PRIME Minister Tony Abbott’s key message to Coalition members at the end of a tough year has been to go out and sell the federal government’s list of first-term achievements.
But federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce says no matter what he tries to sell, his Labor counterpart Joel Fitzgibbon isn’t buying it.
“It wouldn’t matter if I managed to turn water into wine and bricks into gold - Joel will always say I’ve had a pretty poor year because he’s paid a lot of money to say I’ve had a pretty poor year,” Mr Joyce told Fairfax Media.
“I’d be absolutely blown out of my mind if Joel said to me, ‘by God you’re doing a good job’.
“In fact, I’d start to suspect I was doing a terrible job and he was verballing me on it.”
As a measure of success, Mr Joyce said many agricultural stakeholders had written to express their respects at the government’s farm performance in 2014.
A policeman in his New England electorate praised the government recently, after Mr Joyce was stopped while travelling in the passenger’s seat of a vehicle.
“Even the copper who pulled us over for a random breath test today said to me, after all of the formalities were over, ‘Mr Joyce you’re doing a bloody fantastic job for the farmers of Australia’,” he said.
Standing by the numbers
In selling the government’s message, Mr Joyce has claimed credit for a range of improvements since the 2013 election, including price increases in beef and dairy markets and free trade agreements (FTA) with China, Japan and Korea.
Asked what his message would be if those commodity prices dropped next year, Mr Joyce said, “I’ll stand by the numbers”.
He said the government had also achieved through various multi-million dollar drought packages and an “overall increase in the value we receive for our farm produce, even though we’re in the middle of a drought”.
Mr Joyce said there’d also been “spectacular numbers” like a 12,660 per cent increase in live sheep sales into China and the biggest periodic increase in agricultural jobs (38,000) in history.
“I don’t think that’s too bad an effort after one-and-a-half years,” he said.
Mr Abbott conceded the government was having its troubles in recent weeks but overall had “a very solid year of performance under its belt”, with the mining and carbon taxes gone, the budget coming into better shape and three FTAs successfully negotiated that will “set our country up for the long-term”.
“I really do think that this has been a year of very substantial achievement,” he said.
But Mr Fitzgibbon said Mr Abbott had told struggling rural and regional communities pre-election that any problems they faced were Labor’s fault and he’d make things better.
According to Mr Fitzgibbon, by doing so, “he misled those communities and raised false hopes”.
“Of all Tony Abbott’s post-election acts, his pre-election spin on the budget situation may be his greatest broken promise,” he said.
“Joe Hockey’s mini-Budget makes it clear that the Australian economy has suffered since the Abbott government’s damaging and unfair May Budget – unemployment is up, jobs growth has deteriorated and confidence has imploded.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said the government had also failed to support farmers suffering from the drought; deliver a promised agriculture white paper and register for foreign investment in agricultural land, and increase agriculture research and development funding.
He said the Coalition had also increased fuel prices for rural and regional motorists, cut biosecurity funding, pursued higher education changes which will hurt regional university students most and pursued a 'GP tax' which will make it harder to secure and retain GPs in the rural and regional Australia.
“Labor believes in a strong economy that delivers for all Australians and doesn’t leave people in rural and regional areas behind,” he said.
But Mr Joyce said the Coalition’s foreign investment register had been talked about and will be delivered.
“We went to the election saying it would be $1 for State owned enterprises, $53 million for agribusiness and $15 million for individual (land) purchases and I expect that policy to be honoured,” he said.
Mr Joyce said the Coalition would also be judged positively for starting key infrastructure projects in 2014, including dams, and advancing a green paper through cabinet, for the agricultural white paper that’s due in early 2015.
“The green paper is a comprehensive and formidable document that gives us an opportunity to have a formidable white paper,” he said.
Mr Joyce said Australian dairy farm incomes were estimated to have increased to an average of $129,000 in 2013–14, about 29pc above the 10-year average to 2012–13.
Glass half full: Truss
Nationals Leader Warren Truss said at the start of 2014, critics would have questioned whether the new government could deliver on its agenda to get rid of the mining and carbon taxes, stop the boats and conclude FTAs.
But he said the reality was “all of those promises - our fundamental election commitments - have indeed been delivered”.
“In our view that’s a more than glass-half-full result and something for which the government deserves recognition,” he said.
“Now that doesn’t mean our agenda’s finished; we’ve clearly got much more to do.
“But of the items we identified to the Australian public as to what we intended to deliver they’ve been delivered in that first year and we’ve gone further.”
As Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Australia, Mr Truss said the $50 billion infrastructure package was “really at the core of the government’s agenda”.
“He said the Coalition achieved objectives in its first year but the roll-out of infrastructure projects next year across the country, “if we have our way, will be spectacular”.
“What I’m excited about, as the leader of the Nationals, is that so many of these projects are in regional Australia and they’re projects that wouldn’t have happened if the other side had of been elected at the last election,” he said.
“We’ve got Infrastructure Australia in place now and we’re starting to plan for the long term instead of catching up on decisions government has already made.”