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.