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Tuesday, 3 May 1994
Page: 83


Senator WOODLEY (7.15 p.m.) —During April I visited a part of Australia which is dear to my heart, having lived there for some years, that is, North Queensland, including Townsville. While I was there I met some members of the public transport union who are very unhappy about actions of the Queensland government and feel that there has been a lack of any real consultation with them over the decision to close the railway workshops in Townsville, which will result in the loss of somewhere between 400 and 500 jobs.

  I believe the decision makes no sense at all, except to those bureaucrats who justify every crazy political decision by claiming that their decisions are demanded by economic efficiency, necessary restructuring, commercial reality, or some other meaningless cliche. I believe their reality is real only because their framework excludes a whole host of social values and economic factors which, if included, would show their decision to be ideological gobbledegook.

  I will mention some of the social values and economic factors which, I believe, seem to have been ignored. They include such questions as: what will happen to the 400-plus workers and their families when the workshops are closed down in 1996? What economic sense does it make to force over 400 workers onto the dole instead of being gainfully employed? What job prospects are there now for children and young people who are being educated in Townsville and for whom, for years, the railway workshops provided apprenticeships and other job prospects? What will happen to Townsville based businesses which currently trade with Townsville railway workshops and their employees? That trade is estimated at somewhere around $8.2 million per year. How will railway workers who are made redundant pay for school, medical and dental bills, repayments on the family home and other day-to-day family expenses?

  The Queensland transport minister, Mr Hamill, has stated that no-one will be sacked or forcibly relocated. Yet the workshops are to be shifted to Rockhampton, some 800 kilometres away. The workshop jobs in Townsville are to be reduced from 467 to a maximum of 35 at Stuart, and nearly all of the Townsville workers want to keep their jobs and stay in Townsville. Somebody cannot add up. I suspect it is Mr Hamill.  I want to read parts of a letter which is addressed to members of the Senate by a Mr Barry Simpson. He writes:

My name is Barry Simpson and I am a Union Delegate in the Townsville Railway Workshops and I have asked that this letter be read to the members of the senate.

Since the decision last year by the A.L.P. Government and the Board of Queensland Rail to close the Townsville Railway Workshops, which has a workforce of 4 hundred employees, and send all work to Rockhampton with the exception of minor repairs to be done at a One spot shop by only 28 staff, and some heritage, plus minor carriage repairs to be carried out by 30 staff in one of the existing workshops, we have been fighting the decision in an attempt to save our jobs and the workshops.

He continues:

Regional development in Queensland is a joke why is Townsville rail work being sent to Rockhampton at the expense of Townsville rail workers and local businesses, even now work from North Queensland which has always been done in the Townsville workshops is being sent away to Rockhampton at the direction of Q.R. management, while leaving other business groups in Q.R. such as primary industry with a shortage of wagons for the cattle industry.

. . . . . . . . .

With the Federal Government about to release its white paper on employment what chances has a person in regional Queensland have of finding or retaining employment when you have a state Government like the A.L.P. in Queensland with such a bloody minded attitude towards its very own supporters or maybe once their supporters.

This decision also flies in the face of the need for regional development in North Queensland. I would like to read from the ACTU or Kelty paper on regional development and indicate some of the things it says about North Queensland. It is entitled `North Queensland is moving into the future with confidence'. Under the subheading `Opportunities—Transport' it states:

The opening up of the Carpentaria Mount Isa minerals province will make extensive use of Townsville's rail network and port facilities.

The continued maintenance of Townsville's road and rail infrastructure will further develop not only Townsville, but also areas west, north and south.

There is scope for fast road and rail links between Townsville and Cairns. This would open up two-way tourism and freight traffic between the two cities.

There are indications that at least seasonally there is scope for substantial air freight from the region, primarily agricultural produce.

On another page the report states:

It is considered imperative that the Port of Townsville be upgraded. Deepening of the port to allow larger ships to enter would open up many opportunities for the export and tourism markets.

In other words, the reports are saying—and the plea is all about this—that the railway in North Queensland is an essential part of its growing transport infrastructure. In the face of that, it makes no sense to cut the heart out of the maintenance facilities for the railways section of that infrastructure. I can only hope that the federal government has more sense than the Queensland government and can bring pressure to bear to have this foolish decision reversed.