Mrs PHILLIPS (Gilmore) (16:02): What a fine opportunity this is to speak about the government's continued failure to adequately represent farmers, producers and regional communities. I thank the member for Franklin, the shadow minister for agriculture, for raising this very important matter of public importance, because regional communities like mine are so important. They are the backbone of this nation. They feed our cities and provide local jobs.
We're talking about people who live and spend locally. Just today I've been working on some ads in my local newspapers, and the feature they are running in the local papers is called 'Think Local, Support Local', because that is what country areas do—people support each other. When I came to this place in 2019 my local farmers were in severe drought. To say it was shocking is an understatement. I have never seen anything like it. But my whole community felt their pain—businesses and workers working in related businesses, like feed companies and tractor and repair companies, and the list goes on. But what did this government do? It didn't even acknowledge that these farmers were in drought. While New South Wales declared the area in severe drought, the Morrison government denied that by using outdated maps and therefore denying my local farmers the support they rightfully deserved. Then, of course, came the bushfires, multiple floods and the pandemic. What a potent mix all of that turned out to be!
In my bushfire affected areas we have over 1,000 people in temporary accommodation. COVID and the closure of international borders have meant people are holidaying locally, which is a great thing for spending and local jobs. But it has also had an unintended consequence, putting immense pressure on housing availability and pushing housing prices up—skyrocketing. Many people have told me how many landlords are either putting rents up to an exorbitant price which renters can't afford or terminating leases for higher-priced holiday rental or for sale. If you don't have somewhere to live, then how do you work and function?
When people talk about workforce shortages, a good part of that in my electorate comes from the inability to find somewhere to live. But what has the Morrison government done about that? Absolutely nothing. The Morrison government don't care about affordable and social housing in our regional areas, but they should—if they actually cared about local businesses and finding workers. It's the same for our farmers. The Morrison government have had years to address workforce shortage issues, but each time they have failed to deliver.
Sometimes I'm not really sure what they do. Last week there was another big announcement: the agricultural workers visa. But there was not a lot of detail on delivery. This latest announcement comes three years after the Nationals first said there would be an agricultural visa. So farmers won't be holding their breath for action soon and, with international borders closed for so long from the Morrison government's failed vaccine rollout and national quarantine, it's difficult to see how any new visa will fix labour shortages crippling local farms now.
The Morrison government has a terrible track record on fixing workforce shortages on Australian farms. It beggars belief that the Morrison government is still yet to respond to the recommendations of the National Agricultural Workforce Strategy handed to it in October. Producers have already faced losses of more than $50 million from rotting crops due to workforce shortages on farms. The Morrison government has failed to take responsibility for labour shortages. Farmers and constituents in my electorate just want this fixed.
Labor has written to Minister Littleproud three times now about our concerns around the agricultural workforce shortage, first in January, then in February and another letter in April. Why have we written so often to Minister Littleproud? Because he promised to fix the workforce shortage because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Has he fixed the workforce shortage? No, he has not. And what's in the budget? The Morrison government has again missed an opportunity to properly fix issues in Australia's agricultural workforce and to set the industry up for growth.
And then there's the mouse plague, on top of everything else. But what is the Morrison government doing about it? Nothing. There's no national response. There's a pattern here: no national response to quarantine, failed vaccine rollout, failed on workforce shortages and failed on the mouse plague. We on this side know the truth: the Morrison government doesn't give a rats about farmers or regional Australia.