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Monday, 28 May 2012
Page: 5868

Mrs ANDREWS (McPherson) (16:43): I rise today to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2012-2013 and its cognate bills. For the last year we have heard that the budget would be back in black, but the budget papers show a very different story, with an artificial surplus and the government moving to raise the debt ceiling to $300 billion. Australian families are tightening their spending so they can reduce their overheads and make ends meet, but the government is increasing its credit card limit after a spending spree of waste and bad management. What was perhaps most disappointing about this year's budget to both me and many McPherson residents was that there were no measures whatsoever that focused on addressing many of the issues being faced by residents of the Gold Coast, Australia's sixth-largest city and the second-largest in Queensland. At a time when the Gold Coast is facing an unemployment rate that remains higher than the national average there has been no vision and no plan to help the many struggling families on the Gold Coast. Residents have taken note and are not impressed by this government's lack of interest in the Gold Coast.

Today I would like to speak about some key issues that affect McPherson residents. These are education and the possibility of establishing a fly-in fly-out operation at the Gold Coast Airport, the current state of the tourism industry and the need for better transport infrastructure on the Gold Coast, particularly the southern Gold Coast. I would like to begin with education. I am on record saying that the Gold Coast has the ability to become an education city and a centre for educational excellence in Australia. I wholeheartedly believe that. Work is well underway and has been underway for some time.

You do not need to go far to find the evidence of the Gold Coast becoming a future education city. Since the late 1980s the Gold Coast has seen four universities open their doors to students; Bond University, Southern Cross University, Griffith University and Central Queensland University all now have campuses on the Gold Coast. The universities cater to thousands of students from both domestic and international markets. Consequently, they provide employment opportunities for Gold Coast residents as they hire a wide range of staff in areas such as academia, administration, groundskeeping, hospitality areas and, of course, technical support, just to name a few. Local businesses also benefit from their proximity to the universities and student accommodation, with students and staff alike spending money at these stores on a regular basis. These businesses become a hub for both students and people associated with the universities, generating more wealth within the local community. For instance, the economic benefits generated for the local community by Bond University and Griffith University amount to more than $1.6 billion annually, with over two per cent of the local workforce hired by one of these two universities.

The Gold Coast becoming an education city leads to my next point: the opportunity for the Gold Coast to host a fly-in fly-out facility. I note that the Sunshine Coast currently has chartered flights that fly out of its airport to various locations and that a new air charter company will be flying from bases in Brisbane, Cairns and the Sunshine Coast to areas in the Bowen Basin, Cloncurry, Weipa and Mount Isa. The Gold Coast can also provide fly-in fly-out services to regional areas and take advantage of the wealth that the minerals and resources sector creates.

I recently met with Brett Schimming, the CEO of Construction Skills Queensland. We spoke about a number of issues, including the skilled construction workers we have on the Gold Coast who are currently unemployed or underemployed and how these workers have skills that are easily transferrable to the mining and resources sector. We looked at opportunities and ways that we could enable construction workers to access jobs in the mining and resources sector so that the skills that these workers had could be maintained so that, when the construction industry picks up on the Gold Coast in perhaps two to three years, there would be a skilled workforce we could draw on to meet the demand for construction workers on the Gold Coast. A fly-in fly-out operation will provide an opportunity to address skill shortages in regional areas whilst reducing the unemployment and underemployment levels on the Gold Coast that have been caused by a downturn in our traditionally strong industries such as construction. Mr Schimming also explained that job applicants who do want to take advantage of a fly-in fly-out operation but are unable to due to the lack of necessary qualifications would then need to be able to turn to our local universities and our training providers. This would mean that universities and training providers would need to adapt and expand their courses on offer to reflect the demands within the minerals and resources sector, as well as to continue to provide their current standard of service to students. This will in turn result in more locals being hired to ensure the effective operations of those institutions, more businesses benefiting from the higher number of students in the area and more investment in the local community from the universities and training providers, who contribute back to the local area.

I would now like to address the issue of tourism on the Gold Coast. It is no secret that, because of the global financial crisis and the high Australian dollar, the Gold Coast's traditionally strong tourism industry has suffered and continues to suffer. At the end of 2011, domestic visitor numbers on the Gold Coast were shown to have fallen by six per cent from the year before, and the number of holiday visitors also fell by seven per cent. Meanwhile, our international visitor numbers fell by 12 per cent. Because of the downturn in visitors, many tourism operators have hit tough times and are trying desperately to make ends meet. It needs to be remembered that many of the businesses involved in the tourist trade are not large international or national chains but are small businesses. Accommodation providers, restaurants, cafes, specialty stores and local tourist operators are all largely run by dedicated individuals who put in the hard work to provide a quality service to visitors and at the same time to put food on the table for their families.

