EAGER: Anne Webster is particularly looking forward to the ‘Tele-Town Hall’ meeting with her Leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack.

By JOHN DOOLEY

ONE of the many initiatives to come from the COVID-19 restrictions has been the ability for people to continue to operate businesses from home using online communication technology.

So, it also the case with the business of Government, where Members of Parliament have been in regular communication with their Ministerial colleagues, including the Prime Minister and Treasurer.

Member for Mallee Anne Webster said that she was also taking the opportunity to conduct a series of round table meetings online and she is particularly looking forward to the ‘Tele-Town Hall’ meeting with her Leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, to held at 5.30pm next Tuesday, which will give stakeholders and members of the public an opportunity to participate and ask questions. 

People wishing to participate in the phone conference are requested to register by visiting: annewebster.com.au/teletownhall. 

“One of the benefits that has arisen from the COVID-19 social distancing rules, is that it has provided us with opportunities to connect with Ministers which is particularly advantageous for our producers and our industry people and as well as members of the public, and in the case of this Tele-Town Hall, to be able to ask the Deputy PM face-to-face questions via a phone call,” Dr Webster said.

“The Tele-Town Hall gives everybody in the entire electorate access to be able to join that meeting to hear what the Deputy PM has on his mind, but also to be able to ask questions or make comments on issues which are important and helpful for him to hear about.

“The breaking down of barriers to communication with those in Parliament has been extraordinary and I’m running three round tables this week, one of which will have several Ministers present, including Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure, Alan Tudge; Agriculture and Drought Minister, David Littleproud, and also Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator Michaelia Cash – all of whom will be on board to discuss these seasonal workforce issues.”

Dr Webster said that the Government had introduced the Regional Agricultural Migration Program late last year together with the Horticulture Industry Labor Agreement. 

“Both of these programs were introduced with the aim of addressing the seasonal workforce shortage and the issue surrounding undocumented workers that we have in the area,” she said. 

“I also have a round table scheduled with the Water Minister Keith Pitt, and again there will be stakeholders joining in that tele-meeting. We will have a range of industry leaders, as well as producers, who are out there doing the hard work and through this they will have an opportunity to ask questions of the Ministers directly.

“Another of our meetings, will be discussing the National Agricultural Workforce Strategy, which is examining the future of horticulture and agriculture and how we need to be looking at automation technology and robotics and how all of that works. SuniTAFE of course has the SmartFarm locally, and so we are inviting those in industry, as well as SuniTAFE, to participate in that strategy discussion.

“Australia has a particular issue around our workforce. We pay high wages, which can take us out of the market in terms of competitiveness, and so we need to look at other ways to maintain our competitiveness, while maintaining the high quality of the food and fibre that we produce.”

With trade tensions simmering with China over its imposition of an 80 percent tariff on our barley exports, Dr Webster also expressed concerns over the complexities associated with the breakdown of the Indonesian market in terms of our exports.

“It has been the source of a lot of sleeplessness for me in terms of fighting for that market to be opened,” she said.

“It is quite heart breaking actually, the system isn’t working as it should be at the moment and that needs to be rectified.”

Added to that Australia now finds itself in the middle of a diplomatic stoush with China over the Australian Government’s calls for an independent inquiry into the coronavirus outbreak to be conducted in China.

Dr Webster said it was interesting to note, that while many people hold concerns over the investment and ownership by China in Australia, which was $1.6billion last year, it has now dropped to $251million.

“China’s investment in Australia has reduced significantly and in fact five other countries, the US, Canada, Japan, Indonesia and Singapore, invest more highly in Australia than China,” she said.

“I made a speech recently in which I addressed the downside of the imbalance and dependency we have on imports from China. 

“International trade is very important to Australia and always has been, and we need to manage those markets very well, but clearly diversification is prudent, and at this point in time we need to work hard to change that, but it doesn’t happen overnight, these trading relationships take time to develop.”