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Tuesday, 14 February 2017
Page: 886

Senator ROBERTS (Queensland) (20:43): As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I need to start by saying that I love to learn, and what I learn I like to share, especially about the state I represent. Last month I had the fortune to travel for 2,000 kilometres across the state to almost the South Australian border and covered many climatic and topographic regions. And I felt re-energised doing it—loving to listen, it is so easy, with so much going on in the state.

The first people we listened to were farmers Trevor and Wendy Cross, near Bundaberg. Trevor said to me—and I can still remember him in his work clothes, an easygoing, knockabout bloke who has been very successful due to using his brains. He said to me that farmers who cannot make a profit should get out. I notice that he works in an industry with very small margins on very high volume and enormous risk, and that is why he needs to be so well managed. He produces 14 different types of fruit and vegetables, and he exports some of them. I realised there, yet again, that the customer is the best regulator. He employs 350 backpackers; some of them are from overseas, but most are regulars. They come from as far away as Victoria every year. Why? Because the locals will not work, according to Trevor. He cites tax, red tape, green tape, blue tape—that is the UN tape— and payroll tax, and he sees the need for comprehensive tax reform. As I have heard somewhere else, we cannot make the poor rich by making the rich poor.

I went to Bundaberg and unveiled a transparency portal—a concept that people loved. It was at the time of the pollies' perks scandal with Sussan Ley and Julie Bishop. That night we had dinner with Damian Huxham, Jane Truscott and Ashley Lynch. They are passionate about Queensland, as were so many other people in the Bundaberg RSL club. As Damian said to me, all the people want is a fair go.

The next morning, after staying the night in Bundy, we visited Tony Brierley of Brierley Wines in Childers. What a surprise—he is a biodynamic and organic farmer who learnt how to make wine in the traditional Italian way. He is a real character, with many other side businesses on the go. He is having a go, and his initiative and research led him to this business that he built out of nothing. Quite a character. It brings back fond memories.

Then we went on to Biggenden, where we met Tyler the butcher. He has done three apprenticeships—light diesel and heavy diesel and then he went into butchery. He is willing to work as an apprentice to a butcher who he had to hire to be his boss and overseer. He talked about many innovations in the town and his own innovations for his own market. The Biggenden butcher shop was shut down until his parents, who are farmers, bought it. Tyler talked about things as diverse as the irrigation of Colton, which would turn that wonderfully rich volcanic soil into a remarkably productive region, and all by just buying a pump and installing it near, I think, Paradise Dam. He talked about the changes underway in his town and in his industry.

While in Biggenden I visited Eddie Chandler and his wife, who have the local post office franchise. They are swamped with trends and changes. The internet has dramatically increased the number of parcels and the percentage of parcels he has to deliver. The number of letters is plummeting, which reduces his income, and he is tied to an old formula—it is up to five years old, I believe, from memory. That formula is out of date for his revenue. Yet the CEO of Australia Post makes over $5 million a year. Changes are happening and the old guard at Australia Post is out of touch, choked by systems.

Then we drove onto Mondure, where we met Poppy and Robyn Cross. Poppy is a sawmiller and a timber-getter, and he will not employ people anymore because of the regulations and the red tape. What a character he is. Poppy has a shed that is famous for miles around. It is a national treasure. The evening dinner was instructive. Poppy and Robyn invited quite a few of the locals off the property and out of the town, and, to a person, they are disillusioned with the political class, disillusioned with tax and disillusioned with red tape. What is the point? The world is changing, but the political class are anchored by old, outdated governance policies.

The next day I met Mike and Andrea, cotton and beef farmers. What an amazing couple. Mike talked about multi-peril insurance instead of the subsidies that seem to be dragging down farming in many, many ways. He talked about Cubbie Station, and what an eye-opener that was. We will be going back into the south-west next week to go specifically to Cubbie Station and other areas. Mike and Andrea showed their initiative, their dedication and their competence but, sadly, they do not employ anyone. They do all the work themselves. They invest at great risk in their heavy machinery, their scientific management of their crop and their scientific management of their water that they have to buy. Why no employees? Too many regulations and too much tax. So they have to work very, very hard on the land. Again, there are more and more changes.

The next day we went Dalby, where I met with a mechanic named David Wheelahan. He is faced with a change too—a simple change. I had never thought of it—the improvement in cars. Cars now come with stainless steel exhaust pipes, so they do not rust, and his exhaust and mechanic shop does not have the same work. He is now working creatively in improving cars. So, he is at the mercy of change as well, but he is taking hold of it through his initiative.

Then we went onto Chinchilla, where we met Hamish and Kim Munro, the owners of the local McDonald's. He is also the chairman of Chinchilla Community Commerce & Industry. In Chinchilla they are facing a slump in the gas price and unemployment, yet it is difficult for them at the McDonald's to get people to work—in a town with high unemployment. So they actually employ four Indians at McDonald's, and they are finding them to be fantastic workers. Chinchilla Community Commerce & Industry, wonderfully, said that their aim is to make the town a better place in which to live. Isn't that wonderful. They can see that business is fundamental to community life and to quality of life. They had come from Western Australia, and they mentioned that country towns like Chinchilla—and this is something echoed through many of the towns—are a great place for young families. But of course the trend is occurring there—changes.

Then we went to Roma, and I met a person who was perhaps the highlight of the tour, Tyson Golders. He is a retailer and farmer, so he understands the importance of customers and how customers regulate businesses. He understands weather, he understands climate and he understands the natural laws of the universe. He is the Mayor of the Maranoa Regional Council. That was formed some years ago by the amalgamation of five shire councils. He ran for mayor on the ticket of localising the regional council—getting the services back to the people. That is very popular with the people, but it is choked by councillors who are wedded to old ways that benefit them in the regionalisation. What Tyson Golders showed me—repeatedly, by talking with people in various towns there—was the need to connect with people, the need to be in touch with people for information and the need for accountability. That is why he wants to get things back—the work, the decisions and the accountability—to the local shires.

Amalgamation was supposed to give economies of scale but instead it has given diseconomies of scale because of the diseconomies of information. Roma is faced with a gas downturn, tax is an issue, GST is an issue for a local coffee and a restaurant shop, drugs are an issue—and how can I forget this in a country town: Bruce Garvie invested in a very, very well designed hotel, the Royal Hotel. They are very proud of their saleyards. I can remember walking around the saleyards on the top deck and seeing massive dark blue and black storm clouds coming over. You could smell the rain and everyone was anticipating it. By next morning we had not had as much as we had expected, but it was wonderfully refreshing to smell the rain on that soil.

On this trip I learned that there are many opportunities for state policies, and I will be passing some of them onto Steve Dickson, the leader of the Pauline Hanson's One Nation party in the Queensland election. De-amalgamation would seem to be near the top of those policies. That is all I want to say tonight; I will share the remainder on another night.