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Wednesday, 15 February 2012
Page: 1500


Mr EWEN JONES (Herbert) (10:31): Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker, and congratulations on your elevation to the panel. I see a great career there for you! I welcome the opportunity to speak on the appropriation bills. There are a wide range of things in Townsville that I think the government should be looking at. I would like to start with education. I declare an interest in that my wife is an early childhood teacher. Nonetheless, I feel that my comments will be very pertinent.

When it comes to education we must make sure that the foundation and the building blocks are there. When you build a house you do not start with the roof; you start with the foundations. Early childhood education is where we should be spending the money. Too often we see aid time being taken away from teachers and actual teaching time being reduced. We should be making sure that children have activity based education with outcomes as opposed to desk learning. Funds should be allocated so that the teachers can teach and are taught what to do.

One thing I will say—and this will be a common theme—is that I have a forklift drivers licence but you certainly would not want me loading your truck. There is a difference between having a qualification and being qualified. There is a difference between having a degree in education and being a teacher. A friend of mine, Pat Ernst, is a very good rugby league coach. He says the longest distance any coach will ever see is that between the coach's lips and the players ears and into his brain so that he understand it. Therefore it goes with teaching that, if we can get these building blocks in, if we can get the play based mechanisms through and concentrate on early childhood, the rest will come.

I worry a great deal about the money being spent on NAPLAN and the My School website. After an initial burst of glory the My School website is now something that is not going to be referred to. I worry that, with NAPLAN, we are seeing teachers in the grades that are not subject to those tests practising for the next year's tests. I worry about what is happening in primary schools and high schools. Where are sport, art, music, play and everything else? I would like to see teachers given the opportunity to use their environment and their resources as best fits them. Teaching arithmetic in Mt Isa can be very different from teaching arithmetic in the inner suburbs of Sydney or Melbourne. They should be allowed to do that. So long as the outcome is that two plus two equals four in every instance, we should be okay with that.

On higher education and research, I am very lucky to have in my electorate James Cook University, the only university in Australia which has higher education in a tropical environment at its core. One of the projects about which I would question this government's support for renewable energy is the James Cook University algae project. With this algae project it is completely feasible that we could have a coal fired power station with zero emissions by integrating an algae plant into the design of a world's best practice coal fired power station. Therefore, we would have the cheapest form of power available, being a coal fired power station, and zero emissions. I just cannot see the downside to it. In the Galilee Basin you would be able to build something like this at places like Prairie or Torrens Creek, which would feed into the north-west minerals province and allow things like the Kennedy wind farm, which I will touch on later, to feed into a national grid. Remember that the national grid only goes to Woodstock, which is basically 50 kilometres away from Townsville. That is the extent of the national grid into western Queensland.

The CSIRO scientists at the ATSIP building in Townsville are looking into the science of using fresh water. If we are to make the north-west province of Queensland—the Mitchell grass plains west of Townsville—the food bowl, we must listen to the science. I was happy in the end that our scientists were given their 3½ per cent pay rise, but it was disappointing that they had to go cap in hand to stop-work meetings to make a point that this research is valuable. If we are to be the smart generation and tap into this Asian century, it must be driven by the science. Places like James Cook University and CSIRO are exactly the places we should be focusing on.

Our medical school is turning out first-class medical graduates. Tropical medical training is taking people with a degree and turning them into general practitioners. I would like to congratulate the government on the funding that they have provided to tropical medical training. In the future as this program and this organisation become even more important, with the numbers coming through, I do believe that more money and attention should be given, especially in regional Australia, to the training and assistance given to international medical graduates, as they still make up a large number of our medical practitioners. They should be helped as they play such a key role in places where Australian GPs do not go.

In relation to James Cook University I would like to push the government even further. They have not committed to the Australian institute of tropical health and medicine. This is a vital piece of infrastructure in the tropical world. Papua New Guinea is just at the top of Australia—it is a short boat ride. We have a ward at the Thursday Island Hospital dedicated to people with drug resistant tuberculosis and malaria. From there it is only a quick trip to the mainland of Australia. We saw our first Australians become the most susceptible to the H1N1 or bird flu viruses. Once these things come to the mainland we may see catastrophic events. Let us hope the situation is under control in Papua New Guinea. But if there were to be a breakdown of law and order we would see a great influx of people coming across the Torres Strait into Australia, and with that will come the need for health care. There are things we have to do for the tropical world. With around half the population living in the tropical world, the work that this organisation should be doing should be supported.

I would also like to push the government to support Youth with a Mission. Ken Mulligan has been in this House and spoken to members on both sides. YWAM take a boat as far as they can into the remote provinces of Papua New Guinea, where they provide quality dental care, eye surgery, GP visits for people who have never seen a doctor and dental visits for people who have never seen a dentist. That should be supported.

The Australian Institute of Marine Science has been granted great funding to produce an ocean simulator. This will be world-leading research. It is not in my electorate but it all goes through Townsville. We will have PhD students and researchers coming from all over the world to use this fantastic facility. The Australian Institute of Marine Science is also leading the world in farming and breeding lobsters. This is an incredibly difficult thing. We now have them up to wriggler stage and we are seeing the fruits of that. When we are talking about food security, especially in the tropical world, where we are seeing seas being fished out, this must be supported.

