Whip in the Senate) (17:50): I, too, rise to take note of the report. I particularly want to support the comments of the previous speakers in relation to the level of cooperation between all of the parties, including the Independents in this place, who participated in this inquiry. What bound us all, I think, was a sense of fairness—or lack thereof—with respect to the treatment of so many of these small businesses known as licensed post offices around Australia. I would like to recognise the chairmanship of my colleagues Senator Williams and, later, Senator Ruston. And I would like to compliment the secretariat on a very comprehensive and, I think, excellent report.

I would like to briefly mention, also, retired senator Boswell, who made a big contribution to this in the beginning, and certainly inspired and motivated any number of us to stay the course, as he used to stay, to see that this work was done. I also recognise the work of Angela Cramp and Andrew Hirst and, through them, the dozens and dozens of licensed post offices who went way above the call of duty in making contributions to equipping those of us in this inquiry to remain up to speed with what was happening, and to providing us with data and research. Your contributions are seriously acknowledged, and we thank you on behalf of the entire licensed post office network.

I am going to be brief because a number of people want to speak. I want to put a couple of points on notice. We should never forget in this place or in the House of Representatives that we are the owners of Australia Post. In fact, the minister owner sits with us here today, so he will be able to listen to the recommendations we are making. It is owned by the Minister for Communications and now Minister for Finance. So we do not have to look too far to find out who was responsible for us being in the position that we are in with these licensed post offices. We do not even have to look any further to find where the solutions to these problems exist.

There have been failures on behalf of the Commonwealth owner of Australia Post for literally decades in keeping the principle of using the base postal rate to increase the payments to these post offices for the services that they provide. These are very vital public service commitments that we have made. I am told that delivery of post was one of the first obligations that we made as a nation when we settled here in 1788.

Finally, I want to put Australia Post on notice. These are my words and I do not speak for anyone else in the inquiry. At times I found Australia Post frustrating. I do not think they were as forthcoming as they ought to have been. I found their attitude wanting on occasions when we were looking for their cooperation to work with this investigation to determine the depth and the breadth of the problems within these post offices. So I say to Mr Fahour: it does not end here today with this report; it begins here today and we will be watching. The same collection, the same cohort, of senators from this place who have taken this challenge will be watching.

I urge Mr Fahour and his executive management team to get out in front of our ministers, to get out in front of the owners, and fix these issues over the coming months. These are very seriously urgent issues. There are many people on the breadline. They have been waiting patiently for us to stand up because we are their cul-de-sac. There is nowhere for them to go after they have been to us. We stand between them and viability of their businesses. I say to Mr Fahour: keep an ear to the ground and keep an eye on what is happening because I promise you that that is what I am doing with you, and I am certain that is the case with many of the other senators who make a contribution.

We will see justice done here because we have no other course to take. This is an unusual relationship between this government and these people and we have a responsibility to ensure that we behave in a proper manner. While ever I am in this place—and I speak for the others in this place—we will see that that outcome is achieved. I thank you for the chance to speak.

Bush Matters Op-Ed – “Australia Fund clarification”

19 September 2014

Earlier this month I co-sponsored a motion with Queensland Palmer United Party Senator Glen Lazarus to establish a Joint Select Committee of the Federal Parliament to consider the establishment of an initiative called the Australia Fund.

While there was strong media reportage of the announcement at the time, I feel there is still much misunderstanding about what the inquiry aims to do and the genuine opportunity it provides for a national conversation about economic resilience in rural communities.

In fact, my parliamentary colleagues in the PUP party have similarly been frustrated by some attempts to explain the intent of Australia fund inquiry, with Clive Palmer issuing a press release within 72 hours of the inquiry’s announcement stating he was “disappointed by media coverage.”

Palmer attempted to clarify his position by stating the purpose of the Australia fund would be to provide quicker and more effective natural disaster relief during times of drought, bushfires, cyclones, floods etc.

So let me from the outset state that I do not support the establishment of an Australia Fund.

It is a matter of public record the Australia Fund motion was agreed to between the Abbott government and the Palmer United Party as part of a suite of arrangements associated with the passage of the Minerals Resource Rent Tax Repeal Bill.

Lazarus’ motion was drafted before I partnered into the initiative and, from the outset, I am on the record as saying that while the concept is well-intentioned, I think some of its objectives are destined to fail.

The fund contemplates all sorts of incredulous things including loans and or loan guarantees to financially distressed rural and manufacturing businesses through to outright capitalization of the failing enterprises, the waiving of their interest obligations and indeed, the outright control of the business by the fund for an unspecified period of time.

Many of these concepts will never win support among parliamentarians. Almost every element of these sections of the motion offends the view of the economic rational free marketeers sitting in our current parliament.

