WESTERN Australian Palmer United Party (PUP) Senator Dio Wang may not talk as much or as often as some of his fellow party members who occupy the corridors of power in Canberra.
Instead, the new Senator’s words have been wisely reserved during his first few months in office.
Last week, however, he unveiled some of his character and political strategy by asking probing questions about the government’s promise on agricultural research and development (R&D), while making strong references to farming, in his first Senate speech.
During question time, the 33-year-old Senator asked the Coalition government about a key agricultural policy commitment made during last year’s election campaign to provide an additional $100 million to agricultural R&D.
Senator Wang said since the election, “we have seen very little government action on their promises”.
He asked the government to clarify their commitment to agricultural R&D “instead of putting the system under pressure through constant reviews and parliamentary inquiries”.
Representing Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, Tasmanian Liberal senator Eric Abetz said the extra $100 million was delivered in this year's budget.
“In other words, in the very first budget that we have delivered, we have, yet again, delivered on another election promise,” he said.
“We believe that putting it in our very first budget highlights our commitment to that vitally important sector.”
Asked by Senator Wang when the money would start flowing, Senator Abetz said he was unsure whether “that part of it has already found its way through the chamber or not”.
“These projects for research and development are by way of a competitive process,” he said.
“Applications will be open very shortly and we then expect, once the decisions are made over the four years, for these projects to start being funded.”
Senator Wang also asked how much of the $100 million was being diverted to fund the Department of Agriculture's administration of the program.
Senator Abetz said, on advice from Mr Joyce's office, that the $3.2 million would be used for the program’s administration.
“My maths is not very good, but given that it is $100 million I can therefore assert that 3.2 per cent of the fund will be used for administration,” he said.
“We are seeking to minimise the administrative cost of this program as much as possible to ensure that the vast bulk of it - nearly 97 per cent - can actually go to program delivery of research and development so that we can grow the agricultural sector even further.”
Senator Wang's maiden speech
In his first speech before federal parliament, Senator Wang outlined his family background, being born to a humble family in Nanjing, China, three years after the beginning of Chinese economic reform.
“As a very young child, my earliest memory of the economic reform was a leap in our living standards when Mum and Dad were able to bring home money four or five times the base salary because the factory started to pay bonuses to individuals according to their productivity,” he said.
“Mum and Dad not only worked hard but also had to work innovatively.
“They were clearly motivated by the financial incentives and brought in some pretty smart ideas to expedite their production process.
“Right there were my first two political lessons.
“One, incentivised people produce better results. Two, always keep an open mind—even capitalism has some good elements.”
Senator Wang said he lived in Nanjing for 22 years and after earning a bachelor degree in civil engineering, came to Australia to study urban planning at the University of Melbourne.
“I chose urban planning so I could understand more about how structures interact with each other, and I chose Australia so my world was no longer just China or the northern hemisphere,” he said.
After three years in Melbourne, where he met his future wife Josephine, Senator Wang found employment in WA.
Ag questions in Western Australia
Senator Wang said WA was enjoying a mining boom but it was also experiencing rapid population growth coupled with poor housing affordability and lack of spending on public infrastructure and services.
“Enough to give any government more than just a headache,” he said.
“On top of that, over the past years WA has been receiving less and less proportion of GST revenue.”
Senator Wang said in recent years, many small resource and mining companies had shut their doors in WA.
He said farmers in WA are also losing their land but “we are not doing enough to help them”.
“Proven by recent mergers and acquisitions, demand for our high-quality agricultural products is clearly growing, especially in Asian countries,” he said.
“Yet our farmers are doing it tough.
“We need to do something about it so we can tap into new markets and we have to make sure our farmers do not lose out.”
Senator Wang called for the establishment of a national agriculture investment fund, to co-ordinate research projects and lend money to farmers who are struggling to gain finance form banks, “which are often too profit-driven”.
“In a time when farmers are struggling, we need new technologies to overcome difficulties caused by nature and of course by politicians,” he said.
“In a time when we promote environmental sustainability, we need new technologies to make renewable energy even cheaper and more readily available so there would be no need for legislative favour.”