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Monday, 3 March 2014
Page: 1497


Mr O'DOWD (Flynn) (17:29): I rise today to talk about a couple of issues. First I will like to talk about the doctor shortage in rural and regional Australia, particularly in my seat of Flynn. For some reason—and several reasons have been put forward—doctors generally find it hard to come to rural areas, whether it be their families, education reasons or updating their training needs.

However, I welcome the current review, which is being undertaken into the determination of these areas as districts of workforce shortage, commonly called DWS. In the case of Boyne Island and Tannum Sands, which are fast-growing areas south of Gladstone, doctors are constantly leaving. It is almost impossible to attract new doctors to this area. I must admit that is a very nice place to live, but you have got to convince the doctors from the cities to come to these rural areas and they are not classified as DWS areas.

Many of the fly-in, fly-out workers on Curtis Island just outside Gladstone use the services of doctors in these areas, but at present they are not taken into account when assessing the area as they do not live there and come in from outside. However, there is a need for extra services to look after these workers. This is not currently being looked at in the data for DWS calculations, and that is a real problem.

In other areas you just cannot get doctors. I find that, where there is one doctor in a country town, they generally have that much work that they cannot physically cope with the one-doctor-town philosophy. It just does not work. In Emerald, Biloela and Theodore we are so lucky to have longstanding doctors who have served the people for the last 40 to 50 years. Even though these doctors are getting close to retirement, they cannot leave because there is no-one to take their places. We definitely need new blood. But we do not need one doctor; we need at least two doctors in each town so their workload can be spread across two doctors and alleviate the pressure on their families. The doctors have wives, husbands and kids. They want to see their kids grow up, but in their hectic lives as rural doctors they find it very difficult.

In Theodore on Friday, I helped open a new medical centre which was badly damaged in the 2010 floods. It was great to see something good come out of the floods. They have a new doctor's surgery, and the people of Theodore were very happy with the end result. It took a lot of money from the federal government, from the state government and from the local community, who did its own fundraising to get the medical centre open. All are happy, I am pleased to report.

On the other side of the fence, on Friday as I went around the Flynn electorate, and, in Banana—and I think you could say this for the rest of Flynn and Central Queensland—there is a lot of economic uncertainty amongst the people. I want to impress on the House that it is not only the car industry and the Qantas workers and the fruit growers in the Murrumbidgee or the Murray; I think a lot of people out there are suffering and finding it very hard to make ends meet.

The economy has slowed, and it continues to slow. In my area, we export a lot to Asia. We are watching the growth of China to see which way it goes. At the moment it is not looking all that good. It is coming off a high—it is still bubbling along okay, but it is slower. So we are watching China with bated breath, but business confidence in drought-stricken areas is very, very low. We put out a package last week through the agriculture minister, Mr Barnaby Joyce. It was a good package, but it was aimed only at graziers whose properties are drought stricken. All the towns in western Central Queensland rely heavily on the beef industry, and, when the beef industry goes down, they go down also.

In Australia it is either floods or droughts, and I know that we cannot help everyone. But it is almost unnecessary to say that people out there in the bush are doing it very tough at the moment. Their confidence is down. There is no product for them to sell. There is no business for them to do. We have to do something. Hopefully, the rain will come. But, of course, if it does come, it will take at least 18 months for the farmers to get a return and some cash circulating in their bank accounts. The banks are finding it tough to deal with. There are people out there who do not have any stock to replenish their herds, because their breeders have gone. In a lot of cases they face a sad situation. Some graziers have been told by the banks that there will be no money for re-stocking once the drought breaks.

The LNG in Gladstone is booming along pretty well: there is $60 billion worth of expansion in the gas industry. There are three main plants on Curtis Island, but the construction work on them will wind down within the next nine months, and after that the production phase will start. This means that 11½ thousand people currently working in Gladstone will be looking for work. In the meantime the three companies which own the plants will hire about 200 personnel to work in each plant—so 600 jobs will be created there—and a full-time maintenance crew for the three plants of about another 200 will also be hired. In other words, 11½ thousand jobs will be replaced by about 1,000 jobs required for the gas industry.

The gas industry is in a ticklish situation. We have contracts with the Asian market—China, Korea and Japan—for about $14 a petajoule. The American gas price is currently about $2 to $3 a petajoule, and it will be very interesting to see what happens with the shale oil gas market. If the Americans decide to go into the Asian market, although we have already signed contacts with the companies I just mentioned, it could be, to say the least, a bit touchy. The only advantages that Central Queensland has is that the pipelines have been built and that they are much closer to the seaboard than America's, which are a long way from the seaboard and further from the markets of China and Korea.

The new companies have spent $60 billion, and we would like to see them start production as soon as possible so that they can get on and, hopefully, get a return on their investments. Gas appears to be getting out of whack in price compared to the situation in the past, and I can see people who went from coal to gas going back to coal from gas in the future. In fact this has already happened in Swanbank, which was gas-fired. They have now shut their plant down and made it into a coal fired power station again.

There are three power stations in my electorate. There is the NRG Gladstone power station, which is the biggest operating power station in Queensland and which gets us coal from the Callide mine in Biloela. There is Stanwell. Then there is Callide itself. I can see a long-term future for these three power stations. But the price of electricity is still a big issue, and abolition of the carbon tax will go a long way towards making our power cheaper, which is what industry needs.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Porter ): There being no further grievances, this debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 192B. The debate is adjourned, and resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 17:4 0