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Tuesday, 3 June 2003
Page: 15871

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (6:04 PM) —I am very pleased tonight to speak on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2003-2004, in effect in reply to the Treasurer's budget speech. This is the eighth budget that the government has brought down against the backdrop of the world economic climate. In the world post 9-11, of course, there are many major economies in the world struggling to grow. I believe that our budget bears testimony to the commitment that we have given and to the disciplined approach that we have taken to bring forward budgets that are in balance and, of course, will ensure that our economy continues to grow.

The coalition has, over the last eight years since coming to government, repaid some $69 billion of the $96 billion of debt that we inherited from the Labor government. When I say that `we' inherited it, it is the Australian people who had inherited that debt when we came to government. It is the sort of legacy that the Australian Labor Party left all taxpayers and all Australians. Of course, we have had the discipline and the commitment to make sure that we could pay back that debt because of the benefits that inevitably flow from reducing government debt.

As a result of reducing that debt, as the Treasurer outlined in his speech, we are now able to save some $4.5 billion in interest payments each year. In other words, if we still had that debt that was there when we came to government, we would be paying an additional $4.5 billion of taxpayers' money from the budget just to pay the interest on that debt. Because we have brought that debt down, it releases another $4.5 billion for the government to be able to do other things for the whole of the economy and all Australians. We have done this against the challenge that confronts us all in the world in relation to terrorism. Since coming to government, we have continued to make sure that we look after our own sovereignty in this country. We have boosted our defence spending—in fact, we have continued to put more resources behind our defence budget—and all the time we are focused on making Australia a safer and more secure place to live.

Importantly, as outlined by the Treasurer in the budget speech, we have been able to provide a modest surplus in the budget and also a modest tax cut to some nine million Australians from 1 July, which is fewer than 28 short days from today. The Labor Party might mock those tax cuts, but I would just say to the Labor Party that it is a step in the right direction. It is an indication that, when we have got some money left over, this government are prepared to hand some of the taxes that we have received back to the taxpayers. They range from $4 per week right through to $11 per week. I know that those tax cuts are going to be welcomed by struggling families. I have seen some of the interviews on television and I have seen in my own electorate, particularly when you talk to those people who keep the family budget, that they say they can do something with that additional $4 or $11—depending on the level of income that that family is on—in the family pay packet each week.

The challenge ahead for us, now that we have started to bring our budget into a much stronger position, now that we have got interest rates low, now that we have got unemployment down and now that we are continuing to keep inflation under control, is that we need to look ahead at some nation-building projects—infrastructure projects—that will benefit future generations of Australians. Just as we today inherit the good work of the founders and the pioneers of this country, it is our job to facilitate projects that will benefit regional and rural Australians. In fact, all Australians will benefit from the development of major projects. We are doing this. The Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the National Party, John Anderson, through his AusLink reform, is doing this by looking to the long-term needs of our future freight task, our road transport, our rail transport and how we are going to meet the increasing challenge that we have before us in relation to transport generally.

I cannot talk strongly enough about one major project: the Australian Inland Rail Expressway that proposes to link Melbourne to Darwin by inland rail—a rail line that would traverse three states, through the heart of the Murray-Darling Basin agricultural sector and through the Surat and Bowen coal basins, with their coal and mineral wealth. It is a transport infrastructure that we are going to need in the long term, and that is why I have always lent my very strong support to at least two proponents that I am aware of who have put a major effort over the last six or seven years into business propositions for that inland rail project.

A large part of that rail project would go through my electorate. It would go, for instance, to Emerald, the central highlands regional centre that is growing year by year. I know that in my lifetime I will see Emerald established as a significant regional centre built by the wealth that is created in the coal basin and the agricultural sector in the central highlands. There would be an intermodal freight centre that would establish where road would meet rail and where rail would meet road. The rail track would then go through to the port of Gladstone. I would like to spend a bit of time on Gladstone, because Gladstone in our lifetime I believe will be further developed as a deep-sea port in northern Australia that will be capable of unloading ships with a capacity of up to 300,000 tonnes. It will be able to handle the double-stacked container ships, the post-Panamax ships, that will increasingly be coming into our region.

