CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners on whose land we meet, and pay my respect to elders past and present.
It is great to be at Federal Council today to update you on the important role the Nationals have played in the Senate over the past twelve months and how our Senators have been delivering for regional Australia.
The Senate has been a challenging but rewarding place for the Nationals over the past 12 months.
Since last year’s budget, more than $50 billion in budget repair measures have now been legislated and the Government has scrapped 50,000 pages of regulation, saving Australians more than $2 billion a year.
We are making the changes that were needed to address the budget mess left by Labor and reducing the impact of government on you and your family’s everyday lives.
The Nationals have been very busy progressing 2015 budget measures in the Senate including the small business tax cuts which started on
Because of the changes the Coalition Government has made, any item of machinery or equipment costing less than $20,000 bought by a small business can be written off against their annual income. Most importantly, it is not a one off benefit. Small businesses like many in the bush, can apply this to each and every item they purchase under the $20,000 threshold, thereby increasing their income after tax.
These and many other reforms that the Government has passed would not have been possible without the strong team the Nationals have in the Senate.
From Barry O’Sullivan and Matt Canavan in the north to Bridget McKenzie in the south, the Nationals have an impressive Senate team that is working hard as part of the Coalition Government to support regional Australia.
It is our truly National approach that put the residents of places that would otherwise be forgotten front and centre in the Senate and what makes the Coalition stand above any alternative.
We need to fight to maintain this opportunity we have to improve the livelihoods of our fellow Australians.
I want to thank my Deputy Leader, Fiona Nash, for all her support over the past 12 months and for her hard work fighting for rural and regional health.
Fiona has been given significant responsibility by the Prime Minister to fight the scourge of ice across the country, but I know she is working especially hard to make sure that the response to the National Ice Taskforce addresses the issue in regional and remote areas, where access to health services is often one of the biggest challenges.
Minister Nash has also been at the grass roots addressing Indigenous health issues and working with communities to deliver better outcomes in regional and remote areas. It is a tough job, but one that Fiona is up for the challenge.
Senator O Sullivan has kept the Nationals team in the Senate in line as Nationals’ Whip and as Barry has recently retired as Whip, I think it is appropriate for me to point out that some of his best achievements have been out of that place.
A particular highlight for me was the trip Barry organised for myself and Senators Nash and Canavan to Mornington Island in the Gulf of North Queensland.
I think it shows the collegiate and cooperative approach of our Senate team and s how the Nationals do truly work for the places that would not normally receive a visit from two Ministers and two Senators.
Senator Canavan has been a man of principle and really come into his own in defending his constituents in Queensland. He now takes on the role of Nationals’ Whip in the Senate and I know that he is ready to do his bit for the party.
His defence of sugar producers as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership showed his willingness to stand up for his constituents, even if it means delivering a strong message to his own Government Ministers.
That is what The Nationals can do for you – and it is exciting to see Senator Canavan really become a key member of our team over the last 12 months.
Senator Williams continues to be a thorn in the side of those who oppose reason and fairness for all Australians. In his sights recently has been the Leader of the Opposition who despite the huge benefits to businesses across the country has been attacking the Chinese Free Trade Agreement.
It is a sign that nothing has really changed for Shorten from the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd days as he will do and say anything to climb the rungs of power – even if it is at the expense of industries that will benefit from tariff savings like beef, dairy, sheep, horticulture, wine and seafood industries.
And finally but definitely not to be forgotten, Senator Bridget McKenzie is a fighter for common sense and decency, not only in her home state of Victoria but across the country.
Her role in ensuring that licensed firearms users and industry representatives have meaningful input into firearms policy shows her ability to deliver real outcomes for The Nationals.
I also want to quickly acknowledge the leaders of the party who will soon speak because over the last 12 months, both have done a great job in their portfolios for the men and women of regional Australia.
Barnaby is providing a better future for agricultural communities across the country.
The Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper is a vital plan to provide more jobs, more exports, higher incomes and better services to the community.
