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Monday, 2 March 2015
Page: 1678

Mr PITT (Hinkler) (17:43): I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2014-2015 and the cognate bills currently before the House for debate. As we enter our third week of parliament for 2015, I think it is timely to discuss what I hope to achieve for the people of Hinkler during the rest of my first term.

I entered politics because I wanted to give back to the community that has given me and my family so much. I started my career as an electrical apprentice at Fairymead Sugar Mill, before studying engineering at Queensland University of Technology. In 2002, I established the Australian Safety & Training Alliance, a company that went on to train over 10,000 people in industrial and VET training. Committed to community service, I was a surf lifesaver for over 10 years.

I believe it is this life experience that makes me a common-sense voice here in the Australian parliament. I am a practical person and I have little patience for lengthy bureaucratic processes that cost the taxpayers bucketfuls of money. I just want to get on with it, and get the job done. I strongly align with the Liberal National Party's conservative philosophy that hard work should be rewarded. I believe in a hand up and not a handout.

I have delivered on all of the election commitments I made to the people of Hinkler. I am committed to fight every day to ensure regional Australia gets its fair share so it can continue to be the engine room of the nation's economy. But my main priority has been attracting investment to the Hinkler region and making it easier for people to do business and to create jobs and opportunities for current and future generations. The issues that I will continue to focus on are unemployment, the exploitation of workers in the horticulture sector, country-of-origin food labelling, petrol prices, electricity costs and the need, of course, for more aged-care beds in my electorate of Hinkler.

In the unemployment space, the coalition has made many worthwhile changes, including Work for the Dole. In the first round, of only 18 locations Australia wide we secured two for the Hinkler electorate. I disagree with the member for Scullin—these are programs that have absolute value for people who need to learn the life skills needed to go to work. I quote the former mayor and current state member for Hervey Bay, Ted Sorensen, who has said that Work for the Dole programs give people confidence; they give them a social mechanism, a way to work with other workers, to enjoy a beer after work even, and to gain employment. Every single person that he had placed when he was at council ended up with a full-time position. That is a ringing endorsement of the Work for the Dole scheme.

The Green Army is another great program, and I was very happy to be at Baldwin Swamp park in recent weeks, where I met with a number of people who are working on the program who are incredibly happy to be involved, as are their parents. There are, of course, job commitment bonuses for the long-term unemployed and loans of up to $20,000 to help apprentices complete their trade, with significant discounts when they complete their training. As a former apprentice, I can tell you that my first vehicle was a 1970 HT Holden with a 186 and three on the tree. It was not a 186S, it was just a plain old 186 in cream and white. As a first year apprentice earning some $63 a week on a short week and $74 in a long week, it was very difficult to meet your commitments and bills. Trade loans would have been a fantastic opportunity at the time for me to purchase a vehicle which I would have known was reliable and did not need work. I clearly remember my HT needing a couple of things done, and that took me eight months. I spent the rest of the time riding a motorbike to work in the cold and wet, which was all very disappointing. So there are costs in being an apprentice, but it is great to end up with a trade, and the $20,000 trade loans will be invaluable.

A scholarship scheme for university students from low socioeconomic backgrounds and regional communities is another commitment of this government. Once again, I attended university as a self-funded student. I saved that money during the last two years of my apprenticeship and paid my way through. To have an opportunity to receive a scholarship would have been very helpful to me and my family. We are providing funding to cover the costs associated with relocating to take up a job; we have introduced financial incentives for business too, so if they hire a job seeker over the age of 50 who has been unemployed for at least six months there is some incentive to get that person employed. In an electorate like Hinkler, where the median age is four to five years above that of the state, this is an important measure. There is a $476 million Industry Skills Fund, and I congratulate the minister for industry. As someone who has owned and operated a registered training organisation working in heavy industry, I know this is a real program that provides real skills—$476 million towards skills needed to get forklift operator licences and driver's licences—things that will get you employment. We are overhauling the VET system and Labor's Jobs Services Australia, which in my mind has wasted billions and billions of dollars of taxpayers' money. We do not need 3,000 baristas to be trained in the electorate of Hinkler—we need them to be trained in things which gain them employment; real skills for real jobs.

