‘There’ll be no deals’ on drought relief bill, says Scott Morrison

At stake is a $3.9 billion cash reserve, called the Building Australia Fund, which has been dormant for six years under the Coalition after being set up by the former Labor government to pay for road and rail projects.

The government stance may force Labor to acquiesce to the policy to avoid the risk of voting against drought relief.

Mr Morrison said Labor needed to “answer a simple question” about whether it would support farmers.

“Labor are out of excuses on opposing our Drought Future Fund. They need to tell our farmers whose side they are on,” he said.

“Drought funding is not something we should be having to make deals on, it should be a no brainer, something that should just get done.


“So there’ll be no deals, just a simple request to vote for the bill that will provide for long term drought resilience works. It’s quite absurd that Labor have opposed it for this long already.”

The government bill is the second attempt to repurpose the Building Australia Fund, given a proposal last year to use it to set up a National Disability Insurance Scheme fund.

Mr Albanese said farmers needed new funding that did not take money away from infrastructure including projects in regional Australia.

“Farmers deserve more – new funding to cope with this drought in addition to support for better rail and roads to boost the productivity of their communities,” he said.

The government’s defence against this Labor attack will be that it is spending $100 billion on infrastructure over a decade.

“There is not one road, there is not one dam, there is not one railway sleeper that has been taken away from our infrastructure programme by going ahead with the Future Drought Fund,” Mr Morrison said.

A similar row looms over a separate government attempt to repurpose the Education Investment Fund, which also holds $3.9 billion and is a modified version of a fund set up by Peter Costello as treasurer in 2007.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese supports injecting money into drought-hit communities, but argues it should not be at the expense of the Building Australia Fund.Credit:AAP

The government wants to transfer the education fund into a new Emergency Response Fund to help with natural disasters.

Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie, the Nationals deputy leader, would gain authority under the new bill to allocate $100 million a year from the Future Drought Fund, starting from July next year.


Greens leader Richard Di Natale said this meant the money could go to the Nationals’ “big corporate irrigator mates” rather than helping the environment.

While the government will use this fortnight of Parliament to demand rapid decisions by Labor, some of the bills have taken months or years to go to a vote.

Labor and the Greens have rejected the Ensuring Integrity Bill, which imposes new criminal penalties on union leaders who abuse their power, and which was introduced into Parliament in August 2017 before lapsing at the election.

Attorney-General Christian Porter is expected to put the industrial relations bill to a vote in the lower house on Thursday.

The government will also resume debate on a bill to impose criminal penalties on protesters, such as vegan activists, who organise or conduct protests on farms.

Labor is yet to decide its position on the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill but the Greens have rejected the need for the change.

“Those things are already criminal offences,” Senator Di Natale told the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday.

The major parties are at an impasse on the medical transfer of refugees from Manus Island and Nauru, with the government unable so far to gain the numbers it requires in Parliament to repeal the regime legislated in February.

The foreign fighters bill gives Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton the power to issue a “temporary exclusion order” to prevent any Australian citizen aged 14 years or older from returning to Australia for up to two years.


The bill would also empower the Home Affairs Minister to issue a “return permit” to allow the individual’s return, creating a way to impose conditions on the person for the first year after that return.

Labor home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally responded to reports that 40 foreign fighters had returned to Australia in recent years by arguing this was the government’s fault because it had not legislated any protections sooner.

The Law Council of Australia warned in a submission to a Parliamentary inquiry in March that the draft law could “collide” with Chapter III of the Constitution by trying to give the executive the power to impose punishment for criminal conduct.

While Labor has called on the government to adopt all the recommendations of a parliamentary inquiry into the bill, it has stopped short of saying it would vote against the bill in Parliament.

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