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Tuesday, 31 May 2011
Page: 5401

Mrs ANDREWS (McPherson) (17:26): I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2011-2012 and its cognate bills. Mr Deputy Speaker, I, along with many others from the Gold Coast, listened to the Treasurer's budget speech with the hope that the budget would contain measures that would directly affect four key issues for us on the Gold Coast: transport infrastructure, tourism, employment and cost of living. But there was nothing.

Let me start today by speaking about transport infrastructure and our needs on the southern Gold Coast. As most Australians would be aware, the Gold Coast is structurally different to other cities that have a central business hub or a central business district, with suburbs and arterial roads radiating out from that central point. The Gold Coast is different because it comprises a long strip along the coastline, some 41 kilometres from Helensvale to Coolangatta. What is important to our residents and tourists is the ability to travel quickly and safely to various destinations along that coastal strip. For our increasing number of Brisbane commuters, we need faster access to Brisbane and return. It is approximately 80 kilometres from Brisbane to the central Gold Coast, about an hour by train and two hours during the peak periods for those travelling by road. Heading south by road from Brisbane, the M1 is eight lanes, four lanes northbound and four lanes southbound, until just north of Nerang. From there the M1 narrows to two lanes northbound and two lanes southbound. Works are currently underway to widen the road with one extra lane each way, but only as far south as Worongary, which is still several kilometres north of the central business district of Robina.

In 2007 the Howard government allocated $455 million to upgrade the M1, with the priority areas identified as between Tugun and Nerang. This money has been reallocated by the state Labor government further north while the southern Gold Coast through to the border remains at four lanes and commuters continue to endure worsening daily bottlenecks. The state Labor government has said that instead of the upgrade to eight lanes as originally proposed, any upgrade further south will only be to six lanes. This is yet another example of very poor planning. If it was deemed appropriate in 2007 for the M1 to be upgraded to eight lanes, it is near impossible to understand how six lanes would be adequate some four-plus years later, particularly in light of the growing population. I note that south-east Queensland and the Gold Coast in particular has been the fastest-growing region of Australia for the past 30-40 years. This trend is predicted to continue, with population expected to grow by 13,000-16,000 per year and reach 730,000-plus residents on the Gold Coast by 2026. Until such time as the M1 is upgraded, commuters, residents and tourists will have to look for other forms of transport.

The Queensland government's light rail website states the following:

The Gold Coast is one of Australia's fastest growing cities and the growing population is causing increasing congestion on our local road network. There are no new major roads planned for the coastal corridor, so the introduction of a sustainable public transport network is vital to keep our city moving.

It continues:

Traffic congestion on Gold Coast roads is steadily increasing. Stretches of the Gold Coast Highway between Southport and Broadbeach are predicted to be over capacity by 2011. Compared to travel times from 2006, average travel times will increase by 30 per cent in Southport, Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach by 2016. Public transport is a more efficient use of road space and fuel and creates fewer emissions than private cars carrying a single occupant. An integrated public transport system is essential to meet the needs of our growing city.

Whilst these statements are in relation to the more northern suburbs of the Gold Coast, they are also relevant to the southern suburbs. Construction has started on the light rail to service some of the northern suburbs of the Gold Coast and it is anticipated that stage one of the project, which services a 13-kilometre corridor, will be completed and commence operating in April 2014. But this does not help us on the southern Gold Coast. Further stages of the light rail project are contemplated, including from Broadbeach to Burleigh Heads and from Burleigh Heads to Coolangatta, but only high-level conceptual planning has been undertaken for the section between Broadbeach and Burleigh Heads and no funding has been allocated. There are no plans available for the section further south to Coolangatta and there are no publicly available time frames for these extensions. Again the southern Gold Coast misses out.

This leads us to a consideration of heavy rail and its potential to service the needs of the southern Gold Coast. The most southerly station is Varsity Lakes, which is still some 22 kilometres north of Coolangatta. By way of background, it took 11 years to build one station and lay approximately four kilometres of track from Robina to Varsity Lakes. Current planning is that there will be a further three stations: Tallebudgera, Elanora-Palm Beach and then Coolangatta airport. The airport will not be connected until 2019-25. By that time the M1, as well as local roads, will be choked and significant traffic delays will be endured by motorists. We must be mindful of the fact that the Gold Coast Airport is one of the busiest airports in Australia with more than five million passenger movements per year. We need to be able to move those passengers efficiently to the local destination, whether they are residents, business people or holidaymakers.

To summarise transport infrastructure on the Gold Coast, particularly on the southern Gold Coast: the M1 reduces down to four lanes, two northbound and two southbound, at Worongary, which is essentially the central Gold Coast; and the heavy rail stops at Varsity Lakes and is not planned to be extended to Coolangatta until 2019-25. And there is no plan in place for the light rail to be extended south to Coolangatta in the foreseeable future. In this budget the federal government allocated $36 billion for vital roads, railways and ports but nothing was allocated for the Gold Coast.

