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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1902


Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (16:01):I rise to highlight issues of significance both nationally and in my electorate of Dawson. Contrary to what this government would have us believe, people are doing it tough. The Prime Minister and Treasurer have been eager to spruik the economy and to say that everything is so much better than it is in Greece, but they have failed to mention how this government has emptied the country's bank account and racked up the biggest debt we have ever seen.

The problem with this drunken-sailor approach to running the economy is that it only works for so long—the money runs out, so the drunken sailor borrows more and more. Eventually the government will reach a point where it cannot keep borrowing money and will have to start paying it back. While this government points the finger at other economies around the world which are in dire straits because they spent beyond their means, the fundamentals that drive the economy long-term are getting out of control. People are hurting, and, with a drunken sailor at the wheelhouse, things are only going to get worse. People are scared of the carbon tax for a reason. They call it a fear campaign, but it is simply a matter of telling the truth—and the truth is that people should be scared. Electricity will cost more under the carbon tax. Rates will cost more under the carbon tax. Food will cost more under the carbon tax. The truth is that everything will cost more under the carbon tax, even when families are already struggling.

Businesses are also struggling. Here are some examples of how much more businesses will pay just for electricity under the carbon tax. Bushman's Bread in Mackay will see an increase of between $18,000 and $24,000 in its electricity prices under the carbon tax. Harrup Park Country Club will see an increase of between $39,600 and $52,800 in its electricity prices under the carbon tax. G&S Engineering will see an increase of between $63,000 and $84,000 in its electricity prices under the carbon tax—so we will be looking at an additional cost of $84,000 to that business for electricity because of the carbon tax.

How does a small business or a growing business offset a cost such as that? Businesses in my electorate have already told me that they are going to have to look at cutting back on staff. The Prime Minister said last year about the carbon tax, 'It has price impacts. It's meant to. That's the whole point. If you put a price on something, then people will use less of it.' So another alternative for businesses would be to operate according to the reasoning of the Prime Minister, the Labor Party, the Greens and the collection of Independents, all of whom think that an increase in the cost of electricity for Bushman's Bread in Mackay will mean that the company will cut back and only bake half a loaf of bread or half bake a loaf of bread—one of the two.

The problem is that this tax is a half-baked plan from a half-baked government that is half confident in its own leader. They do not even have a mandate for the carbon tax. Business owners did not give them the mandate; neither did the families they employ, who are already struggling. Families living in Mackay are bearing the brunt of the resources boom. It is a boom for some, but not everyone is working in the mines. The increased demand in the city has driven up prices as businesses compete for resources, especially labour, and people compete for housing. If you are not employed in the resources sector but are stuck renting an average home for $500 a week or more, you are going to be struggling. If you were not in the resources sector in nearby Moranbah, where rents range from $1,400 to $3,200 a week, you were squeezed out of town a long time ago. In the nearby Whitsundays there is one industry, tourism. How can a family not be struggling in this region when they have suffered several cyclones, including a direct hit, and had the tourism destination's image trashed by the media, creating the impression that all of Queensland was at one stage flooded out? To top things off, a tourist destination relying on international visitors will always struggle to come out of the global financial crisis when the skyrocketing Australian dollar is deterring overseas visitors and driving domestic tourism offshore. Tourism is an exporter and a price taker. If Australian tourist destinations cannot compete with overseas destinations then Australian tourism just does not do business. So why on earth would this government introduce a carbon tax which Australian companies in tourism, including airlines and marine operators, will have to pay but which their overseas competitors will not have to pay? That is driving business out of the country and locking the door behind them.

The same applies to the northern parts of my electorate, where the entire economy of the Burdekin is underpinned by the sugar industry. It is our second biggest market in Mackay. Sugar is another export market, another price taker. This is another industry that will have to pay the costs of this ridiculous carbon tax and will not be able to pass on those costs to their overseas customers. Canegrowers, the peak body, estimates that the carbon tax will cost farmers more than $80 million in its first five years. So, if people are hurting now, worse is to come.

This government made a big deal at budget time last year of the fact that the budget was all about jobs, jobs, jobs. With deference to the tourism industry, where the bloody hell are they? For the first time in 20 years Australia recorded zero jobs growth, and that is with a government focusing on jobs creation and before the carbon tax has even started. What will the carbon tax contribute to jobs growth? It will not boost jobs, that is for sure. Where are the green jobs going to come from? Nowhere—but we can see where the jobs will go. You cannot push business offshore, you cannot push industry offshore, you cannot push manufacturing offshore without pushing the jobs offshore as well. People in Mackay locked into big mortgages cannot afford to be unemployed. In the Whitsundays, the remaining businesses cannot afford to operate if the community sees further job losses. In the Burdekin, job losses would kill the town and destroy our nation's food production capacity.

In Townsville, in suburbs like Wulguru and Oonoonba, we have battlers already struggling to make ends meet. How do they feel when they see the government imposing a carbon tax and on the other hand wasting taxpayer dollars? What do they feel when they read about this government delivering set-top boxes for $698 when they know they can walk down to the local retailer and get one for $19 off the shelf? It is no wonder these people feel that they are the forgotten families. They have had enough of the drunken sailor approach. They have had enough of this government pandering to a handful of minority interest groups in the capital cities.

I am very fortunate to be in an electorate that is driving the economy of this nation. My constituents are proud of what they are contributing. The wealth of the country is produced by hard work and long hours put in by people in regional Australia. It is the wealth that is keeping the nation afloat. What they are not proud of is the disdain with which they are treated by this government. They work hard, they pay high taxes, they pay the high cost of living and the high cost of housing, and this government rewards them by taxing them more. They put the world's biggest carbon tax on everything and give these hard workers nothing in return. There is no compensation for people working in the resource industry, regardless of how hard they work or the fact that their real disposable income is often lower than that of capital city families who receive compensation. They want the government to stop wasting the wealth that regional Australia generates and to start investing in the regional infrastructure required for sustained wealth generation. They want to see a fair share come back to the region in the form of roads, in the form of a safe and reliable national highway and in the form of the same sort of social infrastructure that capital city families take for granted.

