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Wednesday, 5 March 2014
Page: 1772

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (MaranoaDeputy Speaker) (17:49): I rise on this address-in-reply to the Governor-General's address, and I start my speech by recognising the Governor-General's contribution as Governor-General of Australia and the way that she has conducted herself in such a dignified manner throughout her term, not only across Australia but in many other parts of the world. She has done that with great dignity, and I know from my own constituency that she is highly respected. She also fulfilled the role of Governor of Queensland prior to being appointed Governor-General of Australia, so for many years now she has had a very important vice-regal role. I say to Her Excellency the Governor-General and to her husband, Michael, who was always there with her: thank you for what you have done. You have always carried out the role with your own charm, and that has, I think, always been admired in so many parts of my electorate. I have been in a number of small communities in my electorate where you have not only taken the time to visit those communities and perhaps open a particular building or other structure but also been prepared to spend the night. That is another feature and quality that I will long remember, and I know my constituents will always be grateful for the attention that you have given to so many people in rural Queensland, including my electorate, and to those very many small communities where you have ensured you have made time to be with them.

I want to also thank my electorate for re-electing me for the ninth time to this place. I always say you do not fatten a pig on market day, so your campaign goes on from the moment you are re-elected until the time of the next election. You do not do that without wonderful staff. I must say thank you to my staff because they are always fielding the calls that perhaps I cannot receive. Given that my electorate is some 43 per cent of the land mass of Queensland, it is not possible always to give personal attention to my constituents. Often the way I am able to talk with many of the people is over the telephone when I receive a call to the office saying that they would like to talk to me about a particular issue that is of concern to them. But my staff are always there, and they always look after not only my best interests but also the best interests of my constituents and of course the policy of the Liberal National Party in Queensland.

My campaign team are extraordinary. I think there are some 180 polling places in the electorate, pre-poll booths, postal votes and all of those things that have to be addressed in that very short space of time between when the election is called and polling day. We had a wonderful campaign team. They were always out there and had people at those pre-poll booths, and there were many throughout Maranoa, including one right out on the far western boundary of the electorate, out at Birdsville.

Why was it at Birdsville? Election day was in fact the day of the Birdsville races, the Birdsville Cup, and the Electoral Commission and the returning officer for the division of Maranoa were well aware that there would be some 5,000 to 6,000 people who, as they do, would turn up from many parts of Queensland—in fact, from many parts of Australia—during the week leading up to the races. So they established a pre-poll booth at Birdsville prior to the race day, and they were open for the week commencing on the Monday. I think they had something like 3,000 to 4,000 people from many parts of Australia pre-polling in the lead-up to the race day.

So I thank the returning officer and those people at the divisional returning office for the seat of Maranoa, based in Dalby. We know what has happened in Western Australia, but the staff there and across the electorate have been magnificent. They often do not get recognised, but I just want to recognise them here this afternoon. I thank them for the wonderful effort that they put in not only during the election time but throughout the year, making sure that enrolments are correct; making sure that, for those who enrol during that period between when the election is called and the close of rolls, it is accurate; and making sure that people who seek to be enrolled in the division of Maranoa because they have located there have had the opportunity and it happens, so that, when it comes to voting day, they are not denied the opportunity to vote, because they are in fact enrolled in the division of Maranoa.

During the lead-up to the campaign I developed, in conjunction with my coalition partners the now Prime Minister, the now Deputy Prime Minister and the leadership team, policy initiatives that were important to the seat of Maranoa and important to the communities across the electorate. One of those that I want to now pursue—and I know that the Deputy Prime Minister is well aware of it—is the continuation of the upgrade of the Warrego Highway. We committed some $500 million of additional funding to the Warrego Highway to upgrade it, and it is absolutely important because it is that major thoroughfare from the south-east corner of Brisbane right out through to western Queensland and on through to Darwin on the Landsborough Highway. Why is it important? We have had unprecedented growth in the resources sector in the electorate of Maranoa, and it just was not coping with the massive infrastructure build that was occurring as a result of the development of the coal seam gas industry in Maranoa.

The other one was our commitment to the second range crossing at Toowoomba, a vital piece of infrastructure because right now I think that something like 2,000 to 3,000 trucks a day—the member for Groom may correct me; it may be more—have to go through the city of Toowoomba across the range to get into Brisbane and to travel into the west. We just have to get those trucks out of Toowoomba and onto this second range crossing. It would not only speed up transport; it would reduce costs for the transport sector, and of course it would bring the south-east corner of Queensland much closer to the Darling Downs and to the Maranoa region.

