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Wednesday, 5 March 2014
Page: 1777

Mr O'DOWD (Flynn) (18:10): I must say that I did enjoy listening to Bruce, my neighbour from Maranoa. This is my second term. I came in with the Deputy Speaker in 2010 and it has been a great experience for me. It has been a better experience for me looking after the electorate of Flynn, which is quite a large electorate. It is not as big as Maranoa but is a very diverse electorate indeed.

At the last election it consisted of 105 polling booths and I could not really start to mention by name the number of people who helped me, staff included, to get to where I am today—settling into my second term in the government. But I would like to single out one person, Donny Holt, who perhaps manned those 105 polling booths! He is the only one I will mention apart from my immediate family: Shirley, my partner, and Ben and Amber, my son and daughter.

Flynn covers a large area—133 square kilometres—more than twice the size of Tasmania. It is bordered by Hinkler, Wide Bay, Maranoa and Capricornia. It is approximately 800 kilometres from the south-east corner, which is down near Kingaroy and Wondai, to the north-west corner, Capella, a distance that takes about nine hours to drive. From east to west it is 500 kilometres and that takes me about six hours from one side to the other. Of course, as you know, you always have a lot of stops in between and it takes you quite a while to get from one end to the other end.

Flynn was named after John Flynn, the founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. We have approximately 129 schools, 26 hospitals, 51 Anzac Day sub-branches, 24 agricultural shows—and I actually attend the first show for the season this weekend and I go to Proston which is in the south-west corner of the electorate. I have three coal-fired power stations—at Gladstone, Callide and Stanwell. Gladstone is the biggest part of the electorate. It takes in lots of towns: Agnes Water, Banana, Biloela, Biggenden, Blackwater, Boyne Island, Calliope, Duaringa, Eidsvold—it sounds like I have been everywhere!—Emerald, Gayndah, Gracemere, Miriam Vale, Monto, Mount Morgan, Moura, Mundubbera, Perry, Sapphire, Tannum Sands, Taroom, Theodore, Wondai and Woorabinda—and I think I have missed out a few there too! It includes eight regional councils: Bundaberg—or part thereof—Central Highlands based at Emerald, Gladstone, North Burnett, Rockhampton—partially, including Mount Morgan and Gracemere—South Burnett, which is mainly Wondai and Proston. There is the Banana Shire, which is Biloela and Moura and Theodore et cetera, and the Woorabinda Aboriginal Council.

We produce a lot of commodities in Flynn. The big money-spinners are coal and gas. We have gold and sapphires. There are the beef cattle of Queensland. We have aluminium and we have grain, wide open orchards and citrus, cotton and timber. The Port of Gladstone is the major export facility for Australia.

As for our beef industry, we are proud to present every three years an international beef convention in Rockhampton. This attracts visitors from all over the world. As the member for Maranoa has just stated, the beef industry has been hard hit by the banning of the live cattle export and that has had many repercussions for the industry. On top of that is the drought, which has not helped, and at the moment a lot of the Flynn and Maranoa areas are in desperate need of good solid rain. This will not bring instant relief to the farmers. Even with this rain, it will be a good 18 months before cash can return to the industry.

On dairying, there are about 29 dairy farmers left in Flynn and these guys are struggling. The demand for milk in Queensland has been increasing by seven per cent per annum. Our farmers are in a real battle with the processors and the big stores like Woolworths and Coles, and it is all over 10c a litre. If they were to get another 10c a litre, it would make things much more bearable and keep those existing dairy farmers in business. At the moment, they are dropping out at an alarming rate.

We have a very strong citrus industry. We have the largest mandarin farm in the Southern Hemisphere at 2PH farms at Emerald. There are also huge citrus plantations in Mundubbera, Gayndah and Gin Gin, and at Eversley Farm at Wallaville, where there is a very big planting. We have good grain crops—wheat, sorghum, sunflower and chickpea et cetera. Capella, Emerald, Comet, Gindi, Springsure, Bauhinia Downs, Moura and Biloela along the Dawson River form a productive food bowl.

We have large piggeries around Mulgildie, Wondai and Proston. The fishing industry has been facing cutbacks and regulations. We do import a lot of fish, which I find amazing. We also import a lot of pork products; sometimes up 80 per cent for pork and 70 to 75 per cent for fish. This staggers me. We are quite capable of producing all our pork products and all our fish products.

The aluminium industry is based in Gladstone, with bauxite coming from North Queensland. The industry is facing some hard times. The renewable energy target is affecting the industry. The Chinese are building aluminium refineries quicker than we can pour a cup of tea. It is very important that the aluminium industry in Gladstone is maintained. It is one of the few manufacturing giants left in Australia. In Gladstone, the industry employs 6,000 people, directly and indirectly. Australia cannot afford to lose this industry.

We have sugar cane, fruit, vegetables and macadamia nuts in the Bundaberg region. Around Theodore, we produce high-quality, low-cost cotton. Cotton is an up-and-down crop because prices fluctuate but, fortunately, this year the cotton price is very good. We have to hope and pray the cotton does come off and we do not get persistent rain that will keep mildew in the cotton. They need sunny clear days to get the cotton off. But the cotton crops I have seen are beautiful.

The coal industry is big in Central Queensland, but of late we have seen the price of coking coal and thermal coal plummet to very low levels. The large coalminers and the overseas investors in coal are in the Bowen Basin. Prices have retracted and we hope that one day the coal price will rebound and the 6,000 jobs that have been lost in my area alone will be returned. Coal is a godsend for our area. It supplies plenty of good-paying jobs. There are huge international companies working in the Bowen Basin—BHP Billiton; Anglo American Coal; Caledon Resources; Ensham; Mitsui, a Japanese company that is very much involved; Glencore, a new company that has taken over all the Xstrata mines; and Yancoal is another group at Yarrabee.