Within the electorate of Dawson one of our most serious concerns is the condition and safety of our road network, a network badly damaged during a summer of natural disasters—and again, this summer, there has been a lot of heavy rain in the north. I have spoken already in this place about local roads and how federal funding is needed. Peak bodies and government departments at local and state levels all agree that with the current funding levels local governments have enough money only for asset replacement. They simply do not have the money for capital investment in infrastructure and do not have the ability to keep slugging ratepayers to raise those funds. So how do we build new roads?

How are we to reconstruct poor and dilapidated roads and roads damaged by heavy traffic associated with the mining boom in my region? Ratepayers cannot continue to be slugged through their rates. There is only so much money that each household has to contribute. We need to have a decent offer on the table from the federal government's roads funding program, Roads to Recovery. I do not care which colour of politics is in power, I will always be an advocate in this House for a minimum of $1 billion a year to go to the Roads to Recovery program to fund some of these roads.

In addition to local roads, we have the Bruce Highway which last month was described by a RACQ spokesman as 'the most dangerous of the national highways in the country'. At about 40 deaths a year on average, it is a serious issue that the government needs to step up and improve. It is not just a matter of safety; it is a matter of reliability. Just within my electorate, the Bruce Highway has flood-prone sections that impair industry frequently for prolonged periods. We have the Goorganga Plains which cut the airport off from the tourism area of the Whitsundays. Today flights in and out of the Whitsundays have been cancelled due to a flooded Bruce Highway. We have Sandy Gully near Bowen where even a brief shower can stop workers from getting to the multibillion-dollar project in the north, Abbott Point. We have Yellow Gin Creek just before the Burdekin which is regularly flooded, cutting off access to Townsville. We have the Haughton River bridge, a small and unsafe bridge without proper guardrails.

One area where the Bruce Highway also has difficulty is in Mackay due to traffic congestion. In addition to local traffic and highway traffic, we have an increasing number of trucks accessing the industrial hub and the port. We have a state government that has waited far too long to address the issue of connecting the northside residential areas with the southside and western employment areas. Now that upgrades have been made on some bridges, we still see congestion. The combination of a ring-road and a river crossing to connect the port with the industrial centre, while bypassing the city, will make the task of getting to work and getting things done a lot easier. It will free up other routes for more productive purposes. It will be faster, more efficient and more productive. I note with interest that the local state Labor member for Mackay, Tim Mulherin, recently said his idea for a ring-road would be a connector from the northern beaches of Mackay to the southside industrial area. They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery, because yours truly came up with the concept 18 months ago and put it out publicly after a discussion with the local mayor, Col Meng. I made it public during the election campaign.

Maybe that is why the Leader of the House was looking at my website a few weeks ago, searching for more ideas. I can only guess that he got on Google and typed in, 'How to fix the Bruce Highway' to find my Fix the Bruce campaign. I have some advice for those opposite and the Leader of the House: stay tuned. For their information, the Fix the Bruce campaign will start in April and we will be encouraging the community to nominate areas of the Bruce Highway that need upgrading and to contact the federal Treasurer about funding it. It has become clear that the state Labor government and the federal conglomerate government are incapable of prioritising work. But we will compile information and use it when it comes to funding priorities when this government is sent to the naughty corner at the next election. While the state government has a main roads minister who would not know a ring-road from a ring hole, a minister too busy putting his left foot in and putting a press release out to fix potholes, the Liberal National Party in Queensland and the federal Liberal-National coalition have been putting together a plan.

If that is their vision for the highway, they must have binoculars, because they are leaving things to the state government's 10- to 20-year time frame. They are leaving this to be addressed for up to a decade or more, knowing they will be long gone from government by then and a long time from being in government again. We cannot wait a decade; we certainly cannot wait two decades for stuff to be fixed. We need a fix for the Goorganga Plains now. We need a fix for Sandy Gully now. We need a fix for Yellow Gin Creek now. We need the Haughton River bridge fixed now. We need a fair share returned to the region, so we can continue to produce the nation's wealth.

The people of Dawson also need the social infrastructure and they deserve it. Just the social infrastructure promised during the election campaign would be a good start. I have growing concerns about the red tape and bureaucracy that the government is putting in place for local groups who were promised funding during the 2010 election campaign. That is a concern when you look at the long list of infrastructure that is needed. The Mackay ring-road I spoke of is a critical piece of infrastructure that will remove obstacles for the mining sector. An upgraded road network is also required in the industrial sector that services the resources sector. The upgrade should include Connors Road bridge and the duplication of Milton and Paradise Streets, taking access to four lanes.

But infrastructure is more than just industrial needs; social infrastructure cannot be forgotten. Both of these projects—the ring road and the Paget upgrade—were outlined as priorities by Mackay mayor Col Meng when he recently outlined his wish list for the region with the state election there. The mayor rightly included important community and social infrastructure projects on his list. I note in particular the community's need for an upgrade to the showgrounds, a $20 million redevelopment; and projects in the northern beaches of Mackay, notably a $6 million community hub and a $2.5 million injection into sporting infrastructure in that growing residential area of Mackay. The mayor knows, as do the people of North Queensland, that simply ripping money out of the regions through a mining tax or with the state government with mining royalties, not to mention through a carbon tax, is not sustainable in the long term. The government must recognise the needs of regional communities by allocating appropriate funding and getting value for the dollars that are coming out of these regions. Thank you.