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Monday, 24 February 2014
Page: 639

Mr JOHN COBB (Calare) (20:21): It has been several months since the Governor-General gave her speech in this parliament. I am glad to now be able to give my reply. I want to make some remarks about the election result in the electorate of Calare before talking about my vision for Calare and what I hope to achieve with a coalition government controlling the House.

For those who are not familiar with my wonderful electorate, it is the oldest part of modern Australia. It is what Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson saw when they crossed the mountains. Calare has towns and a city older than Brisbane and Melbourne—in fact, older than any capital city in Australia outside of Sydney and Hobart. Calare runs from where you trip over the mountains at Lithgow and that stretches west, all the way out to Forbes and Parkes. Having been the member for Parkes, I feel an incredibly responsibility for and affinity with Parkes. I still have my property in the seat of Parkes, so I feel like western New South Wales is where I belong and what I am responsible to. That is not to take anything away from the member for Parkes, Mark Coulton, and the job he is doing there.

Calare is the engine room of New South Wales. It has agriculture, mining, power generation and forestry. It is where the first serious steel foundry, at Lithgow, and the first serious coal mine in Australia were established. But, like many rural and regional electorates today, it is facing challenges. I will get to those later.

In the 2013 election, I had nine candidates, the highest number I have ever had, against me. I suspect that was because they all realised what a wonderful part of Australia Calare is and they were very keen to represent it, under whatever banner they chose. Despite that, we got the best result we have ever had in Calare. I am only a very small part of that. I have absolute confidence in saying that Calare voters made their decisions in the best interests not only of Calare and their families—as I am sure they did—but also, more broadly, of Australia. I believe the people of Calare knew that only the Liberal-National coalition would actually bring back jobs, bring back industry, bring back productivity and bring back to people a sense of control over their lives and their cost of living.

I cannot thank enough the more than 500 volunteers who manned pre-polling booths, campaign offices and the 90 Calare election day booths and did every job in between—all the things that volunteers do. Time obviously does not allow me to name them; I am not going to try. But I do extend my, Calare's and the parliament's sincere gratitude. You came from every corner of the electorate to champion our cause and it certainly made the difference. It is an absolute pleasure to have represented you over all those years and to represent you now in this parliament.

To my staff members, Caroline, Beth, John, Melissa, Kylie, Bernice, Richard and Ann: you all put your lives on hold and embraced the even longer working hours, unusual requests and stress that go with an election campaign. You are not just an asset to me and my office, the National Party and the government; your knowledge, skills and sincerity are an asset to Calare, the parliament and the people of Australia. I also thank your families and friends, as I obviously thank Lisa and the rest of my own family. Without a family and people to fall back on, it does not work very well. I have the best and I really do thank them for that.

I turn my attention now to my hopes and desires for Calare. In all the years I have been in parliament and had the pleasure, the honour and the agony of fighting for constituents and my electorate—whether out west in Broken Hill or in Lithgow—I do not think I have ever had a stronger passion to do that than I have right now. I say that because I am absolutely committed to ensuring that under a coalition government, a National-Liberal government, Calare gets a fair deal. Calare voted for the coalition because the coalition believes in infrastructure, dams and reducing the cost of living. It does not believe in political correctness at the cost of what people need. I guess it is no surprise to anyone that I wanted to represent agriculture in this government. However, as the saying goes, when one door closes another one opens. I have been given the opportunity to focus more of my energies and time on what is good for Calare and for New South Wales.

Before I get to the vision, I need to give some context and some background. Along with other areas across Australia, our manufacturing and processing sector has been hit with costs and imposts—the carbon tax, increased competition from cheaper overseas goods and various other things. These issues came to the fore in Calare in the last quarter of 2013 and the first months of 2014. We have suffered substantial workforce and industry changes and probably the loss of over 1,100 jobs, continuing over the next couple of years.

I want to speak in some detail about two operations that are part of this change, namely Electrolux and Simplot. One is an American owned family company and the other is a Swiss based company. It is interesting to note that they are not the only foreign companies or processors in that region in my electorate. I can think of three: Devro, who make sausage skins amongst a variety of other things; Nestle; and Mars. Those three companies are all foreign owned and have invested heavily in themselves over the last two, three or four years—and continue to do so—whereas Electrolux and Simplot have not.

Electrolux global announced on 25 October that they would consolidate their Asia-Pacific refrigeration production, directing investment and funds to Thailand, supposedly, to produce fridges and freezers. As a consequence, Orange in Australia will no longer produce fridges. They used to produce 300,000 articles a year, which was about 50 per cent of the Australian market. This is a decision that has an enormous impact on the 578 workers at the plant and the 98 contractors, as well as the families connected to them and the entire community. Thank heavens it is in a place like Orange that can probably—and I say 'probably'—deal with this. The decision was made by the global management, despite repeated requests from me and the newly reinstalled Minister for Industry, Ian Macfarlane—who toured the plant and spoke with local management in October—for time for the government to investigate the situation. I was and I still am bitterly disappointed that Electrolux global management made this decision. Electrolux has European and North American members on its board but no-one from Asia or Australia. Unfortunately for Orange, Electrolux global management had made the decision to have one production centre in South-East Asia, and nothing we could do would have changed that decision.

