Monthly Archives: November 2016

SPEECH – Getting the facts right about the Backpacker Tax

30 November 2016

Today is a hallmark day for me. I have spent my three years in this place endeavouring to expose the Labor Party and the Greens and a couple of others for their hatred of the bush and farmers. And what you have just done today—we have seen you do before in 2011—with the legislation on the backpacker tax is right up there with the suspension of the live cattle trade. You see if it does not play out over Christmas. You have just put thousands of farms, small producers, people in the service industries and people in the beef industry in a terrible position because you know—and we do not want this fraud to go without being exposed—full well that 10.5 per cent taxation is not on the table. It has never been on the table. It was not on the table today and it will not be on the table in the future. This bill is going to come back to this place at 15c and it will have to lay on the table until our farmers in their thousands have called you—and I will devote my entire Christmas break to stirring this up—until you have had hundreds and hundreds of calls each, as they share with you what their Christmas is like when their fruit remains on the trees, when their small crops remain in the fields, when processing cannot occur and the service industries cannot operate and when all of those resorts up and down our coast and in your states cannot operate. I notice a lot of you do not come from my place, and to the few that do, I will tie this stinking, rotten, dead kangaroo around your throats in Queensland. I will make sure that every Queenslander knows that senators from Queensland supported this legislation to send these businesses to the wall at 32½c.

And do you know what the insidious thing is? That your defence to this has been that somehow this was the government’s backpacker tax. Well, you know full well that the greatest treasurer ever to live, Mr Swan, introduced this in 2012 with the support of the Greens. This is the Greens-Labor coalition backpacker tax—make no mistake about it. To use the words of Mr Keating: ‘It is law. L-A-W.’ This is not something to be fiddled around the edges with; this is the current tax rate for foreign nationals. And what the Greens would have us do—let me just concentrate there for a moment—is put them in a position where the foreign nationals can come into this country, just come in from I do not know where—Syria, Iraq, New Zealand, where if you like. What one of the speakers for the Greens did the other day was, when you get to that question for tax purposes, mark off that you are a resident. The Greens promoted fraud in a speech the other day. We found out why: because the speaker has these backpackers working on his grape farm and two of them are living at Mum’s.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Gallacher ): Senator O’Sullivan, please direct your comments through the chair and not across the chamber.

Senator O’SULLIVAN: Well, he needs to get on the phone to Mum now and get the rent for the next three months. He needs to get on the phone and tell Mum to put an ad in the paper to get himself some new tenants because these people are going at 32½c.

I have to tell you—this place—you know what? People out there are sick to death of all of us. They are sick to death of their parliament and all of this crap that goes on with politics. They want us to get on with the job and that is exactly what we did. The government went out and took 1,760 submissions from industry, the farm sector, the service sectors sector and the tourist sector.

We took some independent advice on it and we settled on 19c because that is what they wanted. You senators have come in here and said, ‘My farmers in Tasmania are ringing me every day.’ We had an audacious statement from Senator Whish-Wilson, who told us that he spoke to every farmer in Tasmania. How ridiculous is that!

Senator Carol Brown interjecting

Senator O’SULLIVAN: It is on the Hansard. You are supporting this, Senator Brown. He has persuaded you to do this. It was the most atrocious, misleading statement in this Senate since I have been here. He said he spoke to every farmer in Tasmania. Think about that. I tell you what I will do, Whishy: bring your phone logs in and prove it and I will give you a free trip to Paris.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, on a point of order?

Senator Cameron: Senator O’Sullivan knows that he should address a senator by their proper title.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator O’Sullivan, I do remind you to address those opposite or on other benches by their correct titles.

Senator O’SULLIVAN: That is Senator Whish-Wilson, if anyone was in any doubt. I am sorry, Doug, that I did that. The fact of the matter is that we have a situation here where those opposite have persisted in providing advice into this Senate that is false and have persuaded some of the crossbenchers, who have really demonstrated a real show of ignorance on this issue.

We have just seen Senator Culleton, who is from One Nation and from the bush and has been fighting for farmers, send his neighbours to the wall. That is what he has done today. One Nation is divided. It is an empty vessel now. It is finished. Culleton is one of the Labor Party or maybe one of the Greens.


Senator O’SULLIVAN: ‘Senator Culleton’—my apologies.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Yes. Please extend the courtesy expected by the chamber.

Senator O’SULLIVAN: Put a global ‘Senator’ before any senator’s name I say so we do not have this problem! We have a serious situation on our hands—

Senator Cameron: Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I know debates are wide ranging, but to treat the Senate in the way in the way that the senator has done now is just unacceptable. He cannot be so flippant about what he is doing. He should actually treat the chamber with some respect.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator O’Sullivan, I do remind you of the requirement for all acting deputy presidents to observe the standing orders. I do remind you as an acting deputy president to observe the courtesies expected by the President.

