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Tuesday, 26 June 2001
Page: 28554

Mr ZAHRA (3:01 PM) —My question is to the Deputy Prime Minister. Do you recall telling the House on 4 June that the reason the government was providing a structural adjustment package of $4 million to the Wide Bay-Burnett region in Queensland was because it was `a very needy area' which was `suffering from very high levels of unemployment'? Minister, are you aware that the small area labour market statistics produced by the Department of Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business released recently show that the two districts which make up the Wide Bay-Burnett region, Maryborough and Hervey Bay, have unemployment rates of 13.5 per cent and 18.7 per cent respectively, whilst Morwell and Moe—

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —Order! The member for McMillan will get to his question.

Mr ZAHRA —two districts in the Latrobe Valley in my electorate, have unemployment rates of 17.7 per cent and 16.6 per cent?

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —The member for McMillan will resume his seat. I call the Minister for Transport and Regional Services and Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr McMullan —Mr Acting Speaker, I rise on a point of order. On what basis did you require the member to resume his seat before he concluded his question? Under which standing order and on what basis? Why was it anything other than a quintessential local member question to a minister about concerns in his constituency, and why should he or any other member be denied the right to ask it?

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —The Manager of Opposition Business will be well aware that questions are required by the standing orders to be succinct. The member for McMillan went on for far too long. In my judgment, I believed he had reached the end of his question.

Mr McMullan —Which is the standing order that requires questions to be succinct? Will you quote it?

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —No, I will not. The House of Representatives Practice does.

Mr McMullan —Because there is not one.

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —Does the Manager of Opposition Business have another point of order?

Mr McMullan —Given that there is no standing order that requires questions to be succinct, on what basis did you rule out this perfectly legitimate and not unusually long question, and why did you not allow this member to represent his constituents in a question to this pork-barrelling Deputy Prime Minister?

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —I believe that the member for McMillan went on for far too long. I might say that House of Representatives Practice says that, while short introductions are tolerated, as a general rule the use of prefaces is to be avoided. I believed—

Mr Zahra —This is disgraceful.

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —I warn the member for McMillan. I am prepared, in the interests of fairness, to allow the member for McMillan to say a little more to bring his question to a point.

Mr ZAHRA —Thank you, Mr Acting Speaker. Minister, if your criterion for providing needy regions with structural adjustment grants is high unemployment, when will the struggling families in the Latrobe Valley be getting their $4 million?

Mr ANDERSON (Deputy Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for his question. I note that, in his own figures, he reflected quite accurately that unemployment levels in that region are still very unsatisfactorily high. They were about 19 per cent when we came to government. They are about 14 per cent now. That is not to deny that other regions of the country face some high levels of unemployment, but I do not think anyone could deny that the structural problems in that area are quite deep and severe. If you look at the ABS data on the lowest household incomes in the nation, you will find that they are in that electorate and the surrounding regions. There is a very plain and obvious need to seek to engender some new investment, some new business prospects, in that region. Councils there are actively trying to help themselves with proposals and ideas which need taking forward. We are seeking to establish whether or not this sort of process can help, and we make no apologies whatsoever for doing that.

The only other comment that I would make is that, of course, a good state government would help. From what we read in the newspapers, we thought the Victorian government was managing to preside over the most successful economy in the nation. When it comes to Queensland, just one simple thing: a decent regional forests agreement might have helped a great deal in that area. But, as usual, you had an attitude up there that just said, `We don't give a damn about jobs in rural and regional areas.' Investment in that industry has just been thrown to the winds by the state government.