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Thursday, 26 May 2011
Page: 4917

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (MaranoaSecond Deputy Speaker) (11:47): I rise in the Main Committee here today on three budget appropriation bills which are being debated concurrently. They include the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2011-2012, the Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2011-2012 and the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2011-2012

On the night of the budget and leading up to the budget, the Treasurer said that he declared that this was a budget that would deliver to regional Australia like no budget before it. I have got news for the Treasurer, because I do not know where he finds regional Australia but he did not find it in many part of Queensland, including my electorate. I am a representative of regional Australia. I am a representative of the seat of Maranoa and the voice of the people of Maranoa in this place, and Maranoa covers some 40 per cent of the land mass of Queensland. I fail to see how this budget will significantly benefit the people of regional Queensland. For instance, $500 million has been slashed from regional funding, and there is not a single new cent that has been introduced or announced for rail or road projects. We are talking about new money; not rebadged money but new money.

The Warrego Highway, for instance, in my electorate starts not far west of Brisbane, near Ipswich. The RACQ believe that it needs an injection of some $380 million just to repair the road, not to upgrade it. This is the highway between the port of Brisbane that goes out into the Surat Basin. I am sure you, Madam Deputy Speaker Bird, can appreciate the impact that the resources sector is having on roads in many of our communities.

The Landsborough Highway, which I am sure you would also be familiar with: not a single new cent for it. It leaves the Warrego at Morven and goes through to Cloncurry. It is the major highway from southern Australia leading to Darwin through Mount Isa: not a single new cent. The Gore Highway, the Cunningham Highway, the New England Highway in my electorate—all these highways are in the seat of Maranoa. Of course they extend well beyond the boundaries of Maranoa, but they have not received a single cent of new funding in this budget. Sure, some money was announced for flood damage as a result of the natural disasters last year and this year, and I welcome that funding and I acknowledge it. But we need more than just repairs to the roads as result of the flood damage. We need new money to upgrade these very important major highways that link with the Murray-Darling Basin, western Queensland, the Surat Basin—that huge resource area where the roads are under enormous pressure from the trucks and the volume of traffic, which has escalated to a point I would not have imagined in my lifetime—and the strategic roads to the outback. We used to talk about the beef roads many years ago going out to the Channel Country, the remote communities and the pastoral sector—well beyond the major highways. There is no money for those except for flood damage money, which will only repair the flood damage as a result of the recent natural disasters.

There are no plans to work on the second range crossing at Toowoomba, and I want to talk about this for a minute. During the natural disaster earlier this year, all the range crossings from my electorate right through to Kingaroy were cut and were out of action—Cunningham's Gap, Murphys Creek, Toowoomba Range, Heifer Creek crossing and D'Aguilar Highway from Blackbutt. All of those highways were cut, and that meant that normal traffic obviously could not move through but also that trucks with goods for those communities could not move through. Fuel comes in in tankers on a just-in-time basis. Food comes into the supermarkets and shops on a just-in-time basis. When I went into my local supermarket during the floods, I could not believe there was no food available. There were some non-essentials but there was no perishable food—milk and the basic essentials of everyday life. It was extraordinary. Why? Food, fresh vegetables, meat and all sorts of perishables come in by road just in time. These goods are being moved all the time on those highways, yet we were cut off from where the transport originates, which is mainly in the markets around Brisbane and the processing sector in the south-east corner. The trucks could not cross the range anywhere from north of Toowoomba and upper Kingaroy through to the border.

During the flood natural disaster I thought I had better fill my car with fuel. When I went to the fuel station, I found there was no fuel in town. Why? Once upon a time strategic reserves of fuel were held out in western Queensland at the fuel depots. Those days have long since gone and now fuel comes in almost daily to replenish the service stations. When the Toowoomba range and all the other roads I mentioned were cut, fuel and food could not be transported to our communities. We are so dependent on the road infrastructure and on this just-in-time basis for the delivery of so many essential items. We have to look at these highways and how we can ensure we are not cut off in the future from the delivery of essential items. The second range crossing is therefore critical in the longer term.