As Senator for the Northern Territory, I am particularly pleased that this has set aside $200 million to improve biosecurity as we look to protect ourselves from the dangers that could face our agricultural producers from overseas pests and diseases.
And speaking of our agricultural producers and overseas challenges, let us never forget the damage that Labor caused with their over-reaction in suspending the live export cattle trade.
A disastrous move that I know many communities are still recovering from. We need a safe pair of hands at the wheel and regional Australia has that in Barnaby.
And Warren has delivered a game changing approach to investing in Northern Australia that will ensure the North of our country is ready for any economic opportunities that come its way.
The White Paper is a vision to unlock the great potential and opportunities of the north. It focuses on building priority roads, developing water resources, removing red tape, building a sustainable workforce and ensuring effective governance arrangements.
The White Paper delivers an initial investment of $1.2 billion in addition to the $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility that is being established to provide concessional finance for infrastructure projects in the north.
Northern Australia will not be forgotten under The Nationals, especially under the stewardship of our leader, Warren Truss.
Finally, I want to take this opportunity to talk to you about some opportunities in my own portfolio of Indigenous Affairs.
I want to talk to you about Indigenous Affairs because in my view, the work we are doing to support better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is some of the most important work the Commonwealth can progress in regional and remote parts of Australia.
Just a fortnight ago, I wrapped up one week in Indigenous communities across the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area with the Prime Minister.
I must say, it is great to be able to work with a Prime Minister who is so engaged on this important issue and I think it is a sign of the character of the Prime Minister that he has delivered on his pre-election commitment to spend a week in a remote Indigenous community each year.
The Prime Minister is keen to get directly involved, get his hands dirty and make sure we are delivering better outcomes for Indigenous Affairs.
This trip re-affirmed our priorities in Indigenous Affairs and demonstrated the challenges ahead of us, but just as importantly, it demonstrated that our approach is working.
We are getting more children to attend school.
Under the previous Government, there had been no overall improvement in Indigenous school attendance rates between 2007 and 2013 and it was clear a new approach was needed.
The Remote School Attendance Strategy commenced in 2014 to improve school attendance at 73 schools in 69 communities and is supported by State and Territory Governments.
Local people are employed to lead the work in their communities.
The strategy has put the spotlight on attendance, the barriers to attendance and identified innovative solutions to lift attendance rates including a strong compliance approach.
The strategy is making a difference but there is more to do.
We are working hard to get more adults into work – through various efforts under the Jobs, Land and Economy programme of the Indigenous Affairs portfolio, more than 16,700 Indigenous Australian have been supported to start jobs in the past financial year.
Averaged out, that’s nearly 50 jobs a day.
We are working community by community, business by business, to create jobs.
The Commonwealth public sector will increase its own Indigenous workforce to 3 per cent by 2018: that’s around 7,500 people.
And we’ll award 3 per cent of Commonwealth contracts to Indigenous businesses by 2020 which, in turn, will create more jobs.
And we are maintaining community safety including through better investment in community night patrols and alcohol and drug treatment programmes.
We also want to acknowledge the unique history of our First Australians and end the great silence by recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in our Constitution.
We have worked very hard towards that goal.
Building on this foundation, an historic meeting between the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and 40 Indigenous leaders committed to a range of initiatives, including the establishment of a Referendum Council and a series of community conferences across the country.
That meeting was an important step towards a referendum, which the Prime Minister has said should be held in the next term of Government.
As I said at Federal Council last year:
Is it honourable to support Indigenous recognition in Australia’s founding document? If it is, (and I strongly believe it is), then I will do everything possible to see that it succeeds in my local community. It will quite literally take a ‘National’ sense of honour to see this through.
I want to leave you with the message that this Coalition Government is stronger because of the presence of The Nationals.
The Nationals speak for those that may otherwise be forgotten.
We have a big 12 months ahead of us – but I am looking forward to it to ensure we can maintain and grow our Nationals team and keep fighting for the best of this country.
Only The Nationals, with a strong team in the Senate, will see the regions prosper with a brighter future. The Nationals are for Regional Australia.
Download media release:
2015-09-12 Nationals Federal Council.pdf