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Thursday, 14 February 2013
Page: 1514


Mrs ANDREWS (McPherson) (10:18): I rise today to speak to Appropriation Bills (3) and (4) 2012-13. The bills before the House seek to appropriate a total of $1.27 billion for government departments and agencies, with Appropriation Bill (No. 3) seeking to appropriate $600.8 million and Appropriation Bill (No. 3) seeking to appropriate $666.36 million. Australians know for certain that this government's economic credibility is close to non-existent after its failed attempt to deliver a surplus this financial year. Despite having a debt of $147 billion in 2011-12 and spending $90 billion a year more than the Howard government did in its last year, the government is unable to face the fact that it has a spending and forecasting problem. Rather, the government blames its problems on the fact that Australian families and businesses are not paying enough. By the Treasurer simply doing a mea culpa on the surplus promise, a promise that was repeated almost 650 times by the Prime Minister, the Minister for Finance and himself, he has now cleared the way for this government to continue with its wasteful spending regime without limitation. Australians deserve better and they deserve a government that will respect the hard-earned money of taxpayers. But most importantly, they deserve a government that looks towards the future with optimism and a willingness to take hold of the opportunities that come its way.

I would like to speak about this last point and to speak specifically about the opportunities facing the Gold Coast, and in particular the southern Gold Coast, which is the area that I represent. The Gold Coast is a continuously growing city, with estimates suggesting that the population will increase by 13,000 to 16,000 people per year, with a population of over 730,000 expected in the year 2026. With an increasing population, it is important that we consider what opportunities will come up for the Gold Coast and its citizens and what is the best way to harness those opportunities. Traditionally tourism has been the strongest industry on the Gold Coast; but it has unfortunately suffered a downturn in recent years for a variety of reasons, which include the impact caused by natural disasters, the global financial crisis and the high Australian dollar.

Recent figures released by Tourism Queensland are encouraging for us, showing that the tourism industry is starting to recover. Domestic visitors to the Gold Coast stood at 3.457 million for the year ending September 2012, which was an increase of five per cent, and international visitor numbers for the same period rose by three per cent to 745,000. That is positive and good news for us on the Gold Coast, but the tourism market is very competitive. The Gold Coast cannot afford to rely on just its beaches and our theme parks to attract visitors, particularly if we want those visitors to stay for the much-needed extended stays. The Gold Coast must broaden its appeal, and to do that it needs to look at what is available that could be further expanded, and what could be developed to attract the tourists and to keep them coming back to visit us.

This is where I believe the southern Gold Coast has opportunities and where the Gold Coast City should be focusing in the future. The southern Gold Coast is already different to the central and the northern parts of the Gold Coast, and we really need to start capitalising on these differences. One opportunity for us is to develop a significant dive site. Ex-navy vessels were available last year, but the cost of scuttling a vessel was considered to be unaffordable at the time. However, it is still possible for us to establish an artificial reef off the coast. This would be, in the first instance, a more cost-effective option for us. We already know that dive sites generate significant tourism revenue. We have the evidence of that from the scuttling of the HMAS Brisbane. There was a comprehensive academic study conducted by Vikki Schaffer from the University of the Sunshine Coast in March 2011. What that showed was that it was estimated that the HMAS Brisbane Conservation Park hosted approximately 19,000 scuba divers in the four years after the scuttling in 2005. Only 13 per cent of the divers were local—residing in the Sunshine Coast region—and 18 per cent of the divers came from overseas. The direct expenditure associated with users of the conservation park averaged $4.32 million per year over the four years of August 2005 to June 2009. So it was a significant benefit to the Sunshine Coast region where that Navy vessel was scuttled. Clearly, a naval vessel would provide a much greater attraction than what an artificial reef would, so it would be expected that the economic benefit would be less with the artificial reef; but it would still be something that we could establish and, if it could be afforded at a later stage and if a vessel was available, we could certainly look at scuttling that vessel in the vicinity of where the artificial reef is already established. There is widespread support for that concept, particularly on the southern Gold Coast. It really is something that we need to take action on immediately and just make it happen, so that we can start to perhaps bring in a different kind of tourist into the Gold Coast who would perhaps stay for an extended period of time and continue to come back.

There are other options to boost tourist numbers and add to the total visitor experience. I guess that is what we are looking for in tourism now: we know that tourists do not necessarily come for just the one thing, they want the entire experience of a holiday when they go somewhere. We need to be able to provide a range of options for them on the Gold Coast to add to their experience. Some of the things that we could be looking at would be the development of a world-class great walk through appropriate parts of our hinterland and a walk of fame in Kirra and Coolangatta recognising our surfing greats, but certainly not limited to just our surfing greats. Other options include an open air cinema being established. These are only a few of the options that are available to us on the Gold Coast, particularly on the southern Gold Coast. Great work is being done by the Southern Gold Coast Chamber of Commerce led by the Chairman, Gail O'Neill, and by Connecting Southern Gold Coast with their new CEO Peter Doggett. and by their respective members and boards. Of course, on the Gold Coast there are many other tourism focused organisations that are working to build this vital part of the Gold Coast economy. I congratulate all of them on their work, because I know that they are doing the very best that they possibly can to promote tourism on the Gold Coast.