It is also against one of the Coalition’s principal statements relating to ending the “age of entitlement”.

The establishment of an inquiry does not in any way guarantee the adoption of any ensuing recommendations that the Select Committee might make.

Indeed some inquiries are philosophically doomed before they even begin. However, I do not believe this inquiry will be one of them.

I have thrown my support behind the inquiry because there is an urgent need for a national conversation about the future economic resilience of our rural and regional communities.

I believe this inquiry provides an opportunity to re-examine drought and debt public policy with crucial contributions from our city-based politicians.

In the seven months that I have been a Senator, I have spoken countless times in the chamber and in the media about the need for substantial structural review and, as will often be necessary, reform, across agriculture and its allied industries to ensure we are not our own worst enemies when seeking to expand market opportunities in the coming decades.

This review and reform process will take different forms for different sectors within agriculture.

However, we should all agree that a fundamental component that all farmers and graziers share is exposure to the variances of the seasons.

Drought was last this bad about a century ago, during the so-called ‘Federation Drought’. These years had a devastating effect on stock numbers in Queensland, with sheep numbers falling from 91 million to 54 million, and cattle from 11.8 million to 7 million.

The Federation Drought was characterised – like countless other droughts – by plagues of rabbits and dingoes and also saw much land degradation due to overstocking.

The damage caused by this natural disaster led to the building of catchment storage and distribution facilities that would enable farmers to enhance the productivity of the land, protect their interests from drought and support regional development and settlement.

It also led to calls for the government action to manage the waters of the Murray River.

But what will be the major lessons learnt from this current drought?

I believe the Australia Fund inquiry has the potential to start a conversation on this important subject.

It is time for Australians to make up their minds about what type of agricultural and primary production sector we want for ourselves and, more importantly, on what terms that might be achieved.

While some have already dismissed this inquiry, I believe it provides an opportunity of significant scale.

We should avoid becoming distracted with the wording of the proposal. Instead, we should concentrate on the motion’s ‘intent’ or the ‘spirit.’

I look forward to reporting its activities as we proceed.

NBN rollout commences at Esk

15 September 2014

The Federal Government has announced that homes and businesses across Esk will soon be connected to services over the National Broadband Network (NBN), as the accelerated countrywide rollout continues.

Queensland LNP Senator Barry O’Sullivan announced that 313 homes and businesses along Highland Street, Esk, will soon be able to take advantage of fast and reliable broadband as NBN construction officially commences this week.

“The Federal Government has overseen a significant acceleration in the pace of the rollout in recent months and it’s great that the people of Esk will reap the benefits,” Senator O’Sullivan said.

“The NBN is a vital piece of infrastructure, providing enhanced connectivity for residents and businesses alike. It will allow people living in regional and rural communities to take full advantage of the commercial and personal benefits from the digital age.

“The Federal Government is focused on driving efficiency and stability within the NBN construction program to deliver on its commitment of providing faster, more efficient and a less costly broadband for all Australians, especially for those in regional areas.”

The Government’s changes to the NBN rollout will save $32 billion, which have been supported earlier this year by an independent review, will see upgrades delivered four years sooner than under Labor and avoid Internet retail bills increasing by up to $43 a month.

Suburbs and towns with the worst broadband service will get priority under NBN Co’s new rollout strategy.

[ENDS.]

Media Contact: Troy Rowling 0400 386 666

Bush Matters Op-Ed – “Shining a light on beef prices”

5 September 2014

The United States’ Packers and Stockyards Act 1921 is a piece of legislation that Australian agriculture is increasingly looking toward as a template to bring much needed price transparency to our national commodity supply chain.

There are some peak industry bodies that have commenced studies into how it could apply to Australia and it has become increasingly mentioned within the corridors of power.

The Act is broadly intended to regulate parts of the supply chain in order to protect the interests of producers and consumers by prohibiting monopolistic or predatory practices through regulation that recognises the unique marketing and distribution practices of livestock production.

It sets out rules that aims to ensure producers are paid promptly based on accurate animal weights and prevents businesses from colluding to manipulate prices or to apportion territory to force sellers to accept lower prices.

Under the act, processors are also compelled to maintain written records to provide justification for differential pricing offered to livestock producers.

Whilst there is work still underway to translate the ideas of this American legislation to the unique needs of Australian beef, we should all be encouraged that a meaningful discussion has commenced about supply chain accountability, openness and transparency.

It’s hard to overstate the urgency of introducing price transparency to the Australian beef industry, given the clear and undeniable concentration of ownership across our supply chain.