Senator O’SULLIVAN: I do respect that. I apologise to the chair for any difficulty that I have created. But I will tell you what: you know you are on the money when Senator Cameron gets up every two minutes to interrupt the thrust of your speech! I have had three interruptions. That is a record for me. Senator Cameron has been interfering, but it will not make any difference because, until this tax rate is settled, every time I come into this place I will talk about this issue. They have to have it branded on their foreheads in the Labor Party and the Greens.

Senator Culleton, Senator Hinch and others: you have ownership of this. This was your tax. This is your tax. The power rests with you to bring it back to a reasonable rate. It is less than what the sector wanted, less than what the agriculture industry wanted and less than what the farmers wanted. It is down four per cent.

Senator Carol Brown interjecting

Senator O’SULLIVAN: Senator Brown, you need to spend a bit more time reading up on the results of inquiries. I will bet you London to a brick that no-one on the other side has even read the results of the inquiry that was done in the lower house to provide this 19 per cent tax rate.

This is exactly the same as the cessation of the live cattle trade, only it is going to affect more small businesses in the bush. It is going to affect many more than in the live cattle trade. In effect it is up in the north and it flows down through the trade and the market into the south. This is going to affect thousands of small businesses, including mum-and-dad operations at Stanthorpe, Warwick, Laidley and the Lockyer. That is the food bowl of my home state.

The only good thing to come out of this is that in all of these areas the Labor Party will never ever get another vote—not as long as they breathe. The Greens already do not get a vote there. As I said the other day, when the Greens get up and speak in favour of farmers and agriculture, farmers everywhere break out into a big sweat. They really do. They break out into a big sweat. They have a Bex and a lie down and wonder what they have just seen. That is what they are going to find today. You people opposite have crippled these small businesses.

Senator Carol Brown: You have!

Senator O’SULLIVAN: No, it is you people. This is your tax. This is a Labor tax of 32½c and you have just reinforced it today through your actions in this chamber. You do not care about what happens in the bush. Senator Brown does not have a bloody clue about what happens there, and she certainly does not care about what happens there.

This is a devastating decision in this place. This is a devastating economic decision. I see you sitting there, Senator Cameron, with that grin you have. I tell you what: I will get the farmers to take the grin off your dial when they start to contact your office. You will need to put extra staff on. You have brought the economy of these small businesses to a standstill.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, you have a point of order?

Senator Cameron: Again, Senator O’Sullivan should actually not threaten a senator in this place. His behaviour during this debate has been absolutely disgusting and he should be called to order.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: All I have heard is Senator O’Sullivan encouraging electors to ring senators’ offices, so I do not think there is a point of order there.

Senator O’SULLIVAN: Democracy at work, it is! Fancy! You are going to have to take the calls of some angry constituents in relation to the decision that you take today.

I will close. This is going to come back from the House. There is going to be no acceptance for a 10½c tax. That has the support of all in government, including the National Party. I say that before this group starts to bleat about it. Think about it. We are their people. We live for them, and we support this decision of the government. So those opposite should not start during question time and at other times to suggest that there is some division or fracture within this government. There is none. We are as one on this. I have nothing else to do now in my office as a senator but get this fixed. I will work hard with my colleagues. There are 22 National Party people and many, many Liberal senators and members who will go into the Christmas break now and devote every part of their resources to making sure that every small business in the bush and every economy understands that this is the decision of those opposite decision from start to finish. They made it, and they will have to live with the consequences.

SPEECH – Defending the Trans Pacific Partnership

30 November 2016

Senator O’SULLIVAN : I want to make an observation about a trend that seems to be appearing—

Senator Dastyari interjecting

Senator O’SULLIVAN: Senator Dastyari we know, of course, is up for trade. He wants to trade, but only with China! He only wants to trade with China. So we know that we have his support for the China FTA. I know that he is not operating on a large scale—dim sim and spring roll stuff—but nonetheless we do appreciate his contribution. Halal dim sims are going to be the new black in food!

I am seeing a disturbing trend in this Senate. It just so happens that at the moment the Senate seems to have all of the power in government in terms of what will or will not happen. I am seeing a disturbing trend in the exercise of that power by those who sometimes have it—that is particularly Labor and the Greens—with what seems to be a concerted effort to pursue policies and decisions that are impacting negatively on rural Australia, agriculture and those who produce those soft commodities—beef, fibre and food.

I truly want to make a genuine contribution to ask colleagues in the Senate to have regard for some facts. The first fact is that we are a trade exposed nation in agriculture. Well over 70 per cent of what we produce in this country is sold. Given the circumstances of our labour market—and I am not going to reflect on any adjustments required there because the problem with labour market challenges is cheaper labour amongst all of our competitors.

