03 December 2019

Taking Note of Answers - Dairy Industry, Murray-Darling Basin, Minister for Agriculture

I also rise to take note of answers to questions from Senators McCarthy, Sterle and Bilyk, but before I do I can't help but call out the appalling hypocrisy of senators on the other side, particularly Senator Seselja, who accused members on this side of sexism. Are their memories so short? I remember the Gillard prime ministership. I remember the 'Ditch the witch' posters out the front of Parliament House which senators and members stood in front of. I remember the way our first female Prime Minister was treated. I remember the way other Labor women members of parliament have been treated. Instead of defending the minister in question, Senator McKenzie, defending her performance and her record on these issues and defending her policy failures, they have the audacity to come after Labor senators on the issue of sexism—the audacity! I remember, we remember, the public remembers how you treated our first female Prime Minister.

Now to the issue, and the issue is Minister McKenzie and the performance of a minister in the portfolio of agriculture, which is a portfolio she wanted and a portfolio that seems to be run by backbenchers. That's what the questions today were about. They were questions on backbenchers being better advocates for the dairy industry to the CEOs of Coles and Woolworths than is the minister. They were questions about backbenchers organising policy meetings which the minister wasn't invited to. Actually, we had the extraordinary revelation that there are lots of meetings that the minister isn't invited to. I wonder how many others in her portfolio she is ignored on and separated from? Backbenchers are running the portfolio.

When we asked questions about the leadership within the Nationals, questions about internal instability and questions about debates over policy we got deflect, deflect, deflect. Then, when we came in here to debate this issue further, we got that extraordinary display from Senator Seselja. We got not a defence of the minister; not a defence of policy failures; not a defence of whatever's going on in the National Party; and not an admission that backbenchers, not the executive, are running the show but an attack on this side, because they can only talk about this side. When you don't have anything to talk about yourself, when you don't have your own policies, when you don't have your own views, when you can't control your backbench, when your leadership is in trouble, when your position is in trouble, you go after us. As you keep reminding us, day in, day out, we're not the government; you are. You're the government. These are your responsibilities to own up to. This is your portfolio to take control over—to take control off the backbench and give it to the executive—but you don't. You just focus on us. You focus on One Nation. The Nationals are meant to be standing up for rural and regional South Australians. That's what they tell us every day. That's their constituency—rural and regional South Australians. Where are they on dairy? I know where the backbench is actually—they're doing a pretty reasonable job. Where's the minister? What's she doing?

How are the Nationals going in South Australia? That's where it's heading. If you can't get control over this, if you can't get control over the policy, if you can't show leadership, if all you can do is focus on us, if all you can do is stoop so low as to launch those extraordinary attacks on Labor senators, given the track record of your side on these issues—what hopelessness is that? How hopeless for the people who depend on the Nationals. How hopeless for our dairy farmers. How hopeless for people in rural and regional Australia. How hopeless is it that backbenchers are running the show. The backbenchers are advocating more than the minister, and we're asking: where is she? What's she doing about it? And all you will do is focus on us. Focus on the policy.