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Thursday, 8 September 1983
Page: 618

Mr GAYLER(8.37) —I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Upon my election as the representative for Leichhardt, I undertook to represent all of the people of far north Queensland, irrespective of political persuasion. Tonight I address this House, mindful of that commitment. The problems in the north and the aspirations of northerners transcend political boundaries. In the brief time available this evening I will inform honourable members of both the problems and the aspirations of those Australians in the far north. It is not that I believe that many of the problems that exist in the tropics do not exist elsewhere in Australia. However, I do believe that far north Queensland has lagged behind other parts of Australia in terms of interest shown by successive State and Federal governments. Successive conservative governments, both at State and Federal levels, have not acknowledged or recognised the contribution that my electorate makes to the national welfare. Often the assistance that was needed in that area was not forthcoming.

The division of Leichhardt is almost twice the size of Victoria; of course, Wannon is only a small section of Victoria. Leichhardt is the only electorate which shares an international border. It contains a high proportion of Aboriginals and Islanders-in fact, more Islanders than any other electorate in Australia. Leichhardt is rich in its human resources and also in its natural bounty. No other part of the nation has the potential for growth as does my electorate. It is a rich provider of resources and wealth, not only for the people who live within its boundaries but for the whole of Australia. Tragically , it also has an unemployment rate in Cairns of 22 per cent and in the more remote areas of the electorate of up to 50 per cent. It is my aim and that of the Hawke Administration to redress this situation. The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke ) has already foreshadowed decisions that will bear that out.

Firstly, the Government has decided to go ahead with the national communications satellite system. This will bring Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio and bring television to people in Leichhardt who at present receive no service at all. Communications play a vital role in an area as remote and far flung as far north Queensland. At a time when people living in metropolitan areas are taking for granted forms of communication such as basic radio, television and telephone, there are people living in remote areas of Australia, particularly far north Queensland, who do not have the benefit of those forms of communication. The satellite system will ensure that everyone within the electorate can be connected, for example, to the automatic telephone network. Secondly, the Government has decided to establish a second regional radio network for the ABC. This will make it possible for the ABC to offer a much wider choice of programming to all its listeners in the country.

Whilst communications are undoubtedly the major consideration in my part of Australia, so is the upgrading and construction of an adequate road system. The Government is increasing total road funding to Queensland this financial year by 40 per cent. That will mean that a total of $253m of Commonwealth money will be spent on Queensland roads. However, more attention, funding and effort are required on the road system radiating to the remote areas in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Cape York and other areas rich in primary production. Another $12. 4m will be spent on roads in Queensland under the community employment program.

The development and prosperity of north Queensland depend on its great primary industries. One of the first actions of this Government was to channel $11m into the Queensland sugar industry. A new organisation, the Fishing Industry Consultative Panel, has been established to provide comprehensive advice to the Government on the fishing industry.

Because Leichhardt sits astride our northern coastline, it is an area with a special interest in defence and border protection. The Government has shown a clear commitment in this field by significantly increasing defence spending in real terms. Through the allocation of the recent Budget there is presently proceeding a full scale review of our coastal surveillance arrangements headed by the Minister for Aviation (Mr Beazley). This is a critical area and the issues of surveillance and defence in northern Australia should be given top priority, as events in the past have so clearly shown.

The tourist industry is a major industry in north Queensland. I applaud the grant of $1m this financial year to subsidise diesel fuel costs to Barrier Reef island resorts. The tourist industry will also benefit from the substantial boost in funding we will provide to the Australian Tourist Commission. A study is under way into provision of low cost accommodation and negotiations have begun with the domestic airlines on a 30-day fixed air fare and all-inclusive air-rail-coach tickets to attract more people to far north Queensland. A further decision has been taken to reinstate the exemption from sales tax for certain tourist boats, and this is being backdated two years. Finally, the Government is to build new office accommodation worth more than $6m for government departments in Cairns and on Thursday Island. This is part of a major program in five States to help stimulate the building industry.

