Leader of The Nationals – Transcript – Press Conference, WA Nationals Conference
The Hon David Littleproud MP
Leader of The Nationals
27 August 2022
Transcript – Press Conference, WA Nationals Conference – Topics: Ag Visa, Shaquille O’Neal, Jobs Summit
Fantastic to be here for the Nationals WA Annual State Conference. We’ve got delegates from all over the state and we’re also really pleased to have a strong contingent of our federal National Party members of Parliament, led by David Littleproud and Senator Perin Davey, who have been out and about across Western Australia, making sure that they’re getting among the grassroots of our regional communities and preparing to go back to Canberra for the Jobs and Skills Summit next week.
We’ve just had our first motion of the conference past and it’s in relation to the serious skills shortage that we are facing right across every sector in WA. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the Gascoyne as a tourism operator, a hort operator trying to make sure that you’re producing that wonderful food that we all rely on, whether you’re a broad acre farmer or a miner in the Goldfields or up in the Pilbara, we are all feeling the pinch and it is so important that we’ve got David and The Nationals taking that message from Western Australia and sitting at the table with sensible solutions to make sure we can relieve that pressure and realise the opportunities that we have here in WA. The rest of the conference there will be issues that we deal with in relation to the health system. We’ve had a couple of motions in relation to FMD and the importance of maintaining our biosecurity and investing in our biosecurity. And I’m looking forward to meeting with delegates and our supporters over the course of the next two days.
So it sounds like the skills shortage is a big focus for The Nationals at the moment. In terms of specifically, what do you see us needing to implement to address that?
Well, there’s a number of solutions I know David will take. We’ve had those conversations here in WA, but also around Australia. We absolutely need more people coming into Australia and we need to incentivise them to be in regional communities. Our industries that drive the state’s economy operate in regional Western Australia. We also need our State Government to step up to the mark and make sure that we’ve got housing.
It is the issue after skills shortages that is creating the biggest problem to attract and retain people, whether it’s in government positions or in private sector industry. If we can’t have people, we will simply not be able to attract the people we need to support the mining industry, the agricultural sector, a fantastic tourism industry that are the are the issues that we want the state government and also our federal representatives to be talking about when they sit down for this jobs summit.
So health is really in the spotlight at the moment. The coronial inquest into the death of Aishwayra Aswath. Is a skills shortage also the primary contributor to the issues in health at the moment?
There’s no doubt that there has been shortages in our hospitals impacting the level of care and support that the people of Western Australia expect to get when they turn out to our emergency departments. My heart goes out to the family that is now sitting through what will be an excruciating few days going over the the circumstances that led to the death of their beautiful daughter.
We need to make sure that the state government is prioritising health care. $5.7 billion in the back pocket of Mr. McGowan. His government has more funds available than any other in Australia. We need to have a health system that can respond to the challenges. We know that the West Australian public are experiencing every day.
Are there any specifics in terms of how we should use those funds for the health system?
We need to invest and support our frontline workers. You can hear it in the reports that are coming out of the inquiry that it was staff shortages, but there are also calls from our public service to reward and appropriately look after our frontline workers, the nurses, the teachers, the police officers that have actually got us through the last 2 to 3 very difficult years. This is a government that is flush with funds. They need to make sure they’re looking after the people that look after us.
And we’ve had hundreds of expectant mothers turned away from hospital [inaudible]:
Well extraordinary numbers that we see coming out of our Perth hospitals. I can tell you in regional communities that midwifery shortage is impacting mothers and families every day. If you are trying to have a baby in the Gascoyne, for instance, you are traveling hundreds if not thousands of kilometres to safely deliver your baby. There is a shortage statewide and again, the state government has failed to invest in its health system. It came to government in 2017 and instead of getting to and implementing the Sustainable Health Review, it actually made all of the cuts, operational cuts to our hospitals and our health service without any of the reforms. They’ve lost their way when it comes to health in Western Australia.
Yeah, look, I just want to say that the Western Australian Nationals and Mia Davies have given me a clear direction on what to do with the jobs of the Nationals. Federally took a pragmatic decision that we should attend the job summit, but tragically we were an afterthought. It wasn’t until the Liberals decide they weren’t going that this government decided that regional, rural Australia needed a voice and we made the offer to attend.
And that’s why we are taking this opportunity to use this as a platform for regional and rural Australia to be heard. The unique nature of the of the skills shortage out in regional rural Australia, and it’s important that that solution is unique to regional Australia. And so the clear direction that I’ve been given is that we do need to reinstate the Ag Visa. The clear maths is there, 172,000 people are required now to get the product from a paddock to your plate. And if we don’t do that, you’re going to pay at the checkout and you’re paying at the checkout now because they have abolished the Ag Visa and you are only going to get 52,000 people through the Pacific scheme.
So every time you go to the check out, you should see Anthony Albanese face on that docket because you are paying more because these political masters have said we cannot have the ag visa, we need to go more broadly into regional skills visas to make sure that we are bringing in those, those shortages in particular skills, whether that be a pharmacist, whether it be a truck driver or a mechanic, and giving not only them and the Ag visa a pathway to permanent residency, bringing in the next generation of migrants to grow regional rural Australia. And it’s also important the Nationals believe passionately in allowing pensioners and veterans to earn more without impacting their payments. This is an important step and just a pragmatic step in rewarding those.
