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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 2197

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (MaranoaSecond Deputy Speaker) (19:06): Thank you, Deputy Speaker Burke, for taking my place in the chair to allow me to speak at this time in the Federation Chamber. As I said last night in my private member's motion, this year is also designated the year of the farmer. It is one of those issues that I will continue to focus on—the importance of the agricultural sector, our farming communities and the 1.6 million jobs that are related directly or indirectly to farming in Australia. That is notwithstanding, of course, the importance of food production for all Australians given that our farmers produce some 98 per cent of the food that we eat in this nation and are still able to export and feed a further 40 million people in other parts of the world.

I come to the bills—Appropriations Bill (No. 3) 2011-2012 and Appropriations Bill (No. 4) 2011-2012. It has been a very tough start to the year in my electorate—and I know that the member for Flynn joins me in this as the neighbouring electorate—particularly the western parts of the electorate or, n fact, two-thirds of the electorate, It covers a land mass—and forgive me for using the comparison, Deputy Speaker—the equivalent of three times the size of the state of Victoria and now has the largest number of people eligible to vote of any constituency in Queensland, which is of course about the growth of the resources sector in my electorate—as in yours, Member for Flynn.

I come to the point I want to raise, and that is to do with the communities that are facing the heartbreaking process of the clean-up post these devastating floods, these natural disasters. The full extent of the flood damage will not be known for many months, but already I can see—and the community can see—the effect it has had on personal property, houses, local businesses, our roads and much of our public infrastructure.

The other thing is that this happens to be the third time in 23 months that we have seen a national disaster declaration in many parts of my electorate, including my own hometown of Roma. I know there have been devastating losses of livestock and crops and people losing personal treasures which I know can never be replaced. One of the tragedies in my hometown of Roma was the loss of the life of a young woman, Jane Sheahan, who was out there helping others and transporting sandbags into the flood zones that were rising at about a metre per hour, which caught us all by surprise. I know all of our thoughts and prayers are with the Sheahan family and their closest friends in this time. So many of the people who have been flood affected for the third time in 23 months are out of their homes and have got insurance companies assessing the damage. In cases where they have insurance they will want to talk about the definition and the work that has gone on in relation to defining the definition of flood insurance. Many of those people have been traumatised. Maybe that is too harsh a word, but they are really concerned that their home could have been inundated three times in 23 months. They had just put it back together after 2010; some people were still dealing with the insurance companies relating to the damage in 2010. Then in 2011, this time last year, they were inundated again. Many had just put their houses back together, bought new furniture—if they were insured they were able to do that, if not they had to rely on grant money and charities to assist them to get their houses back in some order—only to find themselves devastated again within nine to 12 months, in some cases, of getting them back in order.

It raises the issue of funding for flood mitigation and the planning that goes behind that. In western Queensland we have seen the towns of Charleville and Augathella protected from the floods on the Warrego River because of money invested when we were in government on a tripartite basis. Commonwealth, state and local government built levee banks that have protected the town of Charleville, with more work to be done. Augathella and the township of Cunnamulla were protected. I want to see, and I call for, in this year's budget funding for flood mitigation in these areas of Queensland. I have written to the minister about this and I have spoken with the Prime Minister. We can prevent the huge disasters that have fallen on many people's homes and businesses in towns if we are able to build levee banks and keep the water out of the flood prone areas. There may be a need, in some cases, for people to have their houses raised—we need to be able to assist those families. There are other areas where it may be better if we are able to move those houses onto higher ground, out of areas that are going to be very, very difficult and expensive to protect from future floods.

An important issue is that of the definition of flood insurance. I am getting feedback from some people that some companies were excellent—they were in there within 24 hours of the floodwaters receding. They were talking to families, telling them that it would be all right and that they would bring their builders in. They were helping people address the issue of how their home could be rebuilt and how they would be able to deal with the purchase of new furniture and replace items lost in the flood. The definition of flood insurance and how that is dealt with in the future is going to be of critical importance.