It is important to look to the future. We must look at China and the emerging powerhouses in Asia and South-East Asia, and their relationship with the World Trade Organisation. As we in this country develop our free trade agreement with the United States of America, and as we look at how we are going to maximise the benefits so that all Australians can share in them, it is important that we consider the strategic importance of the port of Gladstone in northern Australia and that we look at how we can deal with the imports and exports that will inevitably flow as those major countries bring trade benefits to us here in Australia. We have to be able to do it economically to be competitive on international markets. I see the port of Gladstone as a major port for entering Australia from the Pacific and from Asia. It is important that we focus on the rail and road networks that will feed that port in the future.

Once the railway line goes through the Darling Downs and through towns in my electorate such as Taroom, Wandoan, Miles and Chinchilla it will go through the now undeveloped Surat coal basin and then track down through Goondiwindi into the New South Wales rail network and further south into the Victorian rail network. We all know that this is a major project. It is of a similar nature to the great inland rail project, which is currently under construction, from Alice Springs to Darwin. That line is a nation-building project. I recall today that the Alice Springs to Darwin railway line was put together with the agreement of a Country Liberal Party government in the Northern Territory, a Liberal government in South Australia and a coalition government here in Canberra.

Mr Gavan O'Connor —Was that the one that got thrown out?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms Gambaro)—Order! The member for Corio.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —That just demonstrates, Madam Deputy Speaker, that it is the coalition government, the Liberal and National parties when they are government, that are the nation builders. The Labor Party opposition, which is acting as a rump tonight, are not nation builders; they are economy wreckers. I would like to record here that this government have led the way on major projects, and we will continue to lead the way in relation to the great inland rail project if we can get the support of the Labor state governments of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. The Premier of Queensland will be bringing down the budget in Queensland tonight with his Treasurer, and I am wondering how much money will be in that budget for a major project such as this. He seems to have money for football stadiums and footbridges over the Brisbane River, but not for productive projects. They might be great facilities for the people of Queensland, but let us talk about the major infrastructure projects that all Australians will benefit from in the long term.

I want to touch briefly also on roads. Whilst rail and this major rail project are important, I want to talk about the importance of roads in regional Australia. From previous governments—from as far back as the Menzies government—I have seen the benefits from the roads that were laid down across our nation during that time. There are roads in my electorate—one is called the Beef Road, and there are also the defence roads—that were put there by a former Liberal Country Party government, and they are still delivering benefits for the people today. That is what a major infrastructure project does: it builds the economy and it provides an ongoing benefit for years and years.

Sadly, in 1973 the Labor Party came to government here in Canberra. That major project in remote parts of Australia ended in 1973, and sadly there has not been another metre of sealed road delivered by those major projects since. We do have to look at those sorts of road projects in the future, because they deliver benefits year after year. In those remote parts of Australia, they provide much needed infrastructure for inland tourism and the extension of trade—particularly livestock trade—in those regions.

I also want to talk about water. Water underpins the future of regional development and secures agriculture. Without the security of water in the long term, we are going to see many rural communities diminish in size rather than grow, as they have the potential to do. I want to talk about the major project of bringing Brisbane's grey water—and read that as waste water—to the Lockyer Valley and the Darling Downs. Once again, the Liberal-National party government have been closely involved in this initiative. In fact, we funded the feasibility study. I would like to outline to members exactly what this initiative seeks to achieve. The initiative is the brainchild of the Darling Downs community based Vision 2000 group. Together with members of the Lockyer Valley based City to Soil Group, working under NuWater, they have been working for the last five years on obtaining a suitable water supply for the Darling Downs and the Lockyer Valley.

Madam Deputy Speaker Gambaro, as I am sure you would be aware, the Darling Downs and the Lockyer Valley are currently, and have been for many years, in the grip of serious drought. The Leslie dam in my own electorate has not delivered into the river systems or to the irrigators of the Darling Downs any water for the last two years. The lack of security and sustainability of the water resources in that part of my electorate in that part of Queensland has seriously impeded the growth of agriculture, irrigation and some other major regional development projects. NuWater representatives say—and I agree—that farming areas in the Lockyer Valley and the Darling Downs are considered by many to be amongst the best quality farming country in Australia. The region's future as a reliable supplier of quality crops and produce is under threat because of the lack of sustainable and secure water supplies.

