The Rural Times

The Property Pack
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ORTENZIA BORRE

I'm now joined by Nationals leader, David Littleproud. David, another increase, 12 in one year. On average, these totals an extra $15,000 a year from 12 months ago for a loan of about 570,000. It's got to be devastating for Australian homeowners across the nation?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD

Well, it does. It's part of the triple whammy, not just on your interest rates on your mortgage, but also your electricity bill and your food bills. And it's because of this government's actions of extra spending, $185 billion worth of extra spending pumped into the economy that pushes up prices. But it's also about their ideology, whether it be on energy, where there's reckless rates to 82% renewables by 2030 without a structured plan on how to achieve it, is drawing down on our supply, meaning prices are up.

And that's also pushing up our food prices. And then also with their industrial relations policies, changing around same work, same pay, which doesn't go to productivity, goes against the very essence of what the RBA Governor was saying was needed to be instituted in government policy - was increasing productivity. If wages increase, you have to get something for it. But this government's ideology isn't matching the practicality. And we are in a spiral. We are in a spiral where inflation continues to go up. And the only mechanism the RBA has to try and counter that because of the reckless policy of this government is to keep on putting up your interest rates and people are hurting.

This is all because of Anthony Albanese’s ideology not meeting the practicality.

ORTENZIA BORRE

Yes. And it's only going to get worse if they're forecasting even more rate increases. Now you are in Adelaide for a horticulture conference. What will you be discussing today?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD

Well, the hot topic here is labour. I mean, I, as The Nationals leader, took a proactive and constructive approach when I became leader and went to the government's Jobs and Skills Summit and heard there the horticulture industry and the whole agriculture industry needs 172,000 extra workers to get food from a paddock onto your plate. And the best the government was prepared to provide after scrapping the Ag visa and after ASEAN countries offered to sign up to the Ag visa, the government refused that and said, all you can have is the Pacific scheme.

But now they've changed even the Pacific scheme. What that means is, they've now said that you must pay the PALM participants, a minimum 30-hour week. What was happening previously is that over the period here in agriculture, you could average that out so that some weeks when crops weren't ready, they may only work five hours, but when the crops were up or when the weather allowed them.

And obviously weather plays an important role in this as well. Sometimes you can't work so that you average it out over the period that you got paid, for that 30-hour week as a minimum. But you were able to work above that 30-hour week. And that meant that there was productivity. Now what's happened is farmers are simply saying, we can't afford even the Pacific scheme. Backpackers haven't come back. And in fact, this government has a report in front of it that's actually made a recommendation not to extend the working holiday maker, the backpacker, to allow them to work in agriculture and get an extra year.

They’ve been silent on that. They've taken away the Ag visa. And that means investment decisions are being made, whether by farmers or the processing sector and saying, we're not going to plant.

And if you don't plant, then supply goes down and prices go up and you couple that with energy, energy prices out of control, then that means you are paying for this at the checkout.

And inflation figures are showing that electricity's up 15.2 per cent since this government came in and, and your food bill's up at nearly 9 per cent. And it's all because this government's pulled the wrong lever. We don't need to pump more money into the economy, we just need some common sense. And unfortunately, this government has left it high and dry and you're going to pay the price.

ORTENZIA BORRE

Yes, it all has a snowball effect, doesn't it? So your warning Labor's changes to the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme will obviously push up the cost of groceries for Australians. What else are we going to expect though, with these changes?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD

Well, it couples also. This is the other challenge we've got with the same work, same pay legislation that they're wanting to bring in. And what that means is that there's no reward for effort. So there's no productivity measure within that. So there is a whole range of measures that are hitting our farmers and processing sector along with their industrial relation changes that were made earlier last year, around renegotiations where small farmers can get caught up with big corporates.

There is real concern, real fear, in the agricultural sector about having adequate supply of labour and the cost of it and productivity measures that flow through with it. Farmers are prepared to pay for workers if they're getting productivity out of it, but when they're not, they don't have the confidence to plant and when supply goes down, your prices go up.

This can all be fixed. This inflation pressure that this government has created isn't necessarily about just pumping more money into the economy to protect people. It's actually about using common sense policies that don't cost the taxpayer a cent. That brings productivity, that drives down prices by increasing supply. And this is where the government has missed the boat. Their Budget was a welfare budget. The only people's cost of living pressures that they look to address in that Budget were those are on welfare, pumping $21 billion extra into the economy, that has effects.

And this is where we need to pause and this government needs to actually understand people are hurting, whether it's their mortgage, whether it's electricity bill, or whether it's their grocery bill.

ORTENZIA BORRE

Now, as you touched on earlier, Labor's refusing to reinstate the Agriculture visa, which was designed by the former Coalition Government to supplement the PALM scheme. Now can you explain this a little further? What effect then will this have?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD

Yeah, so, scrapping that means that that 172,000 workers that we're trying to bring in, and only relying on the Pacific, which at best can bring in about 42,000 workers, is nowhere near what's needed. And these changes are now in that Pacific scheme. So effectively farmers were relying on domestic workers, backpackers who are only slowly coming back, back to the country. What we were trying to do is to shift the agricultural workforce into a more permanent one. And giving the greatest gift that an Australia can give to any citizen around the world is a pathway to permanent residency, to become a citizen of this great country if they lived and worked in regional Australia and worked in agriculture.

And so we've stripped that away as well. So we are now seeing tens of thousands of workers. We've only got around 30 odd thousand Pacific workers here, backpackers, while getting close back to those pre-COVID numbers aren't necessarily going back into agriculture.

And that's pressure on farmers and driving their investment decisions about whether they plant or not. And in some cases some are walking away. And so this is where the industrial relations policies, their migration policies are all bearing down on the agricultural sector. This is where the government can fix it, but they've got to stop listening to the unions.

We want to protect workers, foreign workers, and domestic workers, and that's where we should be focusing our effort, not on putting in measures that don't increase productivity and increase supply.

ORTENZIA BORRE

Yes, Australians, our farmers, everyone's going through such a tough time at the moment. David Littleproud, thank you for your time this morning. Have a good time in Adelaide.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD

Thank you.