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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 6823

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (8:30 PM) —I rise in this grievance debate to talk about a very important highway in my electorate. It is a national highway. It is the Warrego Highway. I have just come from a meeting with senior people from British Gas, who hold the tenements around Chinchilla for coal seam methane gas, which will all be part of a huge development over the next four to five years to send coal seam methane gas compressed to Gladstone, where it will be exported as liquefied natural gas.

Why do I talk about the cultivation of the Surat Basin and its important link to the Warrego Highway? The Warrego Highway starts just west of Brisbane, just after the Ipswich Bypass. It travels through Toowoomba and goes all the way west to Morven. This highway across the basin is a major national arterial road. It connects the port of Brisbane right through to Mount Isa and on to Darwin. It is a major trade route, if I could put it that way. The coalition, when we were in government, started to put significant sums of money into this highway. We duplicated the Gatton Bypass east of Toowoomba. It is two lanes each way and a divided highway. We bypassed the town of Oakey. Prior to that, the Warrego Highway went through the wonderful and very beautiful Oakey, but it went through its main street. We then realigned the highway west of Dalby to get away from flood prone areas. Then we upgraded the highway from Morven, at the western end, right through to Mitchell to allow type 2 road train access east of Morven through to Mitchell.

What is a type 2 road train? It is a road train that has three trailers and they are configured going both ways. The main ones coming east will be bringing live cattle to the major centre of Roma, which is the largest store cattle selling centre in Australia. These cattle, which are on these type 2 road trains—three trailers pulled by one prime mover—could have come from Kununurra in Western Australia. Does that sound incredible? It is not. It happens quite regularly. They come in from the Barkly Tableland. They are coming from around Cloncurry and up in the Gulf. They are coming to the largest store cattle selling centre in Australia. The beef producers and large parcel companies make these decisions because that is where they get the best rate for the cattle.

We did a great deal whilst we were in government and we would have committed some $128 million had we been re-elected at the last federal election. I acknowledge that the Labor Party has committed some $55 million to the Warrego Highway, $40 million to upgrade Mitchell to Roma and some $15 million for the highway east of Dalby through to Toowoomba for passing lanes and rest areas.

The urgency, and why I am in this grievance debate here tonight, is the development, and the escalation of development, in the coal seam methane gas area and the electricity generation construction that has gone on, tapping into the gas of the coal seam methane resource in the Dalby-Chinchilla-Miles-Roma area. The amount of freight on that highway is escalating day by day. According to the Queensland Department of Main Roads, the traffic volumes on the Warrego Highway vary from about 23,000 vehicles per day near Toowoomba to around some 600 per day at Morven, which is right at the western end of this highway. Whilst I acknowledge that the government has put forward $55 million, my plea to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government is to bring forward the money to upgrade the Warrego Highway as a matter of high priority because, in many areas, this road is going to deteriorate rapidly and before that $55 million can be spent over the next five years. It is in urgent need of that money right now.

Also complicating and adding to the pressure on the Warrego Highway is the announcement from the Queensland government that they are now going to be moving out of Queensland Rail. Already we see nearly all the grain that is grown in the Darling Downs and the western Darling Downs carried by road. It is madness, but that is what is happening. We are now also seeing coal from the coalmines in this coal seam methane gas area—Acland, McAlister and Peabody—going to power stations at Swanbank and down to the port of Brisbane by road. As a motorist, it is not unusual to find yourself driving east of Dalby and seeing half a dozen trucks with trailers behind them carting grain through to Brisbane, when it should have been on rail—a bulk commodity that could have been transported by rail rather than by road. We will see increased pressure on this highway and increased pressure on the travelling motorist—people on business trips, tourists and school buses. They will be at real risk as the density of the transport sector escalates because of the development of the coal seam methane gas industry and also because so much of the grain and coal that could have been carried on Queensland Rail is now starting to move by road onto the Warrego Highway.

I will just give you some idea of the cattle wagon capacity that Queensland Rail once had and the points that Queensland Rail used to transport cattle from. There used to be some 300 points where they would load and unload cattle—obviously at markets—and they are now down to 17. The number of wagons to cart these cattle—what they call K wagons—have been halved to just around 500 across the length and breadth of Queensland. Queensland is the largest cattle state in Australia. By value of export from the state of Queensland, the beef industry ranks No. 2. That gives you some idea of the importance of the beef industry to Queensland and the national economy. So much freight that could have been carried by rail is now moving to road and putting increased pressure on many roads—but, in this case, the Warrego Highway.

We are going into winter and, by the look of the plantings that have gone on, we are going to have another good crop—I hope a record crop—of winter grains. Sitting in pads and silos across the Darling Downs and right out to Roma is the grain that was harvested last year, in 2008, and, in some cases, the sorghum that was harvested in early 2008, and we are on the brink, perhaps in six months, of another wheat crop, which will add to the volume of freight that has to be transported out of the area to the destination. And, of course, Queensland Rail are not going to be in the market to do this. In fact, I think their grain trains have gone from five to about one operating at the moment.

So, compounding the problems for the Warrego Highway and the urgent need for this money to be brought forward is the volume of freight that is coming off rail and onto road and the development of the Surat coal seam methane gas area, where we have some major companies—British Gas, ConocoPhillips in partnership with Origin through Australia-Pacific LNG, Santos and Dutch Shell with Arrow. They tell me that, in the coal seam methane gas area, there is more potential gas in this region than there is the North West Shelf of Australia. Complicating that of course is the Xstrata coalmine. They propose to be exporting coal out of the Wandoan coalmine by 2014. It would be the second largest coalmine in Australia, with an export capacity of 30 million tonnes per year.

These are all resources that create great wealth for our nation, but we do need the infrastructure—in this case, the road infrastructure—to make sure that we can realise the full potential of these industries, whether it is in the agricultural sector or the minerals from coal and the development of the coal seam methane gas industry. Of course, also coming on the back of that— (Time expired)