Major events that are held on the Gold Coast, such as the Gold Coast 500, the Quiksilver Pro surfing tournament and Cooly Rocks On, provide struggling businesses with a much-needed injection of funds. However, events are held only once a year and do not provide continuous business over a whole year, especially at times when there may be a dip in the visitor numbers. Although the Commonwealth Games will do much good for the Gold Coast by bringing in visitors and building new infrastructure for the benefit of the local community, they are still six years away. Tourism operators need help now, but instead of giving them the helping hand they need the government is making things more difficult for them at a time when that is least needed.

The expected increases to the passenger movement charge will further deter international visitors, charging them more when they depart Australia. Also, overseas passengers who travel on domestic flights within Australia will have to pay more for their domestic airfares because of the carbon tax. Coupled with the extra expenses of accommodation and living expenses such as food and activities, the government is steadily making a visit to Australia too expensive. This is also one of the reasons why there is an increase in Australians holidaying overseas. It is not because they are bored with travelling around this great nation but because it is now as cheap to have a holiday in, for example, Bali as it is to have a holiday elsewhere in Australia.

Mr Frydenberg: Cheaper!

Mrs ANDREWS: Cheaper. However, the carbon tax is expected to result in the loss of 6,400 jobs in the tourism industry—

Mr Frydenberg: Shame!

Mrs ANDREWS: Yes, shame—and we just cannot afford that. The question that I ask is: how many of these jobs will come from my hometown, the Gold Coast, where there is already a high unemployment rate? The tourism industry on the Gold Coast cannot face any more challenges in the years ahead if we are to compete with cheaper international locations. We cannot afford a government which will continue to make that task more difficult.

I would now like to speak about a continuing concern of many Gold Coast residents, and that is the upgrade of the M1. To highlight the important role the M1 occupies on the Gold Coast, you only need to consider that the Gold Coast itself is constructed along three main thoroughfares: the M1 in the west, which links the Pacific Motorway south of the Queensland-New South Wales border to Brisbane; the Gold Coast Highway, which runs up the Gold Coast coastline from the border through to Labrador; and Bermuda Street-Bundall Road, which runs through the centre of those two roads. These three roads link the north of the coast to the south, and they are key in allowing our residents, our tourists and businesses to go about their daily business. The M1 is the main route for freight vehicles and traffic heading to and from Brisbane and the surrounding areas. It plays an important role in the region's economy by ensuring that goods are received on time and by allowing residents to get to and from where they need to be in the most direct and timely fashion. In recognition of this, the Howard government in 2007 committed to providing $455 million worth of funds to upgrade the M1 between Tugun and Nerang. Yet with the ascendancy of the Rudd-Gillard government, it seems that the priority for this crucial piece of infrastructure has been downgraded.

Heavy congestion is still an issue up and down the M1, from Tugun to Nerang, with traffic stopping altogether during peak periods on the southern Gold Coast. On 21 March this year, I asked a question on notice to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport about the M1. I asked the minister: (a) when will works commence for further upgrades to the M1 between Mudgeeraba and Tugun on the southern Gold Coast, (b) when are these upgrades scheduled for completion and (c) what sum has the government allocated to upgrades between Mudgeeraba and Tugun? In his response, which I received this morning, some 69 days after the question was put, the minister referred to the Mudgeeraba Interchange, the upgrades of the Robina and Varsity Lakes interchanges and the widening of the M1 between Nerang and Mudgeeraba. He then went on to say:

The full program of works is expected to be completed by late 2013.

However, there is no mention in his response of widening the M1 further south of Mudgeeraba, which is the full completion of the works, so his answer is clearly incomplete. I call on the minister to respond fully, openly and honestly to all the residents and tourists on the southern Gold Coast, who for too long have been ignored by this Labor government.

Mr Adams interjecting

Mr Frydenberg: They won't, Dick.

Mrs ANDREWS: They did not. Many of my constituents, as well as many Australians across the country, are hurting financially. With rising fuel prices, rising grocery prices and rising electricity prices. What is disappointing is that this government, which should be emphasising the virtues of prudent spending and wise financial management, is addicted to waste and taxation. Since Labor was elected in 2007, Australians have been forced to endure 26 new or increased taxes, which will either directly or indirectly hit their hip pockets. When Australians are struggling enough as it is, it is unimaginable that a responsible government would do such a thing.

In 2010, the Prime Minister said that the government had lost its way. This government remains lost, with no reasonable prospect of finding its way. However, the coalition has a better way to get Australia back on track and to restore hope, reward and opportunity. I look forward to continuing to work with my constituents in the months ahead to ensure that the southern Gold Coast can continue to grow as the vibrant and strong community that it is.