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Monday, 9 February 2015
Page: 170


Mr PITT (Hinkler) (10:32): I would like to welcome my colleagues on both sides back to Canberra and wish them all the very best for 2015. I had a busy few months during the parliamentary break.

In the lead-up to Christmas, Hinkler residents were paying through the nose for petrol while those in the city enjoyed dramatically reduced prices. With crude oil prices dropping by 40 per cent since June, in regional Australia major fuel retailers like Coles and Woolworths were enjoying record profits of up to 30c per litre in some cases. I recognise prices are not something government can control. But on 11 December, I wrote to Minister Bruce Billson to express my concern that the ACCC was not meeting its obligation to protect consumers from unfair commercial practices at the bowser. A Woolworths spokesperson admitted to the Fraser Coast Chronicle that they only reduce their prices when other stations drop theirs. As a result, on 17 December Minister Billson issued a new direction to the ACCC under section 95ZE of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. The ACCC will now conduct at least four investigations a year into specific geographic markets and produce monitoring reports on a quarterly basis. I have asked that Hinkler be considered as a location for one of these.

Last week, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, as part of a joint operation with the Queensland Police Service, located and detained eight people working illegally. I have been working on this issue for some time in close consultation with Ministers Keenan, Abetz and Cash. Allegations and complaints made to my office range from the underpayment and exploitation of workers to tax evasion, visa breaches, racial discrimination, intimidation of farmers and overcrowding of private residential dwellings.

Almost all of those who attended the forum that Senator Barry O'Sullivan and I hosted last year agreed that further red tape and regulation would only add unnecessary costs and time pressures for employers who do the right thing. They argued that greater enforcement of the existing laws was desperately needed. I am grateful my ministerial colleagues are listening and taking action. Last week's operation should act as a deterrent for anyone considering breaking employment and migration laws. I will continue to work with the Hinkler community, the horticultural and tourism industries and my ministerial colleagues to see that this problem is properly addressed. It is imperative that we ensure our employers and seasonal workers are protected, that businesses have a level playing field and that Australia remains a destination of choice for overseas students and holiday-makers.

In 2015, I will also continue to focus my energies on addressing the exorbitant cost of electricity in Queensland. At the National Party's first party meeting room for the year, we identified several key priorities for regional Australia in 2015. These include protecting primary producers and small business from unfair practices by the major supermarket chains; developing a regional youth policy, providing them with jobs and training opportunities; and continuing our push to improve telecommunications services, including the NBN, in rural Australia. I look forward to working with a steadfast, united National Party team in 2015 to ensure regional Australia gets its fair share.