The project is spearheaded by a local Darling Downs irrigator and great forward thinker Phil Jauncey and his committee. They have been working hard alongside council representatives to promote the environmental and economic benefits of recycling Brisbane's waste water and piping it through to the Lockyer Valley and to the Darling Downs for irrigation and industrial use. The project has quite a history. In 1999 an enormous volume of water was identified as being discharged into Moreton Bay—as you, Madam Deputy Speaker, as the member for Petrie, would be well aware. In fact, 130,000 megalitres of effluent are being pumped into Moreton Bay per year. That is having a detrimental effect on the beautiful Moreton Bay and its marine environment. As well, not one cent can be made from discharging 130,000 megalitres into Moreton Bay.

Many have talked about drought proofing Australia and about how we can better use available water. This 130,000 megalitres is waste water that can be recycled and, in turn, bring wealth and the surety of water supply to the Lockyer Valley and the Darling Downs. This is about being smart about how we use our grey water in Australia. Economic rationalists will, I am sure, always find something wrong with this project; environmentalists will probably be on our side. But it is also about building a nation for future generations and about being smart as to how we use our water.

I am sure if they could, the early pioneers would be saying that if the economic rationalists had had a say at the time we would never have seen the railway lines built, the roads constructed and the dams built in the inland. It was a long-term dividend that was paid through the capacity that they put into building roads, rail and dams. In their lifetime they saw populations grow and thrive in the inland where this infrastructure was built.

We have to follow them when we consider the South East Queensland Recycled Water Project. This proposal has the overwhelming support of the councils and of potential users in the community. As well, the project has the support of the government. We have already provided a grant to NuWater under our very successful Regional Solutions Program. These funds have helped with the completion of feasibility studies. The series of feasibility studies that have been commissioned over the past three years look at the benefit of bringing effluent from Brisbane and Ipswich to the Lockyer Valley and the Darling Downs. There have been many frustrations and delays but I am advised, from the office of the Deputy Prime Minister, that the project is on track to provide final outcomes by the end of this calendar year. And I reckon that is great news. Clearly, the South East Queensland Recycled Water Project is a perfect example of how our water resources can be used more efficiently.

I am also pleased that the Prime Minister was briefed last week on this project while he was in Ipswich, where he was told how important recycling water was in helping to drought proof many of our farming communities. Recycling water has many great environmental benefits—and, economically, it can only be a positive for everyone involved. It provides 100 per cent sustainability of the water supply. As I said in the Main Committee last week when I spoke on the Murray-Darling Basin Amendment Bill 2002, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation—UNESCO—has predicted that by 2020 water shortages will be a serious worldwide problem. Already many parts of Australia are reaching the limits of their supply and many are under great threat.

In this day and age there is a very substantial market for water. Under the South East Queensland Recycled Water Project we have a commercial outcome for council, reliable water for users, and the capacity to deliver water to farmers at a price that they can afford to pay. I support, and will continue to support, this venture. It has the potential to secure a guarantee of a reliability of supply to irrigators in the Darling Downs and, importantly, to provide water for other industrial projects that are being held back because of the lack of security over water supply for those developments.

For the past nine months there have been studies undertaken by the South-East Queensland Regional Organisation of Councils, and this report is due to be released this month. We all await that report. I am advised that this report will conclude that environmentally the project provides a significant range of benefits; that it is sustainable; that the project does stack up economically, by providing benefits, for example, in regional employment and in broader economic activity. Finally, financially, according to the narrow Queensland Treasury guidelines applied to this analysis, the cost of the project remains a challenge. The project is estimated to cost $400 million. Having already moved into the commercialisation of the project, NuWater is confident that these costs will be met.

As a member, I represent some 40 per cent of the landmass of Queensland, which is probably one of the last truly rural electorates in Australia because of its remoteness and size. I believe that we as a government—and I seek the support of the opposition to talk to the Premier of Queensland, with his budget being brought down tonight—should support this project and renew our focus on nation-building projects. This is the sort of legacy that I want to leave the next generation of Australians—for all the benefits it will bring in the construction phase, in the security it will give us and through the jobs that will be created for generations to come.