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Tuesday, 25 March 1997
Page: 2886

Mr ENTSCH —My question is addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade. Given that the Deputy Prime Minister has just returned from cyclone affected Far North Queensland, can the Deputy Prime Minister detail the extent of the damage in Far North Queensland and what is being done by local authorities and others to repair the damage?

Mr TIM FISCHER —Early this morning I travelled to Townsville, and later on to Ingham, to survey the damage in the aftermath of Cyclone Justin and to meet with mayors, with the state emergency services, the army, the air force, the Department of Primary Industry in Queensland and other interlocutors to see first-hand the outcome of the horrific cyclone which saw a large number of people killed in Papua New Guinea, two on the mainland of Australia and a number of others in the Coral Sea. I was joined on the visit by Senator MacGibbon and Senator Macdonald and the members for Dawson, Herbert and Kennedy, who are still making their way back here from Fairbairn airport.

It was a very worthwhile visit. Unfortunately, the news is not good with regard to the damage to tourism infrastructure and to a number of primary industry crops, particularly bananas, with many banana plantations being wiped out completely. There is damage to sugar crops, damage to pawpaw crops, damage to macadamia plantations and many others.

I am pleased to follow on the advice the Minister for Finance gave yesterday to the House and confirm that the federal government stands ready to supply $3 for every $1 outlaid by the Queensland government for infrastructure repair and recovery with regard to certain low interest loans and grants in the circumstances applicable. That is the highest amount and ratio granted in the life of the government of Prime Minister John Howard as a consequence of the horrific disasters that have hit Queensland over the most recent period.

I was able to deliver a greeting and letter from the Prime Minister at Townsville and at Ingham in respect of the great community effort that have been forthcoming, and I met and had discussions by telephone with operators from the electorate of the member for Leichhardt as well.

Let me just say two critical things. Firstly, I am satisfied that there will be a bounce back. There is a huge clean-up operation going on. The primary industries affected and the tourism industry are moving very quickly to recover as the remnants of the cyclone drift further south and out to sea. It is not expected to reform. Secondly, I say in absolutely loud and clear terms to the nation, particularly to southerners, that tropical North Queensland is open for tourism business again right now, for Easter and for beyond, and that the airports of Cairns and Townsville are fully operational again. The Bruce Highway is reopening and the rail links are reopening. The best thing people who want to make a contribution to the recovery can do is to recommit to their plans to visit tropical North Queensland, and sooner rather than later.

Mr Martin Ferguson —Drop the reef tax.

Mr TIM FISCHER —I must say that the Labor Party carry on in typical terms in the face of what was an horrific circumstance for thousands of Australians in tropical North Queensland. They deserve more careful comment from you than the interjections you are mounting across the chamber.

I want to assure the member for Leichhardt that the federal government, in conjunction with the Queensland government, in conjunction with the relevant authorities, including local government—and I met specifically with the mayors of Townsville, Thuringowa and Ingham—will do all it can to minimise the losses and help build confidence and recovery.