Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2023-2024, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2023-2024, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 2) 2023-2024

Before the election, Labor promised so much to the Australian people. People in my electorate are very much feeling the cost-of-living issues. They know that before the election Labor promised them a $275 reduction in power bills, cheaper mortgages and that families would be better off. But, in just 18 months, food’s gone up at least nine per cent, housing’s gone up 12 per cent, electricity’s gone up 23 per cent and gas has gone up 29 per cent. We’ve seen the 12 interest rate rises, and we really see that Labor’s own economic and energy policies are making inflation worse. Inflation in Australia is higher than in almost every other advanced economy. We’ve also seen a 27 per cent increase in income taxes for people through bracket creep and the low- and middle-income tax offset being removed by Labor at this time.

There’s another associated issue: the cost of doing business, particularly for small businesses in rural and regional Australia, including in my electorate and elsewhere in Western Australia. We all know that running a small business, for anyone who’s done it, is never easy. But the challenges that are facing small- and family-business operators right now are really weighing heavily on the shoulders of those who live and work in regional and remote areas. In WA, for instance, the policies of both state and federal Labor governments are undermining the confidence and profitability of our small and medium businesses, whose owners work their hearts out day in and day out. They’re the people who give people their first job in life and often their last. They’re having a go in our small regional communities. We need them so desperately because they support so many of our emergency services groups, our sporting groups and those that are out there needing support and providing in-kind support. That’s our small and medium businesses.

We know that the RBA has had to do the heavy lifting in relation to inflation. We’ve seen extreme pressure put on homeowners as well as those small-business owners who often have to mortgage their family home just to get a start. When the pinch is on, as we’ve seen in the last 18 months with cost of living, consumers tighten their belts, and local businesses are often the first to feel it. When I walk down the street and talk to the businesses in my electorate, that’s where I hear what’s going on. It’s everything from a local cafe serving one coffee at $5 to $7 instead of $3 in a day—that’s just a simple example—to the local deli, newsagency, clothing store or pub. The effects of poor policy are felt right throughout our communities. The reality is that much of this pain is coming from Canberra.

In WA, Labor’s plan to end live sheep exports is really a calculated body blow to WA’s sheep industry, to other directly affected sectors and to all the business and communities that benefit from them. It’s not just the farmers. It’s the local mechanics, shearers, feed suppliers, livestock transporters, local shops and vet practices, just to mention a few. This ridiculous talk of ‘transition’ is just code for ‘we’re shutting you down’. These are the same small and family businesses and people who, as I said, support our local community organisations and those sporting clubs. We can’t do without the volunteer emergency services groups. They’re the volunteers who are helped by our small businesses that provide that support to help keep us alive. It’s that simple in regional areas.

But right now our communities are reeling from the rollout in WA of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act. We saw that significantly hurt our farmers on the ground. There’s also great concern as to what changes will be ahead in the EPBC Act that may reflect what we saw in the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act in WA.

The Labor government has also increased the heavy vehicle road user charge, which, essentially, is a tax on everyone living in regional and remote Australia. This actually has a disproportionate effect on every business input and every food and grocery item in our supermarkets and our local stores, whether they’re hardware stores or whatever. Everything that we buy and use arrives on the back of a truck.

We’ve also seen, now, the proposal for additional taxes on family cars and utes. What impact is this going to have in rural and regional areas, from the increase, over time, in the cost of being able to get around in rural and regional areas? Yes, we accept that the distances are great, but the additional costs that will go with this latest thought-bubble of Labor’s are going to have a major impact in regional Australia.

We also saw Labor, in relation to small and medium businesses, cut the instant asset write-off threshold. This may not mean much to people who aren’t in small business, but, for those who are in small to medium businesses, this has really meant a lot. We expanded the threshold to $150,000, and many times I had small to medium businesses contacting me and saying: ‘That means I can improve my business; I can actually upgrade’—whether that was the tradie ute, whether it was the livestock transporter and any of their trailers or whether it was any of the work that they needed to do. But Labor has slashed it, limiting it to $20,000 and to businesses with a turnover —not profit; a turnover—of less than $10 million. Many businesses used this. At a time of severely declining productivity, I can’t understand why you would choose to make this decision that inhibits small and medium businesses from being able to invest in themselves and their future. It just beggars belief.

