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Thursday, 28 June 2018
Page: 4375

Senator BARTLETT (Queensland) (15:59): I'd also like to commend this report to the Senate and to the parliament—indeed, to the community. I had, in one way, the fortune of being able to participate in this. It was certainly fortunate, and a good experience for me, to be able to participate in this committee on this inquiry. My misfortune is that my participation was so brief. That's just the way things are. But even my brief experience with it—plugging into my own experience, of course, particularly with Queensland but in other parts of Northern Australia as well—gave me the opportunity to learn more and to highlight once again just how important tourism is to the Queensland economy, to Northern Australia and to Australia more broadly.

When we hear about opening up economic opportunities in Northern Australia it's almost always in terms of talking about new mines or new dams. Yet the fact is that the tourism industry is a far bigger employer than the mining sector—certainly more than the fossil-fuel or coalmining sector is in Queensland. As we all know, so many of those jobs are at risk if the natural environment that so much of tourism depends upon is harmed because of runaway climate change exacerbated by digging up and burning more fossil fuels.

Ironically, to some extent I agree with Senator Macdonald in his comment that the Great Barrier Reef is a magnificent natural asset and perhaps the greatest tourist destination in the country. As is fairly typical with Senator Macdonald, even when you get a committee inquiry that works to get consensus and gets a unanimous report, when talking about it he still manages to find a way to drop his usual bag of acid and falsehoods over various people. So it was no surprise that the 'Greens political party'—yes, indeed, we are a political party—copped it again, with his false claim that the Greens and others in the environment movement are saying that the reef is dead.

We are not saying the reef is dead. Like any marine scientist with any credibility—all the thousands of them—we say the marine park is in big trouble. The previous speaker was from the coalition, a person who is based in Northern Queensland, and tens and tens of thousands of jobs there depend on that magnificent asset and the fact that it is a magnificent tourist destination. That marine park is in trouble. One of the key reasons—as was made clear, in fact, by representatives of the government and the department at estimates hearings and elsewhere—and the biggest threat to the marine park is climate change. Until Senator Macdonald and so many of his fellow colleagues accept that, they can say all the nice-sounding things they like about the marine park and they can make all the lies they like about those of us who want to call out how much trouble it is in. But the fact is that it is they who are putting those jobs at risk and they who are hindering tourism opportunities as a consequence. This is not just in the marine park. The Wet Tropics in Far North Queensland, for example, has incredible natural value and in may ways finds it much more difficult, with even less opportunity, to adapt to more rapid climate change than might otherwise occur.

I will go to other significant parts of the report that I would like to highlight specifically. Because I was only part of this inquiry for such a brief period of time I don't feel it's appropriate for me to be passing comment on or suggesting changes to sections of the report to do with the Indian Ocean territories—for example, the Cocos Islands or Christmas Island. I wasn't able to be part of that visit, although I have been to Christmas Island a couple of times in the past. Apart from areas in Queensland, I would genuinely say that it is the most magnificent natural environment I've ever seen. There are the marine and forest environments. We all know about the red crabs, but there are other crabs too. And the bird life there is magnificent.

Obviously, there are economic challenges for that community, particularly with the necessary phasing out of phosphate and the closing down of the detention centre, which should never have been built in the first place. It faces economic challenges, and tourism is its biggest opportunity. The biggest challenge there, of course, is the cost of getting there. That was a common thread in this inquiry and the committee's previous inquiry called 'Pivot North'—the cost of airfares to so many parts of regional Australia and Northern Australia. I know there is a separate inquiry into that as well. It doesn't go into the detail on that but it does reinforce the challenges that it presents and the need to develop not just airport infrastructure—although that is necessary and recommendations contained in this report are about upgrades to airport facilities; in Queensland we are talking about areas like Rockhampton, Townsville and Cooktown—but also flight routes.

That means looking at ways to ensure that they are affordable. One of the challenges that was identified by one of the witnesses is that, in some of those areas, those routes are taken up by the resources sector, so leisure travellers have to pay high fares because the seats are so rare because the resources sector chew up so many of them. That's not the resources sector's fault, but it's a challenge that needs to be addressed. I would like to especially emphasise recommendation 16, requesting the Australian government to address:

… the impact of high insurance costs on tourism investment in Northern Australia (particularly since the privatisation of the Territory Insurance Office)—

That is another example where, because of the privatisation of a basic financial service, such as has happened in the banking sector and other parts of the financial sector, people in Northern Queensland and other parts of northern Australia, not just those in the tourism industry but many others, are facing ridiculously high insurance premiums because of market failure. Recommendation 16 further states:

that insurance be made available for homes and businesses in the Indian Ocean Territories to stimulate business investment.

The chair of this inquiry, Mr Entsch, to his credit, has gone on about this issue for many, many years, as have others. I've mentioned it in this place myself once or twice. Action has still not happened, and it is really hurting people in Northern Queensland and small businesses in particular.

There is a recommendation to ensure that the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility applies to the Indian Ocean territories. That's something that could be done very quickly. The government has acted to ensure that the infrastructure facility—which we normally talk about in terms of again being used to open up massive infrastructure projects like mines, which will cause other economic, social and environmental damage in the region—needs to apply to the tourism sector, which mostly involves smaller businesses. It's pleasing that the rules around that facility have been changed somewhat to at least, in theory, enable it to be applied to smaller businesses, and I hope that is followed through on and able to be used.

Recommendation 20, not just for tourism but critical for tourism and small business, is in regard to mobile and data services. There has been a debacle around the NBN and telecommunications. If it had been done properly it would have been one of the best ways to break down the inequality between opportunities for business, small businesses in particular, in regional, rural and remote areas compared with those in the big cities. But it has not been done properly. So recommendation 20 suggests improving mobile and data services across northern Australia, particularly those areas that have a high reliance on tourism.

On basic infrastructure, instead of the same old 19th and 20th century idea of more dams and mines, what about infrastructure for facilities that people will use as part of their experiences in those communities and visiting those communities? That's often lots of small-scale infrastructure. Governments of all persuasions love announcing big projects with a big ribbon they can cut and a big plaque on which they can say 'opened by'. They're not so keen on, for example, small toilet facilities—they'd probably still put a plaque there with their name on it anyway, while ever they get the chance. But often it's those bits of small-scale infrastructure in all sorts of small ways that will make a region with lot of small, different destination opportunities one that will suddenly become much more viable economically, giving people the opportunity to enjoy what is mostly, although not only, natural environment based tourism. I make that point because it does come back to what has been a key message of the Greens, probably from the party's inception, about how much economic value there is in making sure we look after nature properly and interact with it properly. This report reinforces it.

The other thing I'd say in the brief time I have left is that there are opportunities that we still clearly have not enabled with tourism related to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The report recommends:

… Tourism Australia work with Indigenous Business Australia to re-establish the Indigenous Tourism Champions Program.

Further, it recommends that the bodies set up to enable the development of northern Australia specifically be funded for the tourism aspect of that and that they be linked particularly to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people because they provide a unique experience that is available nowhere else— (Time expired)

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Williams ): Senator Bartlett, do you wish to seek leave to continue your remarks?

Senator Bartlett: Yes, I do.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Leave is granted.