But let me come back to the issue before us—the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The countries involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership represent around 40 per cent of the GDP, particularly around agriculture, in the world. About 800 million people are within the countries involved in the TPP. Those countries import roughly one-third of the total goods and services exports, worth over $100 billion, from this country.

This has been five years in the drafting and negotiation phase and there had not been one peep about it until we were at the eleventh hour. It amazes me, particularly with the Greens, how they are joining Donald Trump in relation to this question. It was only a week ago that they referred to him as the most dangerous creature on earth. Now what they will do on the national interests of this country is send a clear message to Trump that they join him. On the philosophy of protectionism and not wanting the TPP to occur, they join him. They do not want Australia to engage in this.

For those countries that import around 34 per cent or one-third of the total Australian agricultural exports—and that is based on the most recent figures from 2015—this is going to create the elimination of tariffs, almost 90 per cent of the tariffs involved in trade with these nations. I can tell you that when you get out and about in rural Australia and with the real people on farms who have an interest in this or when you meet with the peak industry bodies—the NFFs and cattle councils of the world, and there are 72 of them who have a real interest up in my home state to do with horticulture and the like—they tell you that they want us to pursue equitable trade agreements as often as we can. They are anxious with this talk that we will pick and choose trade agreements based on two or three issues that are raised in opposition to them.

We all know about sugar. There has really been an argument on recent trade agreements we have done with Korea, Japan and China that sugar has missed out. This particular agreement will give an additional 65,000 tonnes of sugar to the US. So let us just hold the phone on sugar for a moment as I make this contribution. The sugar industry is a major industry in my state of Queensland. It is concentrated almost wholly in the state. Some in this place not only want to prevent that industry from spreading its wings in relation to trade and export opportunities but also want to introduce a sugar tax. I am no economist, but I do not need to be an economist; I am a farmer. I will tell you this: if the TPP does not proceed and if you people are successful in introducing a sugar tax, the sugar industry—which is a fragile industry at the best of times and exposed to world prices—will come to an end. In my home state, 4,500 sugar-farming families, their wives, their husbands, their children, their small communities, their newsagents and their bakers are all going to suffer enormously as a result of the activities of this place in what, it is becoming evident, is anti-agriculture.

Our friends in the Greens come in here in their leather shoes, cotton pants and woollen jumpers, yet they do not want us to run sheep. You would know that, Senator Williams, you are battling it all the time. They do not want us to disturb—

Senator Williams: Absolutely. They produce methane—those naughty sheep!

Senator O’SULLIVAN: You are the only non-Kiwi I know who loves his sheep as much as you do, Senator Williams! The Greens do not want us to disturb a metre of ground to be able to cultivate it for cotton. They do not want us to go down to the river and take another milk bottle full of water out to irrigate the cotton.

Senator Williams: It’s got to go straight out to sea!

Senator O’SULLIVAN: That is right. They want that water to go out into the Great Australian Bight, as I understand their current arguments. They do not want us to expend any fuel that might emit some micronism of carbon—I do not quite understand the whole argument there.

 Senator Hanson-Young is not in her seat, Mr Acting Deputy President, but I will not draw that to your attention. She comes in here in the finest of robes. You are a very well-presented lady, Senator Hanson-Young. Do you know where those robes come from? They do not come out of Myer. They come out of a paddock somewhere near where I live. They come out of a header, they go into a processor, they are processed, and they are turned into that cotton and that wool that you wear. Of course, you think that somehow down at the bottom of the garden there is a little fairy there with a set of knitting needles and that this silk comes from—I do not know where—Nirvana or somewhere and just appears on the end of the knitting needles and makes those beautiful garments that you and your friends in the Greens wear.

We see the resistance. But Senator Williams is one—I am another, and we have many colleagues on this side—who will steadily and continually draw people’s attention back to your resistance and to bring their attention back to what you have to say, the decisions you make that are going to impact on our farmers and pastoralists and those in the small communities who support them—those whose entire lives’ investments are in these small economies around our country. I intend to make it my life’s work to continue to bring to their attention your attitudes and decisions in matters around agriculture—just like the one you made today, Senator Lambie, through you, Mr Acting Deputy President. Just like your decision today. You are going to pull horticulturalists to their knees. Those great cherries from Tasmania will remain on the trees for this year. (Time expired)

SPEECH – Some thoughts on the NBN

24 November 2016

That was almost a manic contribution. I often find myself in the position these days of having to devote so much of my time to pastoral care of our friends on the other side, to try to educate them. You can reject it—it is a feature of ignorance. I am about to let you know the real story in relation to the NBN. The other thing is that I made the comment only yesterday: farmers everywhere—people who live west of the Great Divide, people who live in provincial parts of the state—should break out in a cold sweat every time someone from the Labor and/or Greens coalition starts to talk about their interests. To be honest, I will bet you London to a brick it has been a long time since you have driven any more than 20 minutes where there have not been four lanes, Senator.