The next issue I would like to address is tourism. As we all know, the Gold Coast is an iconic tourist destination. We have been doing it tough for many months now, and what is there in the budget to assist the Gold Coast tourism industry? Nothing. Many things have impacted on our tourism industry, including the rising cost of living, meaning that Australians have much less disposable income and are significantly reducing their discretionary spending. We know that many of our visitors to the Gold Coast are from the domestic market. We also have been affected by the rising dollar and whilst we were not directly affected by natural disasters experienced by other parts of Queensland, many of our visitors cancelled their holiday plans for the Gold Coast and either stayed at home or holidayed elsewhere. In many cases they travelled overseas.

The Gold Coast economy is heavily reliant on tourism and a downturn in the industry has a flow-on effect of impacts on many small business operators, including our accommodation providers, restaurant and coffee shop owners, taxi drivers and newsagents, to name but a few. It impacts on their employees as well. The Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, a Gold Coast icon that I have spoken about in this place a number of times before, is struggling. The recently upgraded wildlife hospital is consuming the sanctuary's financial resources. The sanctuary is not only a tourist attraction and destination but also a conservation and education facility that needs support. Despite direct pleas to the government, no assistance has been forthcoming. More broadly, research shows us that while visitor numbers to the Gold Coast are somewhat stable, the amount of money spent by our visitors is down on previous years. This trend needs to be halted and indeed reversed. Tourism is not only a major contributor to the Gold Coast but a major employer. The downturn in that sector, along with the downturn in the construction industry, is reflected in the unemployment figures.

Unemployment on the southern Gold Coast is consistently higher than the national average, generally by a couple of percentage points. But in recent months unemployment on the southern Gold Coast has been almost double the national average. An analysis of data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics for the period November 2007 to April 2011, during the term of the Labor government, shows an alarming trend. In November 2007, at the conclusion of the Howard government, unemployment on the southern Gold Coast was three per cent. By November 2008 this figure had risen to 4.4 per cent. By November 2009 it had risen to five per cent and in November 2010 to 5.3 per cent. In April 2011 unemployment on the southern Gold Coast was 6.3 per cent. Clearly, there has been a significant pattern of rising unemployment on the southern Gold Coast over the last, long 3½ years.

The combined downturn in tourism and construction has led to a significant tightening of the job market. On the Gold Coast it is now not uncommon to receive 200 to 300 applications for an advertised job, with many of those applicants not meeting the selection criteria but being prepared to apply for, and take, almost any job available if they are fortunate enough to secure one.

Whilst we need to strengthen our tourism and construction industries, we also need to develop a second layer of industry on the Gold Coast to provide further employment opportunities. Two obvious sectors to develop are education and light manufacturing. We already have four university campuses on the Gold Coast, as well as TAFE, a broad range of training colleges and more than 30 schools in my electorate of McPherson. We are well placed to develop as a university or tertiary education city of excellence.

We also have a number of industrial precincts on the Gold Coast, each with additional capacity to develop and grow the light manufacturing sector. By attracting education providers and light manufacturers to the Gold Coast, we will be developing depth in the employment market and, in turn, building a stronger economy as the load is shared with the mature sectors of tourism and construction.

I would like to conclude today by speaking about the rising cost of living and the impact that it is having on the Gold Coast, particularly that southern Gold Coast. It is remarkable to reflect on the fact that this Labor government was left an economic legacy by the very prudent and effective economic management Howard government. However, in only a matter of a few years the good work of the coalition has been all but wiped out by a government that does not value the importance of the taxpayer dollar. The Prime Minister and Treasurer have managed to deliver a budget deficit which has soared to the dizzying height of $49.4 billion, with a forecast deficit in 2011-12 blowing out by $9.6 billion to $22.6 billion. This means that in four budgets the Gillard-Rudd Labor governments have turned a $20 billion surplus under the Howard government into a $50 billion deficit. And $70 billion in net assets have been reduced to $107 billion of debt.

On top of all of this the government is still borrowing $135 million every day. The reality is that Australian households are facing higher cost of living pressures. And I know that this is very true for families in McPherson. The list is long when we total the living costs which have gone up since Labor came to government. Electricity prices are up 51 per cent; gas is up 30 per cent; water is up 46 per cent; education costs are up 24 per cent, health is up 20 per cent; rent is up 21 per cent and grocery prices are up 14 per cent.

I believe it is important to understand that debt has a double burden on society. It costs us now—when we could have spent it on transport infrastructure, hospitals and schools—and it costs our future generations as they bear the burden of paying off this debt. Locally, rising interest rates have affected home owners and business operators alike. Small businesses in particular are having difficulties borrowing and establishing a line of credit and, as a result, many are experiencing a cash flow crisis. Families in McPherson are doing the best they can to live within their means and this is becoming more and more difficult as the cost of living continues to rise. I was recently at the Pines Shopping Centre in Elanora in my electorate holding one of my regular listening posts where I saw and spoke with many locals going into the supermarket, buying only their bare essentials and then leaving. People were not stopping for lunch; they were not buying clothes; they were not buying shoes—they were only shopping for essential food and living items. What they said to me is that they had had to tighten their belts so tight in the current situation that they had no option but to buy only essential food and living items.

This budget fails to ease the rising cost of living on Australians and does nothing for families who face higher prices every day. It also does not address the needs of the Gold Coast. This government, I believe, has failed to listen to the people.