In a similar situation, another large manufacturer in the region, Simplot, based in Bathurst—as well as Tasmania—have signalled their intention to scale back their operations, and 110 full-time jobs and 24 casuals will go in the next couple of months as the plant moves to one shift per day, focusing on frozen and canned goods and Chiko Rolls. Again, Minister Macfarlane and I requested Simplot to give the new government the appropriate time to look into the situation, but they did not give us that opportunity. While the factory remains, it is a huge blow to those people and their families.

The region is also set to lose a further 300 jobs, as several other businesses have indicated their intention to move. They include rail business Downer EDi, 100 jobs; Centennial in Lithgow, scaling back around 80 positions; and Coalpac in Lithgow, 120 positions. Coalpac went into voluntary receivership, with the bulk of the employees being retrenched last year. And earlier this year EnergyAustralia, the new owners of Mount Piper and Wallerawang power stations near Lithgow, citing a shortage of commercial coal supply and a decline in energy demand—in some ways, I have no doubt, due to the cost of the RET and the incredible effect it is having on coal supplies and coal power—announced that by the end of March Wallerawang will no longer operate. While the 300 jobs there are guaranteed for the next four years, the contractors and suppliers to Wallerawang are certainly not.

We are a tough region and we are a good region and, one way or another, we are going to deal with this. I believe we are one of the few parts of regional Australia with the 'get up and go' and opportunities to replace these losses. How are we going to do it, though? I have always believed that to create jobs you must first create opportunity, and the government must provide opportunity, where it makes commercial sense.

Since I became the member for Calare, after redistributions, I have thought long and hard about what is imperative in Calare—not just due to these productivity losses; it always has been—and that is water storage. The western two-thirds of Calare have a serious water shortage. It is something that I have seen and looked at for the last six or seven years. It has to be addressed. We seem to have a dam phobia in this country, and we have had it for too long. In my electorate we are in desperate need of appropriate water storages. Currently our productivity is under enormous sustainability and expansion pressures due to a lack of reliable water sources and reliable water storage.

The Needles dam proposal is a short-, medium- and long-term solution which would assist with job creation, encourage existing industry expansion and attract new industry. I have been asked on many occasions why there is not a bailout package for our region, given that our job losses proportionally are worse than what is happening to Melbourne and Adelaide with the car industry. But we all know that throwing money does not necessarily solve anything. It does not magically create jobs. You have only got to look at the money that has been thrown at Mitsubishi, Ford, Holden and Toyota, and all of them have gone or will be going.

You have to create the right environment to create jobs. That involves encouraging new industries and the morale of those who would invest in the region, helping those already there to expand and to take on new workers. A new dam will not only create open optimism; it well create the morale, attract new industry and support industries already in our region. It will give them the confidence to plan ahead. Mining, abattoirs, tourism and urban development are all calling for water storage they can depend on. It does not exist now. It will also create some immediate jobs but the long-term goal is to support other jobs that would be created through new or expanded businesses.

The dam in question would be located on the Belubula River called the Needles Gap, near Canowindra. It has a catchment area of an estimated 532 square kilometres into which a significant number of creeks feed and which would become part of an integrated water system with Lake Rowlands and Carcoar Dam. It may create 150 jobs to build it. That is a bonus but it is not the reason to do it. It would give water security to eight local government areas: Bathurst, Blayney, Orange, Cabonne, Cowra, Parkes, Forbes and Grenfell, some of them outside Calare, but that is good—I am great with that. Indirectly the whole region and the lower Lachlan would benefit too because it would not create new irrigation but it would give much greater security to those who already irrigate, because the Lachlan is the least secure irrigation region in New South Wales.

New South Wales Water could undertake a detailed feasibility study, including geotechnical, environmental and design and the economic benefits for the region, which I have had quoted at me, for the cost of $3 million. The timeframe for the feasibility study is less than two years. Hopefully, with an enthusiastic state government, the project could be completed within five years.

The Needles Dam proposal is noted in the federal government dam strategy as the new Carcoar dam and is prioritised in the New South Wales government infrastructure strategy and would now be the leading dam. While the building of the dam obviously far exceeds the initial cost of a feasibility study of $3 million, it would provide governments and stakeholders the opportunity to set in motion the second phase, while reinforcing the morale of the region's workforce and industry. Just the knowledge that it was going to happen would encourage mining to get going. It takes mining at least five years to do their setup as well.

Since I first went out there to talk about this, with all the local mayors totally in support, the feedback has been simply amazing. This has to happen. Calare overwhelmingly voted for the Nationals and the coalition in the recent election. It did so because it knew that only the coalition was committed to more jobs, to more industry, to more production and to a better standard of living. It did so because only the coalition was committed to more infrastructure and to more dams—it had a dam strategy. Calare needs more water for all the above reasons. Calare needs more water storage for now and for the future. Calare needs $3 million at this time so that New South Wales Water can do the study that will make Needles Dam a reality and will also look at the cost benefits. I intend to ensure that the Nationals and the coalition make good for Calare and show the leadership and guts necessary to do what needs to be done.