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Wednesday, 23 February 2011
Page: 1118

Mr KATTER (11:01 AM) —I rise to speak on the Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011 and the Income Tax Rates Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011. I have been the responsible member of parliament through some 35 cyclones. A lot of cyclones are very small beer indeed, but a lot of them are very serious. The town of Innisfail has been wiped out completely twice. Thanks to excellent building codes—I think every member of parliament in Australia can hold their heads up high on this one—and particularly the builders themselves who have implemented those codes, the vast bulk of the homes stood up to 200- to 300-kilometre-an-hour winds. They stood up very well, with very little damage at all. There were maybe a few broken windows.

In order of priority, I think, food is the first thing that you require when the cyclone hits. In Cyclone Larry we put out 24-hour ration packs on day 3 or day 4 and water bottles from distribution points in key areas all over the area involved. We put up tarpaulins because people were just sitting there in teeming rain—almost invariably there is heavy rainfall that comes with a cyclone. There is a money issue, strangely enough. It is not that people are broke; it is just that they cannot get money. The ATMs go down and all of the plastic magic ceases to function because there is no power. I must single out for the highest possible praise Ergon Energy and the Ergon workers. I have said before that every morning at sun-up they seem to be out there, and every evening, when you are going to bed, they still seem to be working. Nothing ever seems to be a problem for them. None of them are ever standing around either; they are just working and working hard in extremely dangerous conditions.

So you have the money problem and you need the money for food. On the second day of Cyclone Larry I went hungry because plastic magic was worth nothing and I had run out of cash. I was fortunate to have a car with petrol in it. An awful lot of people in Innisfail did not have those things, and an awful lot of people in Cardwell and the other towns that were badly hit this time did not have cars. I do not know, but I think that, when we look at the figures closely, there may have been one or two deaths that resulted from the lack of phones and mobiles. There is, of course, no maintenance being done on telephones now. When the power goes off you move onto the batteries. For boosters in the telephone system the batteries run down after about a day or two of not being recharged because the power lines are down, and then the phones go out.

As for mobiles, I can only say that I am very, very disappointed with the performance of Telstra, but that is a story for another day. The mobiles, as it has been explained to me, are not a very great problem. You just go up with a generator to recharge the batteries, drive to another site and drop off another generator to recharge those batteries. They are about 2,000 bucks. You come back after you have dumped six of them, pick up No. 1 and go to another six. As I have pointed out to the powers that be, on day 5 and day 6 it seemed to me that most of the areas were without mobiles. Mine most certainly would not work. I must greatly praise Optus. They had mobile towers on the ground and free telephones distributed. In places like Mission Beach I used the Optus free telephones. It was the only way I could call out and get very important services back in.

With the issue of roads the tarpaulins have been a terrible problem, because people have been so worried about public liability that they are telling people not to climb up on roofs. Heavens! We are grown people; if you can see a roof is dangerous, you do not climb up on it. But there were terrible problems in the distribution of tarps. As for the roads, the 300-odd thousand of us who live in Far North Queensland have only one highway that can get us in and out, and if it gets cut we are in a terrible position. I cannot prove this and do not think I will be able to, but it seemed to me that the main highway was closed for about 85 per cent of the first four or five days, when it needed to be closed for about 15 per cent of the time. The argument was that there was a foot and a half of water across the road. In Townsville, when you get heavy rain people will have to drive through a foot to a foot and a half of water. That is just life. It is similar in Cairns and on my street in Charters Towers if you get any sort of rainfall. There is one particular road there that we drive out of town on and you have to drive through a foot to a foot and a half of water. But that is the artery—if you cut that off it would create so many more problems further down the track.

Having said all that, I steeled myself not to say very much about this cyclone and the way things were handled, but I would be very remiss in my duty if I did not refer to the fact that on day 3 after Cyclone Larry the Premier of Queensland, Peter Beattie, and the Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, engaged Peter Cosgrove. Things did not run well, but they were a thousand times better than if there had been no central controller. It was on day 8 we had a central controller this time. I do not know whether we have a clear situation and still have a central controller, but I am assuming that we do, on the information that I hold. We praise Michael Keating very much for the job he is doing there.

I would bring to the attention of the House the nature, size and scope of what we are talking about. The main northern arterial highway runs between the beach and the shop frontages in Cardwell—there may be about 50 metres between the sea and the shop frontages. It is a beautiful drive as you look out on Hinchinbrook Island in that brief period when you can see the ocean. I think it is one of the very few parts of the entire Queensland coastline where you can drive on the main highway and see the ocean. That highway is now completely wrecked and extremely dangerous to drive on. Part of the foreshore has gone completely.