Jobs are desperately needed in my region, which is why we must continue to support business. Prior to the Queensland election, the former LNP state government committed $11 million for a gas pipeline to the Port of Bundaberg. Many multinational businesses had previously expressed an interest in establishing at the port, but they said the lack of infrastructure was a major impediment. We have very good news on that front—a major multinational, Knauf Australia, announced during the campaign that they would be building a manufacturing plant at the Bundaberg Port as a result of the announcement on gas infrastructure. As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker Kelly, it is exceptionally difficult to get a large project over the line. This is a project that is worth between $70 million and $100 million. It will employ 200 people for construction, there will be 65 permanent jobs and it will add somewhere around two per cent to the GDP of our local electorate. This program is over the line—the DA is done, the environmental approval is done, wharf access is done, the design is done and the pier tests are done. It is fully funded from their point of view. The sod-turning announcement is over. But now there is significant concern that the newly elected state Labor government will not continue with the gas project, which could be a real blow to the local economy and local jobs.

The gas pipeline, which is absolutely essential, was announced as a direct result of strong representation by me and my colleagues former state member for Bundaberg Jack Dempsey and re-elected state member for Burnett Stephen Bennett. The pipeline was to be funded through the Royalties for Regions program, which Labor has said it will abolish. I call on newly-elected Labor member for Bundaberg, Leanne Donaldson, to ensure the pipeline is funded. It was not an election commitment—it was fully funded and had been announced months before the election campaign commenced.

Other state projects at risk locally include: the extension of the Kay McDuff Drive, connecting it to the ring road; and flood mitigation projects like cleaning out an old agricultural drain at Moore Park Beach, clearing the Millaquinn Bend, and the floodgates around East Bundaberg. In the southern end of the electorate, around Torbanlea, there was an announcement to improve the causeway near the Torbanlea school. That now looks like it is in jeopardy. Also at risk are negotiations about a land swap to turn sensitive land behind the Mon Repo turtle rookery into a conservation zone, as well as the planned upgrade to the Mon Repo turtle rookery visitor centre; a hydrotherapy pool in Childers; and $26 million to upgrade three Hervey Bay intersections, one of which is an incredibly dangerous intersection, where Urraween Road intersects with the Maryborough-Hervey Bay Road. This is a very important intersection and I would ask the new Queensland state government to ensure that it is funded.

The local state Labor candidates did not make any funding commitments during the election campaign, other than to employ more public servants. Annastacia Palaszczuk said they would not sell assets or increase taxes, but at the same time they would pay down debt and deliver a surplus. I guess that means they will cut government spending, because there are no other options. They are the only three that are available. However, I note that Ms Donaldson let the cat out of the bag when she told a community forum that they would borrow to build infrastructure. It is the same old Labor—they will try to put it on the credit card.

The issues around the exploitation of workers, food labelling and petrol prices all tie back to one thing: the absolute market domination by the supermarket duopoly. Their influence is far too great. They are squeezing our farmers and manufacturers for every last cent, forcing them to the brink. They are increasingly sourcing their products from overseas at a significantly lower cost, where labour is cheap and biosecurity and health regulations are almost non-existent. Our local businesses cannot compete. I only have to look at Kevin Cast, who was the owner of the IGA at Bargara. Kevin was a well-known local businessman who ran a professional turnout and employed lots of local people. Unfortunately a Woolworths store was built right next door to his store in Bargara, and consequently after a couple of years he is out of business. I believe he has declared bankruptcy.

The independent grocery sector employs more people per dollar of turnover than any of the major chains

Independent grocers usually live in their local communities, and their profits stay in those communities. The major chains' profits are sent back to head office; smaller communities are disadvantaged by major chain development, because those profits leave town. Independent grocers stock locally produced fresh meat and vegetables when they are available, whereas the major chains have centrally supplied fresh produce, which bypasses local and even state producers for large-scale producers. This is an issue which directly affects fatigue in the transport sector. The reason we need to continue to put bandaids on the transport sector is the fact that the delivery windows are so small, most times they cannot be met. If you are a long-haul truck driver, it is incredibly difficult to meet the requirements of Coles and Woolworths.