One of the issues that has been brought to my attention, notwithstanding the goodwill of a lot of insurance companies, is that they have said that they want local suppliers to provide the replacement goods—particularly white goods and those sorts of items—for items that were ruined because of the floods in my home town of Roma. They want local suppliers to provide them at warehouse prices from Brisbane. That may not be quite possible, but we are encouraging all our businesses to make sure that they are competitive. We are trying to make sure that local people have got their insurance claims in and that they give the opportunity to the local suppliers to give a quote for the replacements, whether it is for building materials, furniture, electrical goods, floor coverings or whatever it might be that has been flood affected. Once these goods are replaced people may have them for four to five years, and so some of the electrical shops, particularly in the smaller communities, may not have an opportunity to supply new electrical equipment for the next four to five years, which will have a significant impact on these small businesses. I say to the local community: please give your local suppliers the first chance to quote. I encourage insurance companies to make sure that they too take into account the fact that when local suppliers provide the goods, they also supply the guarantee. Any warranty issues can then be dealt with at a local level rather than having to go through a supplier who may have been supplied from a warehouse in Brisbane. I think in some such cases the supplier, would not want to know these families and people in the future. That is an issue we have to address. We have had some good news stories too. We had the wonderful charity and the volunteers from all walks of life who just walked out of their businesses to help their fellow Australian friends and family. I would just like to touch on one fantastic story of generosity—that is, the bakery in Mitchell, which is a town of 850 people west of the Maranoa River. It is a town that is really suffering as a result of the forced amalgamation in Queensland. A lot of the council staff are not the same as they were in numbers. It has had an impact on the town. The bakery in the main street has not had flood insurance. The floodwaters have never been as high up as they were in the main street of Mitchell in this recent flood. In fact, the floodwaters went a metre over the gauge, which goes to nine metres. It had never been to nine metres before. The nine metre marker got drowned and it went another metre higher. The house of the Mansfield family was inundated. They have got a young family and are the bakers in the small town. They wondered how they would replace the equipment in their bakery—$300,000 to $500,000 of specialised equipment. They make wonderful bread to supply not only the town of Mitchell but also the outlying areas. It is often shipped into the smaller towns further west, such is the reputation for the bread that they bake.

There has been a lifeline. Coles—and often Coles they are the subject of the sharp tongues of some of my colleagues here in this place—has recently bought a store in Toowoomba that they did not need. They only yesterday transported out too Mitchell all the equipment from the bakery that was no longer needed by Coles in Toowoomba—slicing equipment, baking ovens and mixers. The baker in Roma also supplied some of the equipment that he no longer needed because he has established a new bakery recently. It is a great news story. They have got all their new equipment and they hope that within 10 days they will be up and baking once again in this small country town. They are a young family that is sticking with us out there in the west and sticking in the town in which they have grown up.

When you look at small businesses like this that have been inundated, they have been cleaning up for the last four to six weeks. They have no cash flow until they get back into production. It impacts on their ability to service the loans on their businesses and also the loans that they have on their own homes. Banks have been reasonably good in relation to most of those situations, but once again in this place I would call on businesses to make sure that they are generous and make sure that they do not put unfair demands on families that are in small business, or on families generally, as they get back on their feet.

I could mention here the seasonal workers. Many seasonal workers do not get work—shearers and kangaroo harvesters. Many truck drivers cannot get out to work. They only get paid when they go to work. They are not on a salary; they are on seasonal work. They too fall into a category that actually falls through all the cracks of the assistance that is provided by the Commonwealth and state governments. We have got to think of those people and banks need to think of those people. I know our local communities are trying to help them as much as possible until they can actually do a day's work, go out and harvest marsupials or drive a truck again. Many of the roads in the electorate have got road restrictions and load restrictions particularly, meaning that their job opportunities are very much restricted. We have got to make sure that we keep these workforces in the communities until the roads are repaired, the roads are dried out, the paddocks around are dry enough for marsupial harvesters to go out and harvest kangaroos again. It has a flow-on effect well beyond just those businesses that have had inundation damage as a result of this natural disaster.

I just want to touch on one other issue. There is a state election coming up in Queensland on 24 March. I was looking today at the big three issues for business in Queensland as the Queensland government goes to the election. It is interesting that, when you look at the top 20 concerns of businesses, these are the top three. No. 1 is the carbon tax. No. 2 is the level of energy costs. No. 3 is the overall level of state taxes.

Mr Frydenberg: They do not listen.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT: We are used to taxes when we have Labor governments.

Then we look at the small employers, with one to 19 employees. Their No. 1 concern is the level of energy costs. No. 2 is the carbon tax. The third item is the overall level of Commonwealth taxes. They are the three big issues for those employers, those small businesses that I have been talking about here, who employ between one and 19 people. The Mitchell bakery, for instance, employs 15 people. It fits right into that category.

Then there is the medium sized businesses, with between 20 and 99 employees. The No. 1 issue on the agenda is the carbon tax. The second one is the overall level of state taxes. The third one is the level of energy costs. What affects the level of energy costs? The introduction of the carbon tax and the ramifications that that will have for everyone's living costs. The costs of energy will be driven up because much of our energy is generated by coal.

Then of course you have got the large employers, those with 100 or more employees. The No. 1 issue for them is the carbon tax. It comes up every time as one, two or three. Generally it is the No. 1 issue. This is from a survey by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland—a very reputable organisation. (Time expired)