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Tuesday, 14 February 2017
Page: 869

Senator WATT (Queensland) (19:35): I rise tonight to speak again on the growing scandal that involves the government's actions around the expansion of the Shoalwater Bay training facility north of Rockhampton in Central Queensland. I have asked a number of questions about this issue in the Senate over the last week or so, trying to get to the bottom of exactly what members of this government knew about the expansion of this training facility prior to last year's election.

To recap briefly, just before last year's election the LNP, led by defence minister Marise Payne, went to the election with a big announcement talking about jobs and dollars that were going to be ploughed into Central Queensland as a result of the expansion of this training facility under a deal with the Singaporean government. Of course, the one thing that was missing from their announcement is the thing that we are finally starting to learn—that all along they intended that prime agricultural land would be compulsorily acquired as part of this expansion. Over the last couple of months we have had minister after minister talk about what they knew and did not know and deny that they knew that compulsory acquisitions were required. They tried to blame it on the defence department, and all the while Rockhampton and Central Queensland residents and businesses and farmers were left without any information from the government about what exactly they intended. They were told by one minister that there were not going to be any compulsory acquisitions. They were told by other ministers that there would be. There was mass confusion and mass distress right throughout the region, across Central Queensland. The one thing that was impossible to find out for sure was what government members and ministers knew about this expansion and the need for compulsory acquisitions prior to the election.

What we now finally know, based on the answers that have been extracted, painfully, from Senator Payne, the Minister for Defence, over the course of this week, is that she was advised by her department prior to the election that this expansion was going to require compulsory acquisition of land. The very strange thing about this is that neither she nor any other member of this government had the courtesy, the honesty or the decency to level with Central Queenslanders and tell them that this expansion of Shoalwater Bay and the dollars that were going to come with it were going to come at a price and the price was going to be the need for compulsory acquisitions of properties which supply tens of thousands of cattle to the beef market in Central Queensland.

So we finally now know that the Minister for Defence was advised prior to the election that compulsory acquisitions were required. The thing we still do not know and still do not have a clear answer on is what the two federal LNP representatives in Central Queensland—Senator Canavan, the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, and Michelle Landry, the member for Capricornia—were told prior to the election. They have been getting around Central Queensland in the last couple of months trying to say that they did not know until after the election, that they were not really sure when they were told. 'Please don’t ask me when I knew or what I knew. Go and talk to someone else about that.' I can assure people in Central Queensland that the opposition is still very much committed to finding out what was known by their federal LNP representatives.

It absolutely defies belief that the Minister for Defence of this country could be tripping around the countryside, making election announcements right throughout Central Queensland, talking about the benefits of this deal; it defies belief that that sort of announcement could be made when the minister has finally admitted that she knew prior to the election that acquisitions were going to be required; and it defies belief that she would not have told her ministerial colleague Senator Canavan and the local member Michelle Landry that these acquisitions were going to be required. It also defies belief that the Deputy Prime Minister, who is the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources and a member of the National Security Committee, was not himself informed about the need for compulsory acquisitions.

The only alternative, if these people did not know, is that they are completely out of the loop. And what sort of local member does the member for Capricornia, Michelle Landry, say she is if she is so irrelevant to government discussions that she is not even aware that a massive announcement is going to require the compulsory acquisitions of properties in her electorate? It is worth remembering that Capricornia turned on just over 1,000 votes and was the seat that delivered government. Profession Clive Bean from QUT has come out today and said that Michelle Landry would not have won this seat. I encourage Rockhampton residents to complain.