Senator Bilyk: You are condescending!

Senator O’SULLIVAN: This is my experience in the bush.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Bilyk, on a point of order?

Senator Bilyk: I am not sure which senator Senator O’Sullivan was referring to, but if he is not sure, three of the Labor senators in the room come from Tasmania. We would be lucky to get any four-lane highways.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: That is a debating point.

Senator O’SULLIVAN: To clear up the point for Senator Bilyk, I was referring to all four of them. The situation we have is that for decades the question of communications in the bush was ignored completely through the entire term of the Australian Labor government. I have met with dozens of families who reported to me that they had to get up in the early hours of the morning so they could just do a transaction with their accountant or a business transaction or simple search on the internet. I had many old-timers tell me—I remember one in particular when I was going through Birdsville, but it was consistent with reports that I was getting right across my own state of Queensland—that the School of the Air was more efficient that the communications system that had been provided to them under the former Labor government.

The stories and the accounts that I get from the bush are completely different to the one or two little exercises undertaken by the previous speaker. We now have the Sky Muster satellites, and that brings great promise to the bush. People are reporting now that they are able to function, particularly around the scope of education and delivery of health care. For example, we have had entire surgical units set up with the capacity to provide rural health services, which had not been able to function until this government came to power and brought the NBN on line with Sky Muster. They could not use the equipment. They had state-of-the-art equipment but they could not connect or communicate. So the story that I get as I move around my home state of Queensland is completely different to the story just provided.

It is a question of us rolling this out. If you go back to some of the figures, we are now on track to connect 1.2 million services this year. For the first four months there were 400,000 new customers. So if you want to have a conversation about how the market is responding, we are happy to have that conversation—400,000 new customers in four months, which is 100,000 customers a month. It is an increase. We added another 613,000 in the last financial year, so that will be 1.8 million Australians who will go on in just on two years with our rollout of the NBN. When you compare that with what was happening under Labor it is not hard to make the statistical comparison, because absolutely nothing was happening.

This was a multibillion dollar brainstorm when Labor dealt with it. I am sure the people in the gallery will be absolutely shocked to understand that the entire structure of the NBN, when the Labor government was in control of it, was done on the back of a napkin. We have all drawn on the back of a napkin—

Senator Brandis: I thought it was a beer coaster.

Senator O’SULLIVAN: I am sorry—on the back of a beer coaster—and we have all made annotations on the back of a beer coaster. You come here today to criticise this government, which is very organised. This government has absolutely exceeded all expectations in the rollout of the NBN. The rollout of the NBN will make the bush in Australia much more productive and, socially, a much better place to live, which is inconsistent with previous contribution.

SPEECH: if the sun sets and this legislation has not passed the Senate, it will be a disaster for rural Australia

23 November 2016

Farmers all over the country will have just broken out in a big sweat when they think that the Greens are finally standing up to articulate matters that are in their interest. I will say that one of the features that come out of the contribution from the Australian Labor Party and their coalition partners, the Australian Greens, is of course that they leave the facts out. The story does not sound anywhere near as compelling when the facts are left out.

Senator Polley interjecting

Senator O’SULLIVAN: I am pleased that I have the attention of Senator Polley. Let’s first of all debunk the story about our government introducing the backpackers tax. The facts of the matters are that in the 2012-13 budget, the best Treasurer the world has ever seen, Mr Swan, introduced the rate of 32.5c, which is now loosely referred to as the backpacker tax. So it is a Labor-Greens backpacker tax that we are dealing with. I am pleased to see that Senator Whish-Wilson fits the description of another senator here now who understands the Constitution better than the High Court, and we now have a situation where he understands tax rules and tax laws better than the Taxation Office and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, who visited this question in 2015. This where this dilemma comes from. The Greens-Labor backpacker tax was tested in the—

Senator Polley interjecting

Senator O’SULLIVAN: Through you, Madam Deputy President, I know this is really inconvenient rhetoric for Senator Polley, but if you sit there quietly, kick your shoes off, throw your legs up and have a listen, you are going to learn something out of this, Senator Polley. Here are the facts: you introduced the tax at 32.5c, so it is a Greens-Labor backpacker tax, if you want to give it that name. In March 2015 the tax office took three matters to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, where the question posed was whether these backpackers were residents of Australia. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal ruled that they were not residents and, therefore, they were subject to the 32.5c—