But we also see something that I think is quite confounding: hitting our small and family farming businesses with its food and fibre tax. That’s to pay for the biosecurity risk created by international importers. If they’re in my patch, as a dairy farmer, we’re actually going to be paying for those competing against us in the market. But I understand it’s not only that. We’ll actually be helping to fund inspections of non-agricultural imports as well. Whether they’re imports of cars or whitegoods or machinery or electronics, the farmers will be helping to pay for those as well.

We’ve seen other really bad decisions. There was the shutdown of the hardwood forestry timber industry in WA and so many of the businesses affected by this. We also now import so much timber from overseas, from locations and countries that basically don’t have the really good forestry practices and silviculture that have operated in Australia for so long. So it was short-sighted. And where does our hardwood actually then come from?

But this, as we’ve just heard from the member for Mallee, is the tip of the iceberg for our farmers from the aggressive industrial-relations agenda that we are now seeing. We saw the cultural heritage act in WA. What we’re seeing with the unions’ rights to come onto farms mirrors, in a sense, what we saw with the cultural heritage act—the unions being able to walk into our family farm where we run our business out of our farmhouse. And, yes, there are biosecurity issues. That’s just the start of it. But can you imagine the unions rocking up at your place of work, when you’re the actual farmer and the business owner? This is really a step too far. It is absolutely a step too far. It’s an aggressive industrial-relations agenda. We see that that is going to impact on small family farms and businesses and is another issue for people who live and work in rural and regional Australia.

We’ve seen real changes, particularly in the Pacific, with the PALM scheme, as has been said in this place, and the increased cost of the temporary skilled migration income threshold. All of these collectively are like that old-fashioned Sara Lee ad: layer upon layer upon layer. If you’re a farmer or living in rural and regional Australia— I’ve been farming a lot over the years, probably a lot longer than many others, and we started our small business on the day we got married. I actually have not seen rural and regional Australia under as much pressure as we are right now. It’s just a constant ‘What’s next, what’s next, what’s next?’ We saw changes to the backpacker working holiday visa. The ag visa is gone. We saw the changes to industrial relations through casualisation and casual workers.

Clearly, those who designed this have no idea how a farm, a vegetable grower or a horticulturalist actually works. We actually live by the weather. We work by the weather. What we can do in any given day depends on what’s happening with the weather. That means we have to be flexible and so does our workforce. What is so hard about that? I don’t know what the problem could possibly be in that space to understand why casual workers are so important.

But there is a broader issue that’s bothering so many of us: the impact on regional and rural businesses and communities of the 22,000 solar panels needing to be installed every day until 2030, plus the 40 major wind turbines every month as well as the tens of thousands of kilometres of transmission lines to meet their emissions reduction targets. This is in our part of the world. We’ve got offshore wind coming as well. We have seen prime ag land affected by this, and it’s just the beginning. If people think what they’re seeing right now—and we’ve seen some pretty significant results, and rural and regional Australia are really pushing back on this. But there is a lack of understanding in Labor not only about rural and regional but also about the importance of small and family businesses in our rural and regional communities. We understand this really well because that’s where we live and that’s where we work. For those of us who’ve had to start and run a business, we know how tough it is, but we keep at it. But you can’t keep at it forever and not with a layer upon layer upon layer that we’re seeing here.

Even right down to superannuation and changes to taxing unrealised gains, I don’t think there is any country in the world that does this. The member for Barker, I don’t think we know of any other country in the world. No. We’re seeing through the safeguard mechanism requirements now that farmers are competing with major companies that have to buy land to put in permanent plantings to actually provide the offsets they need to meet the five by five by five reduction that’s required of them in offsets until 2030. All of this adds to the challenges in producing food.

One of my local dairy farmers who is under the pump had some vegans arrive at his property and give him great grief. He said to me at one stage, ‘You know, Nola, I feed 60,000 people a year.’ The farmers in Australia do this day in and day out. We feed Australians some of the best-quality food in the world. And what did he say to me? ‘Once or twice it’d be just be nice if someone said, “Thank you.”‘ He’s producing some of the best-quality milk in Australia for 60,000 people, and yet the pressure that he’s under with all of the measures that I’ve just talked about is intense. How long will they keep doing this?

I wanted to speak up on behalf of all of those small-to-medium family businesses that live and work out in the rural and remote areas. Thank you for what you do and thank you for actually investing in our communities. We can’t do it without you. The smaller the community, the more we need you to stay there. I hope that the people in your communities continue to support you so that you support us, because we can’t do without each other. I am concerned about your future and I am concerned about rural and regional Australia in a way that I haven’t been since we’ve been farming.