Labor leader Anthony Albanese has urged the Morrison government to avoid “playing politics” with drought funding, saying Labor would support “any level” of funding the Coalition names, as long as it doesn’t come at the expense of another portfolio.
The government’s $5bn “future drought fund” was knocked back in the last parliament, after Labor announced it would not support any moves to take funds from the Building Australia Fund to pay for it.
At a drought forum in Dubbo, Scott Morrison said one of the first priorities for the government when parliament resumes next week would be to reintroduce, and pass the bill.
“That drought fund needs to pass the parliament,” he said.
“If Labor doesn’t support it, then, we will work with the crossbench as we did on income tax cuts, where they were opposed leading up to that vote, and we ensured they were able to be passed,” he said.
Labor, under leader Bill Shorten, had previously labelled the money pool, designed to keep drought-stricken communities afloat while waiting on the rain, a “slush fund” which robbed communities of other vital funding.
Albanese, speaking at the same forum, said Labor was prepared to support “any level of cash that the government believes should be injected into communities”, but not at the expense of other areas.
“Our concern with the legislation that was introduced last time was that it took money from the Building Australia Fund, that is an essential component of Infrastructure Australia and the idea that we would depoliticise infrastructure funding in this country in order to fund drought funding,” he said.
“I say to the government, don’t play politics with this. It is too important. Just stop it. Provide the funding, with appropriations, as you should. And we’ll back it. Any level you want, done. It can go through in an hour.”
The statement was greeted with applause.
Morrison also plans on moving forward with plans to make it an offence, punishable by up to 12 months imprisonment, for anyone who encourages or promotes trespassing on farms, or private land, either online or through publications.
“There will be legislation to deal with ensuring that cowardly keyboard warriors who incite criminal behaviour of people invading farms, that they will be classed as criminals as well,” he said.
“We expect support on that.”
Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick told Sky News on Thursday his party would be voting for the additional trespass penalties. Fellow crossbench senator and One Nation leader Pauline Hanson is also in favour of the move, giving the government the support it needs to pass the bill even if Labor opposes it.
Labor will hold a shadow cabinet meeting on Monday where it will finalise its positions on the coming legislation.
The latest Bureau of Meteorology drought update showed “significant decline” in autumn and winter rainfall, with much of south-eastern and south-western Australia experiencing the lowest rainfall in the past 20 years.
Rainfall for the next three months is predicted to follow that trend, with the BoM anticipating a drier than average quarter for most of the nation.
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