As has been reported by some media outlets, my tour of Western Queensland last month served to reaffirm my conviction that debt and profitability are two halves of the same whole, combining to create probably the greatest challenge confronting rural industry.

From the border to the Gulf of Queensland, producers were unbearably frustrated about the fact that they are earning the same level of income per kilogram for their livestock as they were receiving 20 years ago.

These enterprises are reporting, in many cases, zero return on investment and those that are operating effectively are doing so only on about three or four per cent return on investment.

The drought has certainly exacerbated these problems. In the last 24 months, some producers have sold their entire livestock for up to one quarter of the prices per kilogram that they would have received 20 years ago.

Yet it would be difficult for the major supermarkets to argue these pricing issues are also reflected in the retail price.

No other sector would or should put up with such a flat lined earning capacity. And the looming horizon for the cattle market only warns of further pain coming.

Many of the property owners I spoke to during my tour have completely sold their breeding stock, and they are in no financial position to restock their properties – even with a return of fortune with the weather or a restructure of their debt with government support.

Many have sold breeding livestock, including replacement heifers, for as low as 30c or 35c a kilogram, yielding prices that for many barely covered their freight and certainly showed no return on their investment.

We all know that when there is a break in the seasons and surface waters are replenished and the need for investment in fodder and support feed is mitigated, thousands upon thousands of producers will return to the market and will be competing for replacement stock and so, if they are in a position to purchase that stock, they will be buying them at a price 600 or 700 per cent more expensive than they originally sold their breeding stock for.

While there is no doubt there will always be ebbs and flows within the market, which will quite often be challenged and influenced by seasonal conditions and associated supply and demand, it cannot be argued that there is a free and transparent market for cattle already in place in this country that enables businesses to rebuild in a fair and reasonable way.

Introducing and enforcing price transparency will be an essential element to rebuilding the sector following this current drought.

There is perhaps no greater tool that we can arm our agriculture sector with than knowledge and information. This breeds confidence and allows businesses to be more resilient to confront any tough cycles.

We need to open the doors and a shine a light on the financial realities of our beef production cycle. Introducing transparency is essential to this.

It is no longer possible for us to overlook this issue. Our beef producers cannot sustain another decade of unviability.

Nats launch inquiry to examine possible market imbalances in sugar industry

4 September 2014

Canegrower concerns over supply chain market imbalances in the $2 billion Australian Sugar Industry will be examined by a Senate committee after an inquiry was announced in Canberra today.

The inquiry, which passed through the Senate at noon on Thursday, has been instigated by Queensland Nationals Senator Barry O’Sullivan and New South Wales Nationals Senator John Williams.

Under the inquiry’s terms of reference that passed through the Senate, the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References committee will examine supply chain issues such as equitable access to infrastructure, impacts of foreign ownership and whether there is a need for stronger competition laws.

The committee is expected to present its report by 27 November 2014.

Growers through the cane-growing regions of Queensland and New South Wales have expressed concerns over impacts on market power following the announced decision of some major sugar milling companies to exit the current industry marketing arrangements from 2017.

This review will be the first time the issue of market imbalances in the sugar industry has been Federally reviewed in more than a century.

Senator O’Sullivan said strong lobbying from local growers and his Queensland House of Representative colleagues had convinced him of the need for an inquiry.

“My LNP Queensland colleagues who sit with the National Party in the House of Representatives have pushed long and hard for a Senate inquiry and it is pleasing to announce it will proceed,” Senator O’Sullivan said.

“The intended exit from the QSL single desk system by the major milling companies in 2017 will be the most significant change to the Australian Sugar industry in more than a century.

“The seriousness of this structural overhaul and the vocal concerns of growers means government must examine the situation.”

Senator Williams said the inquiry responded to concerns raised by growers in New South Wales and Queensland.

“I had met with growers in the Tweed region and they raised their concerns about the direction their industry was heading,” he said.

“We cannot afford to see another Australian industry on its knees. As legislators, we must find out what the problems are and work to address them.”

Inquiry Terms of Reference:

That the following matter be referred to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee for inquiry and report by Thursday, 27 November 2014.

Current and future arrangements for the marketing of Australian sugar, including:

  • The impact of proposed changes on the local sugar industry, including the effect on grower economic interest sugar;
  • Equitable access to essential infrastructure;
  • Foreign ownership levels in the industry and the potential to impact on the interests of the Australian sugar industry;
  • Whether there is an emerging need for formal powers under Commonwealth competition and consumer laws, in particular whether there are adequate protections for grower-producers against market imbalances;
  • Any related matters.

Media Contacts:
Senator Barry O’Sullivan: Troy Rowling 0400 386 666
Senator John Williams: Greg Kachel 0428 253 560