Senator Whish-Wilson interjecting

Senator O’SULLIVAN: I know that Senator Whish-Wilson often does not put as much research into matters as he ought to, but I am happy to help him, because I have put the effort in. It was the Administrative Appeals Tribunal that made the ruling that they could not—in the contribution made by the senator before me it was almost suggesting that if you are confronted with the form, and you are a foreign national, a backpacker from Panama or Patagonia—I do not even know where Patagonia is—confronted with a form asking, ‘Are you a resident of Australia?’ you would tick the box. On your version of events, that is all that needs to happen. In fact, that is inconsistent with the law. The law does not support your principle. I really think that people looking at the Hansard of your speech ought to do a little bit of due diligence themselves. I expected a bit more from someone who has been a banker. But of course the contribution was not being made by a banker; it was being made by a grape-grower who uses this labour on their farm and does not want them to pay any tax. You talk about a conflict when you made some reflections on me. But let’s get back to the issue at hand. This was Labor’s—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Whish-Wilson, on a point of order?

Senator Whish-Wilson: Senator O’Sullivan just slurred me. It was unparliamentary. I do not know what conflict he was referring to there. I think he needs to clear the record on that.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I do not believe there was a slur, Senator Whish-Wilson. It has been a wide-ranging debate.

Senator O’SULLIVAN: The donkey will continue to bray, to use your own words, as we are talking about slurs. Let’s get down to the serious issue here. We have the Labor-Greens backpacker tax at 32.5c. We have a confirmation that the existing law of the land was to be followed by the Australian Taxation Office. That is supported by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. That is the simple pathway by which we found ourselves where we were. What did the government do? The government of the day, with a great deal of support and energy from members of the National Party, which has been under attack here, went to industry. We eventually took 1,760 submissions. Let me repeat that for effect: 1,760 submissions from all interested parties right across all the sectors of tourism, service industries, agriculture, particularly in horticulture, and, in pockets, meat processing. We went to them all. I must confess that even if I had rung every agricultural producer in Queensland, I would not have said it because it would have been met with the incredulous disbelief that met your statement that you have somehow rung every agricultural producer in Tasmania. I know there are not a lot of people in Tasmania, but that statement was outrageous. For you to present to this place and suggest that somehow you have caucused every interested party in Tasmania diminishes your argument. It puts your argument under clear doubt.

What I can tell you—this is a matter of public record, and these submissions are available for you on the government website—is that we took 1,760 very well-made and comprehensive submissions from all those industries. As a result of that the government settled on a position. We settled on matters to resolve this. You know who the first one was to agree with us? The Labor Party’s shadow Treasurer, at the Press Club. He was the very first one. If you have a laptop here today, whip it open and have a look: you have still banked 32.5c in your budget—Labor’s budget. You have not put it down to zero, as Senator Whish-Wilson would want. You have not even put it down to 10.5c. You have it in there at 32.5c.

Senator Polley interjecting

Senator O’SULLIVAN: Senator Polley, when you make a contribution today, what you should do is say to the Australian people, ‘We’ve had a big change of mind and change of heart: we’re going to cut the billyo out of this $540 million that we have in our budget papers, online, today, contemporaneously,’ and when the $370 million disappears from revenue, you tell them what you are going to cut out of your services or what other taxes you are going to provide.

Senator Polley interjecting

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Polley!

Senator O’SULLIVAN: When I get Senator Polley going without a breath, I know that I am right on the money. This is proving to be grossly embarrassing for our Labor-Greens coalition sitting opposite here, because this has been their problem. This remains a problem for you. It is not for us. After we have consulted industry extensively and had 1,760 submissions, we have settled on a very balanced and fair position for this backpacker tax.

Let me now made a point. I promise you this: if the sun sets today and this legislation has not passed the Senate, the tax rate is 32.5c. All of these industries that you all pretend that you are supporting, with your crocodile tears—I tell you what: I move around the bush of Australia a lot, and I have never cut the tracks of any of you. No-one ever said that you were at bloody Wagga Wagga, or you were up there at Chinchilla or Cunnamulla or Dalby or all the places where I spend my entire time. This is a very serious matter and I should no longer make light of my contribution.

SPEECH – Achievements of the Turnbull Government

9 November 2016

As I make my contribution, might I open by saying that, whilst I do not believe in fairies, if a fairy ever visits me and gives me three wishes I will strike two of them and just take one, and that is that I get to follow Senator Watt every time he makes a contribution in this place. I came in here a bit worried that I would not be able to fill my 12 or 13 minutes, but you have filled my speech from top to bottom. Just in case someone is watching—and Australians do not watch the nonsense that you go on with, but in case they are—let me fill in the gaps.