Ian Poiner, the recent CEO of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, organised the first-ever audit of Australia's fish stocks, and he still thinks we only know about 10 to 20 per cent of what is in our seas. John Gunn is the new CEO of the Australian Institute of Marine Science. We are talking about letters, and other members of this House will have received these, in relation to protecting the Coral Sea and making it a marine park. It takes 38 hours from Townsville, from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, under full steam to get to this place in the world that they want to turn into a park. But the operational funding for the Australian Institute of Marine Science continues to shrink. So if we want this research done and if we want these things protected we must make sure the operational funding is connected.

Townsville is a very proud defence city. We have now welcomed 3RAR to Townsville, making the readily-deployable forces even greater in Townsville. Berth 10 at Townsville port is under construction. There is bipartisan support for berthing of the landing helicopter dock vessel and for readily-deployables in times of emergency. We saw during last year's Cyclone Yasi that roads were cut and the naval fleet was out of order and we could not get troops quickly enough to places like Tully and Cardwell, which were severely affected. I would like to see an LHD there—and we are getting two, one based in Townsville permanently and one based in Exmouth permanently—and in that way it is at the pointy end of where we can organise all these things to be. It would also give Townsville properly the perfect three-force representation. With the air force facility at Garbutt I would like to see an increased presence and training opportunities there. We have the MHR90 simulator going in there. But there are real problems there and I would like the defence department and the ministers involved in defence to look at the structure of payments here. I have been contacted by the guys at Kookaburra Concrete. They have done the flooring for this, for an organisation that won the tender and is based in South Australia. This organisation has gone into administration over a failed project in South Australia, leaving our guys, our subcontractors in Townsville, very exposed. We all know when it comes to the administration and liquidation of companies that there are real issues. We do have to make sure that these people are taken care of.

As for renewable energy, the Kennedy wind farm, outside Richmond and Hughenden along the Flinders Highway, will bring good power at around $45 per megawatt hour—but they will produce this power and there is nowhere for it to go. I would like to see support for a powerline, be it by CopperString or somebody else, for something like this, which is about renewable energy, to feed into a national grid.

I would like to restate for the record the coalition's support for fair indexation for DFRDB pensions. It is our policy now, it was our policy leading up to 2010 and it is our policy going into the future. I would like to call on the government to recognise the folly of this and that it has gone on since the Whitlam era. We have had more than enough time to fix this, and we have not addressed it. They are not asking for anything extra. They are asking for what is fair.

I would also like to come out and state very clearly for the record that I support the National Disability Insurance Scheme. But we must make sure of how we are going to pay for it. It may get me in trouble with Scott Stidson and Garth Brimelow at home and all the people at Cootharinga in Townsville but we have to get it right and we cannot afford to have people fall through the gaps because we have acted too quickly. Therefore I would like to see as much bipartisanship on this as possible, working towards making sure that everyone will be covered by this so that everyone is brought along and, more importantly than that, so that we are bringing along people who are not actually affected by it at the moment to make them understand what we are trying to do. If someone has a work accident and is put in a wheelchair, as Garth has been, that person is covered, but if you are driving on the weekend and you have an accident—or if you fall off your own balcony—and you are then in a wheelchair for the rest of your life you get nothing. That is what we are trying to cover. These are the sorts of things that we must do. It must be paid for and it must have broad community support. The Every Person Counts campaign is just the start of the conversation. We have to explain to everyone what we are trying to do and why it matters.

I would like to echo the statements in the House today about closing the gap and I would like to echo the words of the Leader of the Opposition in the main chamber this morning. In my electorate is the community of Palm Island, where we have 95 per cent unemployment, yet QBuild, the Queensland government organisation, send tradesmen over to build small houses. The houses are poorly built and poorly designed, and they do not care. We have tradesmen on Palm Island who cannot get jobs. We have 95 per cent unemployment and it has been that way all the way through.

Truancy are education are major issues on Palm Island. If they do not learn to read and write, they will be doomed to repeat the cycle of poor outcomes we are currently experiencing. Too many young people are in jail now because they started as a 16- or 17-year-old driving unlicensed cars and they could not pass the test. They become part of the system and get arrested; sooner or later they are going to end up in jail. If they do not want to do this, if they do not want to end up there, parental and personal responsibility is required to make sure that they do get to school. As the Leader of the Opposition said this morning, truancy is a real issue and we have to make sure that these people are going to school. I have spoken at schools to Indigenous groups and Indigenous students and quite often they say they were not at school that day or that week when they were asked if they had a question for me. This cannot be let go.

Education is the key to everything. I never want to try to simplify the situation. It is a very deep and complicated issue, but we have to know that education is the key. I would like to really push it on everyone, especially on Palm Island, that getting your kids to school—from the mayor's children down, whoever the mayor should be after the last next election—is the key to everyone having a better outcome on Palm Island and in Townsville.