Commendable as that activity by the Government has been, some areas still need attention. I should mention the major issues that are concerning the people of Leichhardt, and I will take the opportunity to suggest some of the ways in which these problems can be met. Whilst the Government has given $11m of carry-on finance to the sugar industry, I have made the Prime Minister aware that there is a need for further assistance to the most needy cane growers-those in the wet belt from Tully to Mossman-who suffer as a result of climatic conditions in the tropical region of far north Queensland, which I hasten to add is the only tropical area in the world predominantly inhabited by Europeans where successful primary production is carried out.

There is a need to ensure the continued viability of Cairns's largest employer, North Queensland Engineers and Agents Pty Ltd. As it is the area's largest employer, and since the Royal Australian Navy has in its wisdom classed further Fremantle class patrol boats as a low priority, many of those jobs are now at risk. The Government is to be commended for its attempts to procure further contracts during the recent South Pacific Forum. However, I would remind the Government that it is necessary to provide work for the employees of NQEA by December of this year. Unemployment in the Cairns area is running at 21 to 22 per cent and, as I said previously, is as high as 50 per cent in outlying areas. There is a need to give the electorate of Leichhardt high priority in the Government's community employment program, under which Queensland will receive $ 41m this financial year.

I applaud the Army for undertaking a study into the establishment of a citizen based unit similar to Norforce in the north of Queensland. It is a small step towards improving the defence of Australia's most vulnerable area. I urge the Government to consider also the eventual strengthening of naval and air force facilities in the Gulf of Carpentaria and on Cape York.

No other part of this nation contains the natural beauty of far north Queensland, from the marvel of the Great Barrier Reef to the last frontiers of the cape and the gulf. We are blessed with verdant rain-forests and the rich agricultural lands of the Atherton Tableland as well as the beauty of wilderness , rivers and the tropical coastline. Here lies enormous potential for tourism. On behalf of the people of northern Queensland I sincerely welcome the Government's Budget commitments to increase the efforts to direct tourists to this country.

I cannot complete this speech in good conscience without mentioning to the House the deplorable neglect of the Aboriginal and island people in the far north of this country. Although I will have more to say on this issue in the future, I thank the Government for its 28 per cent increase in spending for both Aboriginal and island people.

Given the time at my disposal, I am unable to canvass all the issues that confront the people who live in the electorate of Leichhardt. That is a task which I will accomplish over the months ahead. Suffice it to say that my electorate, for the first time since the National Party of Australia won it eight years ago, has had a chance to come out of its slumber and to progress to the stage where it is on an equal footing with the more favoured areas of south- east Australia. The Hawke Government was elected after making specific promises about development programs for north Queensland. Those promises will be honoured . The people of Leichhardt and the rest of north Queensland will, within the first term of the Hawke Government, come to see that the choice they made on 5 March was an eminently sensible and, more particulary, a responsible one.

I should not conclude this evening without paying special tribute to one of my predecessors. He is the former Labor member for Leichhardt, Bill Fulton. He represented the electorate for 17 years and it passed from the Australian Labor Party on his retirement in 1975. Bill Fulton was a worthy representative of this area, and it was during his period as the member that advances were made for the betterment of the electorate. I boldly make the claim that advances that occurred in Bill Fulton's period as the member for this electorate will be reborn during the term of the Hawke Government. We have had eight years of idleness, disinterest and decline. I pledge to the people of Leichhardt that they have the prospect of new directions, new bonds of co-operation and new initiatives in promoting economic well-being in our remote but treasured part of Australia.

People sometimes believe that those of us who come from north Queensland call ourselves north Queenslanders before we call ourselves Australians. That is not true. However, I would like to point out that I intend to use all the well-known vigour of a north Queenslander to represent my electorate. The people of far north Queensland have visions for the future of our region. We have every confidence in our future. All we ask of Canberra is that it share with us our visions and our confidence.