We need safe anchorage and the government has agreed to that. We thank the government very much for safe anchorage because we have not had it. We have gone through state instrumentalities, but they consist of people who put more faith in ridiculous considerations than in the boating safety of the public of North Queensland. There are 55,000 registered boats between Mackay and Cairns and you are lucky if you are within three hours of safe harbour. Whenever a squall comes up, the boats run for safe harbour. I do not know anyone who has beached a boat in North Queensland. There must have been some, but I am not aware of them, and I was the person responsible, as I said before, in 35 cyclones, some of them not much more than storms. There is no safe harbour. At the present moment you can go from Townsville—Moor-In-Jin has no tie-up facilities, so I do not know that I would consider it a safe harbour—to Cairns because Port Hinchinbrook is out.

That brings me back to Cardwell. You would have seen on the television the terrible scenes from Port Hinchinbrook where the boats—giant launches 40, 50 and 60 feet long and worth millions of dollars—were picked up and dumped 20 to 50 metres inland and smashed to pieces. There is debris and siltation off Port Hinchinbrook and it needs to be cleaned out. This is the sort of work that needs to be done. I think we will need a new rock groyne along the front at Cardwell, but it is up to the people of Cardwell to make that decision. It seems to me that is where they are headed at the moment. It costs a lot of money to put up a rock wall that is two, three or four kilometres long. Behind that there is no ground now, so those rocks will go into the water and then behind those rocks ground will have to be put. The obvious thing to do is to take the siltation from cleaning out Port Hinchinbrook, move it around with a dredge and put it behind the rocks on the foreshore to build up the foreshore. Then we can rebuild the road where it is at the moment. It is a beautiful highway and it would destroy the town if the road were moved because most of the businesses in that town depend upon that roadway.

I do not know how badly the prawn farms were affected, but one of the biggest pawn farms in Australia is situated there. There is another pawn farm beside it—I think the second biggest or third biggest in Australia. There will be very serious damage indeed and I would be very surprised if they have not lost their income for the next year at the very least. Something like $30 million comes in from those prawn farms and there will be no money coming in this year.

At the present moment, the highway and the businesses along those highways have a very serious threat hanging over their heads. Many of them have had no income for the last three weeks and it will probably be some weeks yet before they are in a position to have any income. Just that loss of income will place them in a terrible financial situation. The cost of reconstructing Cardwell to anything like the way it was will run into $10 million, $20 million or maybe $30 million. We thank John Hoare, Lindsay Hallam, President Smith of the Cardwell Chamber of Commerce and all the other people of Cardwell that have been working very hard to draw up a plan for the reconstruction of Cardwell.

Dunk Island—and I am just picking out some features—is really a town of 200 people. There are normally about 100 workers there and maybe 140 or 150 guests living there at any one time. Everything on Dunk Island has been destroyed. The jetty is completely destroyed, as are all of the big buildings and facilities for the tourists. I would say there would be accommodation there not for 250 people but for about 20. You can work out the size of the destruction, but I do not think $50 million would be unreasonable and it may take considerably more than that.

The banana industry is worth about $500 million a year to the Australian economy. It has not been as badly affected as it was by Cyclone Larry because we now have a lot of bananas on the tablelands area and further north. There will not be the same great shortage as the one that occurred after Cyclone Larry—that will not occur ever again. By the same token, of that $500 million, probably about $350 million will vanish, and about 4,000 or 5,000 people depend upon that income. Fortunately, the damage was not as severe as in Larry; I think we will be back to fairly big production within four or five months. In the meantime, the backpacker numbers will go down completely. That is the sort of sector that will not be re-employed. So there will be no backpackers, and there will be no tourism. We have been in a terrible plight with tourism after the GFC in Cairns, and this will make it infinitely worse. With losses to the banana farmers and, more importantly—and I do not mean to denigrate the farmers by saying this—the banana workers, including backpackers, which will take down the tourism industry, we are talking about $400 million or $500 million. The sugar industry will take a hit of $200 million or $300 million. I hope we will only be down by about 60 or 70 per cent, but that 30 or 40 per cent—and it may be much higher than that—is still very serious. It has occasioned the closing of a mill, which has meant 700 or 800 people out of work.

You can start adding up the sorts of figures I am putting through here. You simply cannot ask a government to suddenly pull $2,000 million out of a budget. I am sorry; I do not expect that to happen. I am disappointed in the government. I think the funding should be ongoing. Everyone gets their turn with these diasters, whether it is fire and earthquakes at Newcastle or the recent disasters. With the present disasters, politicians are dropping out of the skies like Santa Claus, making big heroes of themselves and getting themselves on television continuously. The classic example is in Queensland, where two areas where a category 3 cyclone went through are still not declared a disaster zone. (Time expired)