I believe Queensland was also dudded under the $1.8 billion announced by the government for regional health and hospitals. In the lead-up to the budget, I thought it sounded pretty good. Despite being home to almost a third of Australia's regional population, Queensland received just 12 per cent of the funding. Yet this was a budget for regional Australia. Payments have been massively skewed towards the Independents, who support this minority government. Tasmania, for instance, received some $80 million more than Queensland, despite having a fraction of the population. And this is meant to be a budget for regional Australia? The largest payment was a $240 million boost to the Royal Hobart Hospital in the independent seat of Denison, held by Mr Andrew Wilkie. It just defies logic. There were a few payments to Queensland hospitals, once again, along the coast, but there was nothing for the area west of the Dividing Range for the length of Queensland, north to the Northern Territory border, apart from one for Toowoomba, sitting on top of what we often call the great sandstone curtain.

The only money that we did see was, I think, some $4.9 million for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which is certainly welcome, for the upgrade of their bases in Mount Isa and Longreach. But there was nothing like the $1.8 billion, nor the share that should have come to Queensland, going into regional hospitals.

We now find out that we are going to lose our Medicare access points. There are 840 Medicare access points across regional, rural and remote Australia. I understand that they will be phased out over the next three years and that 33 of these Medicare booths will be removed from my electorate alone. These are points where people can go with their Medicare claim, put their claim into the booth—it may be a rural transaction centre where local farmers can use the Q-Gap facility—and, within three days, they will have their money in the bank. We are going to lose those services from my electorate and also 840 across Australia.

I am told that you can now do it by telephone. I am meeting with Medicare later and I will be very interested in that meeting. I think we have all experienced that frustration, sitting at the end of the telephone, being told: 'Your call is important to us; you have advanced in the queue, so please don't go away.' Then you listen to some beautiful music for another three or four minutes and the same message comes back again. I am very concerned that that is the sort of service we are going to get, which will replace across-the-counter or face-to-face service.

Then we have the forgotten families in this budget. This is the first budget in eight years that has not seen a tax cut for families. Labor used to talk about 'working families'. Where are Labor's working families in this budget? We are going to see support for families cut at a time when they are facing tremendous cost-of-living pressures. Since this government came to power, electricity prices have risen by some 51 per cent. Grocery prices are up 14 per cent, and education and health costs are up by about 20 per cent and there have been seven interest rate rises in a row, increasing the average mortgage repayment by some $500 per month. The government is going to strip some $2 billion from families by freezing indexation on key family tax payments and income thresholds for the next three years. Families did not get a tax cut but corporate Australia did. That just defies logic. There is a tax cut for large companies, publicly listed companies, corporate Australia but not families.

Then we see the rollout of the digital television switchover. Some $400 will be available to people on pensions and income support, to switch over from analog to digital. Anyone who has been to any electrical store lately will have seen that you can buy a set-top box for up to $40 or $50, not $400. In some cases, you can buy a digital television set for less than $400. Whilst this payment may be well intended, it will be yet another program administered by the government. It reminds me of those insulation batts that burn down houses. It also reminds me of the school halls program, following the global financial crisis, and here we are, in 2011. The Westmar State School had lost its school—it is a small community—because of a fire. I am absolutely frustrated. The P&C are now being asked to put some of their own money into the so-called 'stimulus package' for their local hall. It is going to be a multipurpose hall without walls, apparently. It will have a roof but nothing else. The government is saying, 'We want you to put some of your money in to enclose it.' It is another example of the mismanagement of programs under this government. Not only can they not handle money; they have no idea of how to run a program.

Then there is agriculture. Against the backdrop of the huge global food challenges we face over the next 50 years, we have to increase food production, according to the United Nations, by some 70 per cent, yet the Labor Party is cutting support for agriculture across the board. From the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry we got a one-page press release, demonstrating the total lack of interest in agriculture and the important role regional Australia plays, feeding Australians with clean, green food every day. Farmers across Australia feed 60 million mouths every day with their production—not only Australians but a further 40 million outside Australia are dependent on the food we produce. Yet the government has ignored in this budget the agricultural sector.

Then they say they are going to bring in a carbon tax. If there is something which will hit every household and every business in Australia it is a carbon tax. Far from assisting, as is suggested in the carbon farming initiative—I spoke about this in the House last night—this carbon tax will drive costs up for our agricultural sector. It will put more pressure on the land and, if this does come to pass, farmers are going to have to produce not only what they have produced in the past but also they will have to pay the flow-on effect of a carbon tax in increased electricity prices and increases in transport costs. The only way farmers can deal with that is to put more stock on the land, putting more pressure on the land, and perhaps not having rotational crops in their arable lands, so that they will have to work the land harder. The net impact of a carbon tax will mean that in some cases farmers will be less competitive if not uncompetitive in the global market. (Time expired)