Let me start with Manus and Nauru. What you forgot to tell the Australian people, of course, is that the policy of isolating people on Manus and Nauru was the policy of the Australian Labor Party. It was a Rudd special. He went to bed one night and he did not have a clue what to do about immigration. He did not want to duplicate the policies of the Howard government that had been so successful and have been reinstated by this government. That is the authority that this government and Malcolm Turnbull have: the reinstatement and the reinforcement of policies. Now people are not drowning at sea. I have not heard the word ‘drowning’ come out of the mouth of any Labor or Green contribution in this place on the question of immigration, notwithstanding that over 1,200 souls—some whose names are not known, some women and children—drowned under the policies of the Australian Labor Party. So Manus and Nauru are products of the Labor Party.

Here is a really sad feature that you forgot to mention, Senator Watt: the backpacker tax at 32.5c. I will call upon my colleague here to assist. I am going to ask a question and I bet Senator Williams has the answer. Who created the 32.5 per cent backpacker tax?

Senator Williams: The Australian Labor Party.

Senator O’SULLIVAN: The Australian Labor Party did, in 2012. So you need to go back. The Australian Labor Party lifted the rate for that class of tax from 28c to 32.5c in 2012, so it is another product. I honestly know that is inconvenient.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator O’SULLIVAN: Senator Williams, you can hear the shrills when that fact is being given. We have to keep this comparison up. What you forgot to mention was, of course, the significant trade deals that have been done. Seven years under the Australian Labor Party and not one single sheet of paper was dirtied on a trade deal. Not one in seven years. They were too busy at that time not supporting our defence industries and manufacturing—the things that they give a shrill cry about now. That was in seven years, and what did we do? When the best trade minister in history, I think, since Federation came in, Andrew Robb, he closed those deals in less than two years—Korea, Japan and China. You think that eggs come out of a carton and the carton comes out of the fridge. People like Senator Williams and I know the importance of these things and know the importance of the work that this government have done to increase the trade. We have value added billions upon billions and billions of dollars of opportunity for people in agriculture right across the country.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator O’SULLIVAN: You want to talk about an agenda? We had an agenda to strengthen agricultural industries. I have been producing beef for 35 years. The biggest contribution that you guys made to beef, of course, was your policy to shut down a billion-dollar trade. You killed a trade; you killed industries; you killed sectors; you killed entire economic communities. There are hundreds and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of longstanding, generational farming businesses that remain in trouble because of that decision. But what have we done? Do you want to know what our agenda was? Our agenda was to restore confidence. Our agenda was to restore growth and fix the economy and the beef sector. I can tell you now that beef for which we were getting $1.50 and $1.60 a kilogram only two years ago is bringing well over $4 for producers. Of course, not everyone can take advantage of it because some of them are still reeling from the impact of the live cattle trade that was coupled with the drought. I have not found a way to blame you for the drought, but I have not given up on the prospect of that either. I will continue to work on that question.

In the meantime, you want to talk about an agenda and you want to talk about delivery by this government. Let’s start to have a talk. You do not even have a member in northern Australia, with the exception of, I think, one member in the Northern Territory, so it has been ignored by the Australian Labor Party for decades.

Senator O’Neill: That is not true.

Senator O’SULLIVAN: That is true. What has our government done? Our government has put a $5 billion stimulus in place—a $5 billion package to promote northern Australia. That is going to lift some of those communities up and bring them some of the prosperity that the rest of us enjoy—those who live in postcodes ending with three noughts.

We put the Sky Muster system in. We had an agenda to build a communication base so that our businesses in the bush right across Australia were able to compete. These are people who used to have to get up at two o’clock in the morning under the old system to try and fill out a form online to send it back to their accountant or to one of their customers.

Senator O’Neill interjecting

Senator O’SULLIVAN: Listen, I bet it has been a long time since you have been out bush, Senator. I bet you it is a long time since you have been out in the bush. I have never cut your tracks out there; I promise you. I am telling you that in country Australia they are over the moon about the introduction of Sky Muster. There are new enterprises and there are new investments going on, because now they can—before they could not.

Under Labor not one bit of attention was paid to the people in the bush with respect to communications, so our agenda to fix the communication issues in the bush is working a treat. Before that we had families divided. They were trying to get schooling via the internet. You did nothing—not one thing—to support isolated families financially to enable them to give their children an education. That was something that they could only dream about. It is something that you take for granted around the corner from where you live. We put $44 million into that recently. So we do have an agenda to build circumstances in regional and rural Australia to give those young ones an equal chance at education, which is something that you and your mob take for granted.