It is time for a coordinated approach to make sure that we make these ideas happen and that we do boost tourism on the Gold Coast. If we are to strengthen tourism on the Gold Coast—and we must do that—we must also strengthen our public transport system. The Gold Coast airport's projections are that over 16 million passengers will pass through that airport by 2031-32. Before then, we will see the 2018 Commonwealth Games being held on the Gold Coast, and, as I mentioned, the population is expected to surpass 700,000 people. In all of our discussions and debates about public transport on the Gold Coast and the needs of tourism, we must make sure that the needs of our residents are taken into account as well, and that we make sure that the public transport system is going to suit the needs of the residents and those who commute from the Gold Coast to Brisbane. It is not just the tourists that we need to look after on the Gold Coast. We must look after our residents and make sure that we have a viable public transport system to meet those three purposes when you include the commuters.

The Gold Coast City Council has recently closed its public submissions for its draft transport strategy in which they note that by 2031 there will be a light rail network from the north of the city to the Gold Coast airport. However, with regard to heavy rail, the draft transport strategy states:

We support extending the heavy rail line to Elanora and building new rail stations at Yatala, Ormeau North, Pimpama, Hope Island, Parkwood and Merrimac. This would allow for the introduction of an all-stops suburban rail service between Beenleigh and Elanora to support the Brisbane to Gold Coast regional rail service. It is also important to preserve the heavy rail corridor to the Gold Coast Airport for construction beyond 2031.

That is a very long time before there are public transport options for the southern Gold Coast—it is 18 years. That is a very long time for us to wait, and we desperately need to do something with public transport. Our commuters have to rely, particularly in the section from Tugun to Varsity, on the M1, which is seriously congested. They can pick up the heavy rail further north at Varsity, but it is already quite loaded. We have got a long time to wait for the light rail to come through to the southern Gold Coast. I believe we need to look at a rapid bus system that could achieve the objectives of dealing with the public transport issues on the southern Gold Coast and act as an interim, but perhaps as a permanent measure, whilst we wait for the light rail to come to the southern end of the Gold Coast. I believe that it would be cost effective. I have spoken to a number of businesses; I have spoken to the council, and I think that it is something that we again need to turn into a reality to start addressing the public transport needs of the southern Gold Coast, and to make sure that we do not continue to be overlooked, that there is not a Southport-centric approach to public transport whilst the southern end of the Gold Coast continues to wait.

I would like to touch on an issue that is particularly important to many individuals and many families on the Gold Coast. That is difficulty in securing employment. Unemployment on the Gold Coast was 5.7 per cent for the month of December with a 12-month moving average of 5.6 per cent, which is comparatively higher than the national average. There are new figures for the southern Gold Coast due out today, so I will be looking at those and analysing to see what we can possibly do with that. Hopefully we will start to see a change in the trend. The lowest unemployment rate for the Gold Coast in the last five years was 2.3 per cent back in January 2008, right off the back of the Howard government. Under Labor, the unemployment rate hit a high of eight per cent in March 2011 and has not gone back to the levels of 2.3 per cent even though granted it has come down. Unemployment is a significant issue on the southern Gold Coast, but underemployment is certainly an issue that we need to be mindful of. It is an issue that is not recorded by the ABS and we have to rely on anecdotal evidence. But what I know from the people who have told me—often it is women raising the issue—is that they are available to work additional hours, be that on a part-time basis or on a casual basis, but they are unable to secure any employment to do that. They are a hidden statistic. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that the underemployment rate on the Gold Coast—as it is in many parts of Australia—is quite high. What we need to do to address that is to increase the economic performance of the Gold Coast. I have touched on tourism and hopefully there will be some major infrastructure projects that would provide employment for us too.

The final issue that I can deal with, given the time remaining today, is the opportunities for the Gold Coast for fly-in fly-out into the mining sector. I am aware of the report that has come from the Housing Standing Committee on Regional Australia. I have looked at that. I put a submission into it and I am aware that there were submissions from other representatives on the Gold Coast too. It is an opportunity for us. I understand all of the issues that are happening with regional Australia. The reality is that if additional workers are needed and they are unable or unwilling to live in the local area, then we need to source them from other parts of Australia. The Gold Coast has a labour market that would be well suited, particularly to the construction phases of the mine sites. These workers are willing to attend. We have had expos on the Gold Coast. About 10,000 attended the last expo about 12 months ago. There are people who are ready, willing and able to work in the mining sector on a fly-in fly-out basis, and who may well be attracted to the mine sites and choose to live there at some stage in the future. What it does is provide an opportunity for employment for the Gold Coasters, who most desperately need it and would take the opportunity and welcome it with open hands. I would like to encourage our mining companies to look at the Gold Coast to recruit into the future.

Government members interjecting