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Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Page: 4273


Mr RAMSEY (9:53 AM) —It is 20 years since the Cooper Creek isolated the north-east of South Australia by cutting the Birdsville Track. It now seems almost inevitable that this will occur again this year, probably for an extended period. The state government has said it will recommission an old punt that has sat on the banks of the Cooper for 20 years and is no longer adequate for the job. It can carry just two cars, or about 20 cows in a holding pen, and is powered by a couple of outboard motors. It has no hope of servicing the needs of those who live along the Birdsville Track.

The Birdsville Track is the prime supply route for the north-east of South Australia and for Birdsville, just over the Queensland border. This is genuinely outback Australia, and everbody expects a few inconveniences, but it is still part of the 21st century. Government control has ways of reaching us all, and local residents and businesses face the same legislation dealing with food, fuel and safety as the rest of Australia. Foodstuffs must be kept in refrigerated containers and fuel must be delivered in tankers. That means we must have the ability to shift trucks across the Cooper.

During the last flood, food could be offloaded onto the punt and then into utes on the other side and delivered. This is no longer legal. Foodstuffs must be kept in strictly controlled temperature vans. Fuel was delivered in 44 gallon drums. And I can tell you that with diesel electricity generation being the most common way of powering a pastoral property they use plenty. It is no longer legal to transport fuel in this way. I say diesel is the most common way of generating electricity but it is true to say a number have solar generation facilities. There are unlikely to be any more, though, because the government has dumped the remote area renewable energy subsidy. But more on that another time. It is not feasible to unload a road train full of cattle and then take them Noah’s Ark like across the river 20 by 20. Many of the properties are looking at their first opportunity to ship prime stock after years of drought. What is needed is a punt that is capable of taking semitrailers so that trucks with fuel, with stock and food can all make their deliveries.

The floodwaters have ensured an enormous tourist season for local businesses but traffic and suppliers must be able to get through. The South Australian government has said that last time the punt was used it was perfectly adequate, moving up to 24 cars a day. Things have sure changed in 20 years. There would be more likely to be 24 cars an hour passing up the Birdsville Track nowadays. Australians are becoming increasingly interested and able to get to this stunning part of our world and local businesses have grown to accommodate them. I might point out also we are approaching the time of the Birdsville races, and this is likely to have almost a terminal impact on them. There are larger disused punts on the Murray. The newly-elected member for Stuart in our state parliament, Dan van Holst Pellekaan, and I have called on the state government to urgently assess the viability of relocating one to the Birdsville Track.