On gas, we are just seeing the last stages of the three plants that are being built on Curtis Island. It is a $60 billion investment. You have to see the size of the industry to take it all in. I have taken people to Gladstone to see it because it is amazing. The gas comes from Maranoa—major pipelines from Maranoa to Gladstone, some 500 kilometres. That is a sight to see. The member for Riverina will be with me next Wednesday and we will open an oil products refinery, a $55 million investment by guys who have another plant at Wagga Wagga. They have finished their plant at Yarwun, outside Gladstone. It will be a great pleasure to see this plant open up. It will process the used oil from engines, take all the impurities out and turn it back to pure oil, and then burn off the residue in the cement plant alongside.

The issues around roads are endless. There is always a need to spend plenty of money on any road in my electorate. We must remember that we had major floods in 2008, 2010 and 2012-13 that caused untold damage to the roads. Both state and federal governments have provided some money to do repair work. I will talk more about that tomorrow, detailing the list of roads we have fixed, improving the Bruce Highway and other associated roads in the arterial system around Gladstone.

There is certainly a skills shortage in rural areas and Flynn is no exception. There is a lack of aged-care facilities. Small retailers are finding it very hard to exist. I think the IR laws and regulations need to be tweaked, especially when it comes to weekend work. When you go to most rural country towns, no coffee shops or cafes are open on weekends the way they used to be open in the good old days. When people are prepared to work and employers are prepared to give them jobs, why can they not work on the weekend? It would suit university students and young people and would give them a grounding for their future life. I cannot justify the fact that when people want to work for, say, time and a quarter, an employer has to pay time and a half, double time or triple time. That is just out of the question.

Commodity prices are still low in a lot of areas. Our dollar remains relatively high. It has dropped by five per cent in the last few months but needs to drop further. Aluminium prices are very low thanks to the Chinese overproducing. These things might turn around in the next five to 10 years because we are the country with the most bauxite. We hold 25 per cent of the world's bauxite and it is good quality stuff, as is our coal. At the moment, our cement industry still has to compete on the global market. This is why the carbon tax is such an obnoxious tax. I cannot see how anyone can support it—anyone at all. It has to go and it has to go quickly because it is the No. 1 enemy when it comes to jobs.

The floods in those four to five years have really affected insurance for homes in towns like Emerald, Bundaberg, Mundubbera and Gayndah. Theodore was the first town in Australia to be totally evacuated and the insurance premiums these people are being asked to pay are so high they just cannot insure. Gladstone is a town of 60,000. The region covers Gladstone, Tannum Sands, Boyne Island, Calliope and Mount Larcom. We have a TAFE college and we have the Central Queensland University campus; that is Rockhampton based but its facilities reach out to Emerald, Mackay, Bundaberg and Gladstone. We have well-developed infrastructure and services. Through our good port we transfer aluminium, cement and coal. We hope in future to export live cattle, which would be a big boost for our industry. Graziers in the area are getting the same price now they got 10 years ago for their beasts because of lack of competition. If we could introduce live cattle exports from Gladstone to places like China and Korea, that would strengthen the cattle industry no end.

We have a huge and developing LNG industry, as I mentioned before. This will come on line in nine to 10 months. Once that industry gets going and we start exporting to Asia, the whole of Queensland and Gladstone, and the Maranoa area, will benefit from those sales because they will be huge. The Gladstone power station is the largest power station in Queensland. Because of power prices and main usage occurring between January and March, the Boyne smelter cuts back so many cells that it affects the price of electricity in Queensland by 24 per cent. That is how much electricity they use. They could not afford to buy Queensland electricity for three months during the period of high usage, so they cut back. The price dropped by 24 per cent. We are really fighting an uphill battle with electricity prices, and the carbon tax is a big component of that. We need to get back to having cheap power and cheap water. That will get the towns, no matter where they are in Australia, back to a competitive edge. The carbon tax has to go.

The Central Highlands is a very interesting rural producing area. It lies on the Nogoa River just south of the Tropic of Capricorn, with towns like Blackwater, Bluff, Dingo, Capella, Tieri, Springsure, Rolleston and Comet. The region extends from the Arcadia Valley in the south to the Peak Ranges in the north. Industries include mining, agriculture, grain, cotton and tourism. The gemfields are an interesting place to go. I quite often take a lot of my visitors to the gemfields. They are absolutely amazed. The gemfields have been going for many years and the standard of housing might not be the best in a lot of areas—there is a bit of a shanty town—but it is what the people love. For over 100 years, the many millions of dollars of sapphires pulled out of the ground at Rubyvale, Sapphire and Anakie have been sold to Thai buyers.

There is natural beauty in Carnarvon Gorge, on the Blackdown Tablelands and Peak Downs. Fairbairn Dam is a big dam supplying most of the area—the coalmines, the towns, the cotton crops et cetera.

Just off Gladstone—I should not admit this—there is a lovely island called Heron Island that is better known to international tourists than it is to the locals, which is amazing. You would be surprised how many locals have not been to Heron Island. It is the best kept secret. There are turtle research laboratories and beautiful underwater diving and snorkelling there. You could not get better in the world. International travellers come to Gladstone and take a short ride in a helicopter or in a hovercraft out to Heron Island. It is well worth seeing. The banana shire has a lot of things going for it especially towns like Moura and Taroom. Major industries include beef and coal.