Senator Watt from Queensland talked about our investment but that nothing was happening with it. Well, I tell you what, Senator Watt: I intend to make sure that the Hansard of your speech goes to everybody in the Darling Downs, because they are seeing tractors, dozers and graders, using the $1.7 billion investment from this government, to deal with the bottleneck on the range crossing. Sixty-six per cent of our country’s beef that is exported comes off the Darling Downs and down the range crossing. We have invested $1.7 billion into that. That is part of our agenda. Our agenda is to invest in that part of the economy, where Senator Williams and I have a particular interest—our deputy agriculture minister is also in the chamber, so they are well represented on this side of the chamber here today. We are investing in them. We have not forgotten them. Just because they will not vote for us in certain areas does not mean that we forget them like the Australian Labor Party has done. We are investing the $1.7 billion to increase productivity on the Darling Downs to bring all those commodities down to the Port of Brisbane.

Our people supported the development of the first private airport on the Darling Downs—the first in something like 30 years to be developed. We are bringing enabling infrastructure around that out at Charlton and with the Warrego Highway. Another half a billion dollars is being spent there. We have committed $100 million to the Outback Way, and there is another $500 million to be distributed. We have found $500 million in our budget to get the arterial road systems in the west moving again, so that we can get more of these cattle, more of this produce, more of this wheat, more of these chickpeas to the Port of Brisbane and get our terms of trade in order.

I have been sitting patiently since this government was returned waiting to hear anybody from that side of the chamber ask a question or offer something constructive in the field of education, particularly education for rural Australia—not a single word. I have waited to hear your contribution on health—

Senator Sterle: I work behind the scenes.

Senator O’SULLIVAN: Senator Sterle, you are going to trip me up now! Senator Sterle will no doubt make a magnificent contribution, if he is the next speaker. But the fact of the matter is that there has been not one word on health nor a question. On the economy—this is my favourite—you need to look it up in the dictionary. It is the thing that underpins everything within the government’s capacity. You left it in a complete and absolute mess. Between you and the Greens you left the biggest debt that this nation has ever seen.

As I pin my big ears forward, listening for something, anything, even a squeak, from that side of the chamber to contribute to the development of health services, education services and the economy in this country, do you know what I hear, Senator Williams? I hear nothing every time. We sit together, Senator Williams and I, and we bet a carton of stubbies every time one of you people straighten your legs: ‘Are they going to ask a question about education?’ No, they are not. They default to Bobby Day. It is a Bobby Day question. Then Senator Williams asks: ‘Are they going to do something on the economy?’ No, they are not—not one word—because they are illiterate on the economy.

The Labor Party is an empty vessel. Since we returned to government they have not made one constructive contribution. Do you want to talk about your backpacker tax? We engaged with industry until we settled on a position that industry wanted and that we felt was fair and equitable. The industry has been subject to a number of inquiries—and I have criticised my own mob, standing right here, about the time it has taken us—but we got there. We took away the uncertainty in the agriculture and tourism industries and in general services, particularly in the bush, and what do you do? This will not be resolved by Christmas, because you want to join with a couple of these dandies here and bring in some tax rate that means that a young Australian who is standing right beside them—

An opposition senator interjecting

Senator O’SULLIVAN: I tell you what: I did not think I could attract a crowd like this! It is terrific, Senator Williams. Look at this! They are coming out of the woodwork now because I am stimulating their thoughts on issues about the economy. They are looking to me for little gems to hang onto and build on, so that they can develop policies and articulate them in this place. The vacuum has not gone. There is a little bit in the vessel now because they started to have listen up. Well, I am really pleased. I could not even pull a crowd like this when I was putting on a free barbecue! Well, there you go. That is fantastic.

The fact of the matter is that at the end of this presentation I can tell you: we do have an agenda. I do not have the time today to go through it line by line; it would take me a week—not only to talk about our agenda but to talk about the delivery of our agenda. Australia is a better place under us, and it will continue to grow and prosper under the Turnbull coalition government.

SPEECH – Assistance for Isolated Families

8 November 2016

Before I deliver my speech, which I intend to read in part so as not to conflict with the standing orders, I need to recognise the fact that this speech was written by a young intern in my office, the granddaughter of a family in the Barcaldine and Longreach district who were very well respected graziers in the sixties and the seventies. I put a challenge to her that I wanted her to write a speech acknowledging the importance of education for our isolated children. She interviewed me, and this is the result of her work. Her name is Zoe. Zoe starts by saying: Henry Lawson wrote it best when he said women are the backbone of the Australian bush. Lawson wrote that women were the backbone and the heart of rural Australia, keeping their farms going, their families together and their communities alive.

From my travels around rural Australia, engaging with agricultural communities, I have been fortunate to share company with countless of these tough and resilient rural women. These mothers, wives, business operators and community leaders face a daily battle to keep the family unit progressing, often against significant hurdles. Never are these difficulties more apparent than when families struggle to provide their children with an appropriate and continuous education.