Australians have done the heavy lifting for us previously and it can still be rewarded and while helping out our economy, we’ve got to be an investment in skills in regional university centres so that our young people don’t have to leave regional Australia and we’re giving them the opportunity to pay their debts, those that actually do go away to university if they return and take up jobs, whether that be doctors where we’ve got a significant shortage or nurses that this federal previous federal government that I was part of introduced in paying those HECs debts to incentivise but it should be broadened into those other areas like pharmacy, like aged care, childcare, so that we have that service and that ability provide the opportunity, particularly for women, to return back to work, whether it be for childcare in the regional areas. So these are pragmatic solutions that the Western Australian Nats have told me that I have to take back to Canberra. We’re going to take some common sense to Canberra, but it will be up to this Government whether they’re going to listen, listen to a third of the population, regional, rural Australia that weren’t given a voice.
We feel, as I, we’re the forgotten Australians and it’s important this Government and this Prime Minister who said on election night that he’d govern for all Australians, he’s actually genuine in that. And he takes our hand, he takes this opportunity to have unique solutions and particularly here in Western Australia where the problem is far more acute than the east coast, that he takes that and understands that because otherwise there is no other voice there representing regional Western Australia.
It’s only The National Party and I’m proud to say we took that pragmatic step to be part of the conversation, to be constructive and to make sure that the solutions for regional Australia, those unique solutions, are prosecuted and hopefully this Government will listen.
So obviously shortages in the agricultural industry in WA affects people in W.A., but how does it affect the rest of the country?
Well, it’s basically once you don’t have the confidence, the investment confidence for farmers to plan a crop, it means that the supply goes down and your price goes up. It’s as simple as that. And they are making those investment decisions today. I heard that in Carnarvon where a farmer walked away from his property, the one that he was born on, because he did not have the confidence to plan a crop because he knew there was no one there to pick it.
That means that the whole supply is going down, the volumes are going down, and your prices are going to continue to go up. And you put La Nina into this and you are going to take away the confidence of a strong farming sector across the country. And every Australian is going to pay for this because the AWU have told the Federal Government they cannot have an Ag Visa but the math doesn’t add up.
They just need to use a calculator. 172,000 required, the Pacific scheme is only going to let us 52,000. That’s a fair shortage and you’re not going to get that from Australian unemployed numbers. You have to bring these people in the ag visas. They’re just reinstated. Have the courage to say we got it wrong and reinstated with the Pacific schemes and you would give confidence, you would give hope to Australian agricultural sector that you are going to get your product on the shelves so that Australians don’t pay more.
And just moving on to other issues. NBA basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal is standing up with the prime minister to talk about introducing an Indigenous voice to Parliament. Do you think this intervention is helpful?
Well, I think it’d be far more important for Shaquille O’Neal to stand up with Indigenous Australians in remote central Australia or in my electorate in Cunnamulla and actually hear what the voice should be about. The voice should be about shifting the dial on domestic violence. On. On drug and alcohol use in these remote communities. And this is where the government’s got to be careful not to make this into a sideshow.
We’ve got to tackle these serious issues with practical responses. They’re going to shift the dial. And the voice can’t be just for those Indigenous Australians in Redfern. It has to shift the dial for those in Cunnamulla, in Wilcannia or in Alice Springs. And this is why the Government needs to give us the detail. They need to be genuine about how we’re going to shift the dollar for our First Nations people so that we can close that gap.
Otherwise, this will be a lost opportunity. And while there’s a lot of symbolism, there’s not a lot of detail. And I think it’s now time for the Prime Minister to give Indigenous Australians and all Australians the confidence that there is a mechanism and the mechanics of how that mechanism will work is comes clean with that so that we understand it, so that our conversation can be advanced. Otherwise this will be a lost opportunity of just nothing more than symbolism. And I think that would be a lost opportunity for our nation.
Back on jobs. For the discussion about the need to boost wages, do you think that this jobs summit can actually achieve that?
Well, increasing wages has to come with increased productivity. And I think we’ve seen the challenges of cost of living. And this is where the government, the real wages are going down because of the cost of living crisis, that this government is now party to the fact that they are taking away the workers that will drive down costs of living pressures at the supermarket at the checkout is really having a negative impact on wages.
And it’s important this government acknowledges that. But we’re going to be collaborative and and constructive. Any idea that comes out of the job, some that make sure that we have sustainable wage growth, that actually also mirrors productivity growth. And I think that’s the Australian way, that’s the smart way. That’s the collaborative way that The Nationals want to be part of.
And just on Scott Morrison, do you think that he should cooperate with the inquiry into his multiple ministries?
Well, that’s a matter for Scott Morrison and we would encourage him to. But I think Australians are just starting to see that this is more about Anthony Albanese focusing, focusing on Scott Morrison rather than the Australian people. The solicitor general made it very clear and got very clear recommendations that The Nationals and the Liberals will will obviously work collaboratively and constructively through. But to have another inquiry to single out Scott Morrison I think just shows the pettiness and I think Australians expect their Prime Minister to focus on them and not on the past and not on the individual.
So we shouldn’t have an inquiry into those multiple ministries.
Well, that’s a problem of the Government, but I think Australians are actually seeing through why we’re having it rather than them being the focus of the of this Prime Minister and this Government’s attention. That’s what the Prime Minister should focus on, not the past, not us, not squaring the ledger with a political foe. But to understand the most important thing at the moment is a cost of living crisis in Australia and should be focused on not Scott Morrison. Thank you.