Taking Note of Answers - Leader of The Nationals in the Senate

December 03, 2019

I rise to take note of the answers given by Senator McKenzie to the questions asked by Senators McCarthy, Sterle and Bilyk. There's not much I want to remember about the federal election campaign, but there's one thing I do remember, and that is that Senator McKenzie demanded the agriculture portfolio. She actually went in there and said, 'I want the agriculture portfolio.' You would have to ask yourself why. Why did she want that portfolio? If you look at three significant issues that are confronting rural and regional Australia—and these have an impact on all Australians—on every issue the minister has either gone missing in action, mismanaged or failed to deliver. Let's look at those three issues. The dairy code of conduct: leaving dairy farmers hanging now for so long as they are doing it tough. The Murray-Darling Basin Plan: yesterday a target of protesting farmers in this place and around parliament. The drought response: always responding and never putting forward a cohesive plan for those communities impacted.

Let's go through each of those issues in a bit more detail. On dairy, the minister has overseen a complete market failure. They're not my words; they're the words of Senator McDonald, her own National Party colleague. Yesterday, what we saw in this place was the government refusing to allow debate on a bill that would secure milk prices and save the industry. The government would not even let us debate that issue. As we know, they have been keen to shut down debates on a number of issues over the last week.

In regard to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, we know the minister was sidelined in the meeting between irrigators, impacted communities and businesspeople—a meeting once again organised by one of her own National Party colleagues, Senator Davey. Mr Littleproud was invited and Minister Ley was invited but the agriculture minister was not invited to that meeting yesterday that had those impacted irrigators, communities and businesspeople.

And we know that the response on drought has been flat footed. We know that the National Party and the minister have been ignored by the Prime Minister consistently on this issue. The minister is always on the back foot, so never putting forward a cohesive plan to deal with drought and look after these communities so that they know they have a long-term plan. Always playing catch up. Then, when the Prime Minister did make a piecemeal announcement, the National Party and this minister were sidelined.

There are so many issues to confront for regional and rural Australia. On every occasion this minister is not delivering. So damaging has this minister's performance been that it is causing divisions within the National Party itself. We know the position of the member for Lyne, Dr Gillespie. He warned that if the minister's draft code dudded farmers he would refuse to rule out a leadership tilt as a result. Her own colleagues are targeting this minister in terms of her performance when it comes to dairy. We also know that the minister's performance is causing colleagues to turn on each other—we know this from the question time question put by Senator Bilyk to the minister in regard to a row between the member for Capricornia and the member for Wide Bay over the minister's performance. So even her own colleagues are turning on each other over the minister's performance, refusing to rule out a challenge to her position, because they know that the performance of this minister is having an impact in communities in rural and regional Australia.

Minister McKenzie's performance post election is: dairy code dysfunction, chaos in the handling of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and flat-footed on drought response for those communities impacted. At the centre is National Party infighting over the minister's performance, so much so that even Queensland's National Party colleagues are turning on each other because of this performance. This minister is responsible for a policy failure on dairy, a policy failure on the Murray-Darling Basin and a policy failure when it comes to drought response in this country for so many communities that have been impacted so devastatingly by the drought, and is standing by as rural and regional Australians are suffering. The minister is responsible for these issues that are so important to these communities, yet the minister is standing by and becoming a target of criticism for her own colleagues. The National Party members are turning on each other. Instead of fighting for those people who are suffering, those communities who are suffering and those people who voted for them at the election, they're actually getting stuck into each other—so bad is the performance by the minister. Not only do those dairy farmers in Queensland deserve so much better but also rural and regional Australia deserves so much better from this minister and this government.