The other one is a road that is important. We all know that the Prime Minister has said repeatedly that he wants to be known as the infrastructure Prime Minister, and these are clear examples of our commitment to road infrastructure. This one is the Killarney to Woodenbong road. It connects the very south-east corner of the electorate of Maranoa, Killarney, just east of Warwick, down into the Northern Rivers in the seat of Page, in New South Wales. It is a very critical road. It is a road; it is not a highway. It is carrying a lot of traffic now, but, once again, it cannot cope with the increased traffic that is feeding from that region of the Northern Rivers of New South Wales into the Darling Downs and vice versa.

The other point about the Killarney to Woodenbong road and the money we need there is that it is another strategic road. In fact, it was the only road across the Great Dividing Range that remained open when we had the massive deluge that affected the Lockyer Valley through to Kingaroy. The D'Aguilar Highway, the range crossing at Toowoomba and the Cunninghams Gap road were all closed. There was no way that traffic could go between the Darling Downs and into the south-east corner. The member for Blair, whom I see at the table, would be well aware of it. All those access roads were cut off.

I remember when they were cut off for several days because of the massive deluge that just scoured out those major crossings. I remember going to my own home town of Roma, into the supermarket. You could not get food and you could not get petrol. I went to try and fill up with diesel, and there was no diesel in town. When you go into a supermarket and there is nothing on the shelves, you say, 'How long will this go on before we have to perhaps fly food in—before we have to fly fuel in?'

Luckily, we were able to get one of the roads open enough to start to bring important supplies in, but it demonstrated to us—to the federal and state levels of government and to local government as well—the strategic importance of having alternate routes across the Great Dividing Range when natural disasters such as floods like that occur. They do occur in this country, and they will occur again in the future. We need to have a relief valve, you might say. In this case, I am pushing the development of the Killarney to Woodenbong road as one of those opportunities that, whilst there is a lot of work and it would need a lot of money spent on it, could be that very relief valve, should another event occur such as it has in the past.

I would hope that, if it does occur—and let us hope we do not have tragedies like we had with the loss of life with those massive deluges—perhaps the upgrade that has occurred will not see it close as it has in the past, such as the one at Toowoomba or the one going up to Kingaroy or Cunninghams Gap. But we must be prepared for things such as that. It was the Killarney to Woodenbong road that gave us that opportunity to continue to bring supplies in. Although it was not used much, it was there in the case of an emergency.

The other one is Eight Mile Crossing, where the New England Highway meets the Cunninghams Gap Highway just north of Warwick. There have been too many deaths at that Eight Mile Crossing. It is still a dangerous intersection. Road traffic authorities have reduced the speed of traffic moving through there. That is a very positive step. It was 80 kilometres per hour, but has now been reduced to 60. I question whether even that is enough. I think it still needs more signage. We made a commitment during the campaign that we would give that a priority for black spot funding. That will require the state government, through the local government in the area, to apply for black spot funding. We will do whatever we can to find the solution to improve the safety at Eight Mile.

The other road I wanted to touch on is the Outback Way. That is the link from Winton through Boulia out into the Northern Territory and right through across to the other side of Australia, to Western Australia. It is called the Outback Way. There is a group of wonderful people from Western Australia through to Queensland who have been promoting this road for many, many years. I am supporting it and I know that the money that we made a commitment to during the election campaign will be announced very shortly. I certainly look forward to that. It is a strategic link between west and east. It will be important to the beef industry. It will be important for tourism. It will open up an area of Australia that has been neglected for too long because the road access was nothing more than a bush track. I certainly look forward to that announcement. It is a step in the right direction. It is not going to build the entire road across the centre of Australia, but it will start at Boulia in Queensland and head to the Northern Territory border. It will take the combined efforts of the Queensland, federal, Northern Territory and Western Australia governments. They have agreed to start the process of the upgrade of what is called the Donohue Highway.