To give some perspective of the difficulties these bush women confront, I want to tell the story of one of the many women who I have been able to meet as a senator. She is a mother residing in the small Western Queensland community of Stonehenge. For those who have not been to this corner of my state, Stonehenge is the very definition of a one-horse town—a very proud one-horse town, I might say. There is little more than a school, a pub, an information centre and a general store. The township has a population of about 30 people.

On the day that I met this mother, she told me that the drought had stripped the family of their savings and earnings, forcing her husband to accept work interstate, which left her to continue operating the family property alone. They could also no longer afford to send their children to boarding school either, and so they had been forced to bring them back to the property. Now, on a daily basis, this mother is forced to make impossible decisions that no city dweller can truly comprehend. Simply to ensure her children receive an education, she is forced to drive a round trip of 300 kilometres five days a week from the family farm to the Stonehenge primary school. With no school bus run in the district, each school morning she leaves the family beef property and drives 150 kilometres with her children to the tiny school in Stonehenge. Once she reaches the school, she then decides whether to wait in town all day or drive the 150 kilometres back to the property. With her husband working interstate and the couple unable to afford to employ a stockman or farm labourer, the family property is placed under increasing pressure as they struggle to keep their heads above water.

It is important to reiterate that this family is just one of the many living in rural and remote Australia that are being forced to make the tough decision to split up the family, remove children from boarding schools or entirely relocate to town in order to access education for their children. These are all drastic measures to reduce educational expenses, not to mention the negative impacts on the family unit and the wider rural community.

Even with the breaking of the drought across much of my state of Queensland following unprecedented winter rainfall, we still confront families that have almost completely destocked only to find they now have bountiful feed on the ground but cannot afford to restock their properties. Without a reliable income, many rural families are still facing difficulty affording the necessities of life, including a decent education for their children. Every Australian child has a right to education. Our future generation, our future leaders of this country, need to have access to appropriate educational services. Families residing in geographically isolated areas of Australia all have an equal right to access appropriate education as their urban cousins. Governments have an obligation to make sure that the right to a comprehensive, easily accessible education service is available to all Australian children, parents and families, regardless of where they might live. Rural and remote families are not second-class citizens and they do not deserve a second-class education.

When I speak about the resilient rural women who keep our bush communities alive, there is perhaps none stronger than those in the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association. The ICPA has represented families living in rural and remote regions of Australia since 1971 and is dedicated to ensuring that all students from these areas have equity of access to a continuing and appropriate education. The ICPA understands the need for rural and remote families to be able to provide an education for their children while continuing to reside and work in rural and remote regions. The ICPA Federal Council was hard at work once again last sitting conducting meetings with members and senators in this building. This group of women have worked hard to gain the respect of many of my colleagues in parliament and it is allowing us to work together to deliver sound public policy for rural families.

One of the most challenging issues the ICPA has confronted for many years has been the amount of financial assistance they receive compared with the cost of boarding school education. With the drought having delivered a devastating impact on the finances of these communities, governments need to clearly understand that rural families have been left struggling. Combined boarding and tuition fees in my home state of Queensland are approximately $30,000 per student, and this cost increases at a rate of six to seven per cent per annum. Unfortunately, in the past the assistance allowance has not increased at the same rate as the boarding fees. From my very first meeting as a senator with the ICPA council, the growing disparity between government financial assistance for isolated children and the actual cost of boarding schools across Australia was identified as a real concern. I am pleased to report that the government has taken some very strong measures in this space.

During the election campaign the Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, stood before the National Press Club and announced that $44.7 million would be provided to increase assistance for isolated children. This will provide immediate financial relief for 1,150 of the most financially vulnerable children and their families. The federal government is now also working closely with groups such as ICPA to determine where the remaining funding allocation could best assist the 4,572 students living in rural and remote Australia who currently receive the Isolated Children Scheme boarding allowance. Combined with an independent review into the policy settings for rural and remote education, it is clear the government has taken real steps towards building positive change in the educational opportunities delivered for these young Australians. While some of my opponents may label me as an old-fashioned agrarian socialist—I did not know she put that in there—I pledge to continue to take action against any economic and social disparity that weakens rural Australia. I will continue to make clear my intention to support public policy that ensures rural communities are given equal opportunity to city electorates, particularly with regard to fundamental issues such as education.

No Australian family should be forced to travel 300 kilometres per day to take their children to school, nor should families be split or relocated just so that children can access proper education services. I will continue to be a staunch advocate for the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association to ensure that we continue to address the funding gap between government assistance and school boarding costs. I will continue to promote education equality alongside the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association to ensure the educational development of rural students is not disadvantaged and that their educational opportunities are not compromised.