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Nats accuse Labor of choosing foreigners over farmers

David Littleproud says the government does not understand regional Australia as he calls for a levy on importers to pay for biosecurity measures.

Billions of dollars have been "ripped away" from regional Australians, the Nationals leader says as he steps up his attack on the government's biosecurity levy.

David Littleproud accused the government of ceding sovereignty to foreign competitors, instead urging for a tax on importers to pay for the risks they pose.

"To think the Australian government could put a tax on Australian farmers so they can pay the biosecurity costs of their foreign competitors to bring their product into this country is perverse," he said on Friday.

The previous government had been working on implementing an importer container levy before last year's election, Mr Littleproud says, which if Labor enacted would save farmers from having to pay $153 million.

Agriculture Minister Murray Watt accused the coalition of failing to enact biosecurity protections while in power, which led to diseases white spot, varroa mite and khapra beetle infiltrating the country and damaging the sector.

"The coalition had nine years to implement a container levy but when they finally promised it, they dropped it like a hot potato," he said.

Senator Watt said the government would investigate a container levy, but defended his policy as a fair impost on producers, arguing farmers should help pay for measures they will ultimately benefit from.

As part of the new biosecurity system, farmers will contribute six per cent of the costs, while importers pay 48 per cent and the taxpayer covers 44 per cent. 

Mr Littleproud said the federal budget failed to fix childcare accessibility in regional areas, calling for the $4.7b set aside for childcare affordability to have funds quarantined to make services available in the country.

"We don't have an affordability issue, we have an accessibility issue," he said.

"There's a cost of living crisis for regional Australians because they can't get back to work because they can't find a place for their children to have child care."

It came amid a broader warning that small towns could be deprived of doctors and pharmacists after changes allowing foreign GPs to work in major cities instead of the country and a shake-up to the pharmaceutical benefits scheme.

"The government needs to stop, pause and actually understand you need bespoke models for regional Australia," Mr Littleproud said.

He also attacked the government for raising charges on truck drivers to help pay for road maintenance costs, despite cancelling $23b of infrastructure projects and pausing $120b more.

"This is a charge that (the trucking industry) expects to get something in return and that's with roads," Mr Littleproud said.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers said the $120b was still in the budget.

"I think the people of Australia expect us to get value for money from our $120b, 10-year infrastructure pipeline," he said in Brisbane on Friday.

Senator Watt told ABC radio it was only right that the heavy vehicle industry, which contributed more to road wear and tear, paid its fair share.


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