I am also committed to ensuring we roll out a communications budget. We committed some $100 million to a mobile phone black spot program. The Rudd-Gillard-Rudd-Green government did not spend one dollar addressing mobile phone black spots. Yet when we were in government under the leadership of John Howard, we spent some $143 million addressing mobile phone black spots. There has been a deficit for seven years when nothing was done to address mobile phone black spots. I am certainly looking forward to seeing that money roll out. There are a number of black spots where we have called for expressions of interest from many councils. One I wanted to mention was at Eromanga. They have a shovel-ready project now. They are going to have skin in the game. They have got money that they are going to put up from the Royalties for the Region programs. It has been provided by the state government. They have money from resource companies and I believe they will possibly be putting up some of their own council money. That demonstrates that these small communities know the value of mobile phones. It is important not just for tourism but in many cases for emergencies where there is no other telecommunications link.

The other one is the rollout of our high-speed internet. Our policy leading into the election was that we would build from the least serviced areas to the areas to those that are probably well serviced today. One of the initiatives in our policy was that we would be prepared to provide co-funding of up to 50 per cent of optical fibre backhaul. That is very important in my electorate because I have the Barcoo Shire and the Diamantina Shire in the far west of my region, right out on the edge of the Simpson Desert and the Northern Territory and below Longreach. They are connected via a single channel microwave radio link. They are prepared to put in some $5.5 million of their own local government money. They have got $5.25 million from the state government from the Royalties for the Region program which brings them up to $10 million. They have called for tenders already to roll out the optic fibre backhaul to connect these communities to the mainframe, to the optic fibre network out of Longreach and Boulia to bring them into our networks. The importance of that cannot be underestimated in this place. The access to good backhaul means telemedicine, education, tourism and extending mobile phone coverage into these areas. It is shovel-ready but it needs another $10 million. I am certain we will be pursuing that under our policy with the communications minister as we go through this term. I know that will see some of the council members and those pursuing that down here in the next little while. I am certainly letting the minister know that we have a shovel ready project now. We have completed the review of the NBN. I want to see this rolled out.

The other issue we have already announced is the natural disaster drought package. The Labor Party walked away from the exceptional circumstances drought policy and put in what was called an agricultural restructuring package. There was no transition from having a policy to address drought through to restructuring of agriculture. That is what we have done. There will be some out there who say that it is still not enough. But I have got to say that, in these times of budget constraint, it is a lot of money. I will be out in Charleville in Western Queensland next week to meet some of the pastoralists and graziers out there. I want to gauge how they are accessing this. Is it working? Is the Queensland Rural Adjustment Authority delivering this well or are there still problems? I will be out there listening to them next week.

The real problem started when the Labor Party unilaterally cut the live export of cattle into Indonesia, cutting off the beef industry overnight. They had no market to go to. That has had the effect of devaluing the capital value of assets. It has meant that many cattle had to come into the domestic market in the eastern states and down into the eastern part of my electorate. It also put greater pressure on the existing markets. If I could quote the figures from the Roma sales last calendar year, the average sale price of cattle in the Roma saleyards was 30 per cent less than the previous year. That gives you some idea of the impact that that decision of the Labor government had on the beef industry. This has had a dramatic effect on the beef industry, on the pastoralists, because it devalued their properties, which meant they had greater debts. On top of that, this natural disaster, drought, has impacted on their ability to even be in production in order to manage their debts.

I just want to touch on the issue of the sustainability of my electorate, particularly in parts of the Surat coal seam gas area. I think that we all have to take a warning from what was mentioned only yesterday at the ABARES Outlook conference. The warning is from the National Australia Bank chief economist, Alan Oster, who said that he expects mining investment to halve from eight per cent of gross domestic product to four per cent and result in the loss of 100,000 jobs over the next 12 to 18 months.

In my constituency in the coal seam gas area we have had some of the greatest growth, with new wealth and new opportunities we have not seen since closer land settlement. But now we have got to address a situation where demand is being met and construction is nearly complete and we move from construction to production. Not all those jobs are associated with the Surat Basin, but I am just saying that that is a warning that we should listen to and heed. We want to make sure that we have got a plan as to how we deal with the reduction in numbers and make sure that other industries that will be developed can take up some of that loss of jobs that is going to occur across Australia from the mining industry as it moves from construction to production—and this is not just in my own area of Maranoa in the Surat Basin.

The Prime Minister has visited my electorate twice since the election and I thank him for that. I have had the Deputy Prime Minister in twice as well and I thank him for that, and I think that he will be with me next week in the electorate. Both of them show a great interest in rural and regional Australia. I will not have a bar of some of the people who say that they are not interested in rural and regional Australia—they are. There have been two visits by the Prime Minister in what might be considered a safe electorate, showing real commitment to the people of rural and regional Australia, and I thank him for that.