I see today that we have announced that there is a new Food and Grocery Code of Conduct. I am very pleased to see that that is out and about. The Food and Grocery Code of Conduct will come into force from tomorrow, to ensure fair and transparent commercial dealings between retailers, wholesalers and suppliers in the Australian grocery sector. The features of the code include an obligation to enter into grocery supply agreements in writing. The code also provides minimum standards of behaviour in dealings with suppliers, including an obligation to act in good faith and a prohibition against threatening suppliers with business disruption or termination without reasonable grounds—something I have seen a lot of. The code also features dispute-resolution mechanisms to assist suppliers in resolving disputes. Unfortunately, the reality is that to prosecute something under the ACCC—in its current form—costs between $5 and $10 million. Quite simply, if you are up for costs, you cannot afford it. The code is comprehensive and covers contractual dealings such as supplier-funded promotions; labelling; shelf space and positioning; intellectual property; and payments for wastage. The ACCC will be able to take enforcement action for breaches of the code by the retailers and wholesalers who have signed it. It will help to prevent instances of unconscionable conduct, and enhance the ACCC's capacity to take action against misleading or deceptive conduct, and misuse of market power. The code will be reviewed three years after commencement.

The exploitation of workers in the horticultural sector by labour hire contractors is something which I have spoken about in this place many times. Growers are being forced to cut their costs wherever possible, and they rely on contract labour firms to get that done. Quite simply, it is unacceptable. There is slavery in this country, and it is through labour hire contractors, particularly in the hort. sector. It cannot continue and we must act.

Of course, petrol pricing in the local district is a big issue for us. In December, local media reported that a Woolworths spokesperson told them that Woolworths would only reduce prices to reflect the crude oil price when other local retailers did the same. Can you believe that—they will only reduce their prices if someone else reduces theirs! The local price actually increased during the floods, and the ACCC's first Quarterly report on the Australian petroleum industry clearly shows that regional Australians are being robbed at the bowser. They are being robbed. In July 2014 in Brisbane, the price was 153.3 cents per litre. In January 2015, it was 112.4—a drop of 40.9 cents per litre. In Bundaberg, that difference was just 34.7 cents per litre; in Childers it was 34.9; and in Hervey Bay it was an astounding 27.1 cents per litre. Given that the price changes are solely to do with the wholesale price, that is completely unacceptable. Regional Australia has been robbed.

The quarterly examination of fuel pricing by the ACCC was the direct result of intense lobbying. My coalition backbench colleagues and I asked Minister Bruce Billson to issue a directive to the consumer watchdog. In addition to the quarterly report, Minister Billson has also asked the ACCC to conduct at least three specific regional market studies each year into the significant price differences between regional areas and our capital cities. Those reports will examine price anomalies, price gouging, anticompetitive behaviour and other market irregularities, as well as the slowness of major retailers in reducing regional fuel prices as the international price has fallen. I have asked Minister Billson and the ACCC to select Hinkler as a location for further examination. The first regional location will be announced soon, after the ACCC has completed its enquiries. Of course, it is not our local retailers who are doing the wrong thing; it is the major wholesalers and the duopoly. They control far too much market power, not just in groceries but also in fuel and in a number of other areas.

I would like to talk about the issue of electricity, something which is near and dear to my heart, and to my constituents. The cost of living is an issue which affects everybody, but in an electorate where the median income is under $500 a week, the price you pay for electricity is very important. The price has been affected by the Renewable Energy Target; there is no doubt about that. Simply to run the department that looks after the RET and the RECs costs $513 million, according to the last budget paper. In the last minute remaining to me, the question I have is this: where is the Electrical Trades Union on this? Where is the ETU? They are the ones who are supposed to be out supporting their members—supporting the people who work in the power industry—and they are letting this slip by. They are far more interested in trying to win elections than they are in being out and representing their members—and they are the ones that are at risk. I expect the ETU to get up and do what they are supposed to and represent their membership, because the renewable energy system that we have at the moment is broken. That is the bottom line. It will not work, seen from any practical background—and it is something I have a lot of knowledge about. It is very simple: if you intend to produce electricity only between ten o'clock and two o'clock, without a storage system, what do you intend to do with it? The peak use is early in the morning and after six o'clock at night. That is when you require electricity and, quite simply, it will not be produced at that time. The system is broken. We need to get on with fixing it. I would ask those on the other side to line up with Minister Macfarlane and try and sort this out. It is costing billions of dollars to consumers.