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Wednesday, 26 November 2008
Page: 11628

Mr KATTER (11:59 AM) —The aspirations of the Australian people are incorporated in the nation’s national anthem, and that is true of most countries. Our national anthem says we have ‘golden soil and wealth for toil’.  In North Queensland, when people sing that part of the national anthem, a lot of people burst out laughing because if there is one thing in this country that is true it is that the soil is not available to create wealth, no matter how hard you work. It has been taken away from the Australian people and it is said that it will never be utilised. The water of Australia has been taken away. That part of the water that is being used is being taken away as well. I think the last government probably decided on a 50 per cent cutback on the Murray-Darling, which is about 60 per cent of our agricultural production, and the current government appears to be going down exactly the same pathway.

I would like to speak positively, not about what we are closing down but about what we are opening up. I would like to concentrate on that today because I have spoken on the shortcomings many times, but I cannot help but refer to aluminium and coal, as I do invariably, because this nation’s economy is being carried by them. Iron ore has had a spike, yes, but that spike has vanished. But, if you look at the last seven or eight years, I think it is a fair call that the nation’s economy has been carried by coal and aluminium. Those two industries were created in my lifetime—not only in my lifetime but in my political lifetime. I am pretty close to my 35th year as a member of parliament and I was a very, very young man when the state government in Queensland decided to create those industries.

You must remember that in 1957 this country was an importer of coal. Between 1957 and 1966 my own home state of Queensland became the biggest exporter of coal of any state on earth. So how did we move from the whole nation being an importer of coal to having one state alone being the biggest exporting state on earth? Very great men, the Thiess brothers, put all of their personal fortunes into it. I do not think they had much left in the till, even though they had built most of the Snowy, done most of the coalmining in New South Wales and built half of Queensland. They did not have much left in the till because all of their money went into proving that we had giant coal reserves, and giant hard coking coal reserves, in Queensland. Bludging off their work—and I use the term with aforethought, and I can give you the reference books—Utah came in and went north and south of the Thiess holdings. They drilled and they secured deposits as well.

So we had these huge deposits in the late 1950s, but we had no way of developing them. We had no railway line, we had no port and we had no coal loaders. So there was nothing that Thiess or Utah could do. At this stage George Ishimura, effectively from Utah, and, more importantly, Thiess had tied down the markets in Japan. But what was the catalyst, Mr Deputy Speaker Sidebottom? What was the catalyst?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr S Sidebottom)—I don’t know.

Mr KATTER —Well, you are going to have to be told. The catalyst was a decision by the state government, because the state government had been saying, ‘We are not going to build a railway line unless the mines are there to service that railway line.’ The potential miners, Thiess and Utah, were saying, ‘We can’t build a mine until you build a railway line.’ As one senior official in the Queensland government who will remain unnamed told me recently, ‘It’s the chicken and the egg, Bob,’ and that is exactly right.

The person who broke the egg and hatched the chicken was a very famous man, Joh Bjelke-Petersen. At Bjelke-Petersen’s funeral, the then Premier, in a very generous act, quite rightly attributed the coalmining industry of Queensland to Bjelke-Petersen. He included the tourism industry, but he should have included the aluminium industry as well because the Queensland government built the biggest power station in the world and, because they had negotiated coal for virtually nothing, they had the cheapest power in the world. But we built that power station without a single customer, we built the railway line without a single customer and we built the port without a single customer. So the Queensland government put out some $3,000 million dollars in their money terms—not in our money terms—to build three items of infrastructure for which there was not a single customer.

In the sharpest of contrasts, after some 25 years of economic rationalism architecture by Mr Keating and continued on by Mr Costello and, to a lesser extent, Mr Howard—those two dominating forces—and also the conventional wisdom in Australia created by journalists, the media, banks and all those other people who determine in which direction the country is going to travel, they decided that we would not do that any more, that we would not build infrastructure, that private enterprise would build infrastructure. Now we can see the results of our handiwork.

I represent the biggest mineral province on earth, producing some $13.4 thousand million worth of product each and every year. It cannot expand and in fact a number of its mines are under very serious threat because it has no land on which to build houses for employees. It has no land. That was one of the four major issues, I might add, at the Eureka Stockade—the government would not provide the miners, the owner-operators, with any land to build their houses upon. They had to somehow have a shack or a shed above the mine shaft. We have two towns that service this giant mining province, the biggest mining province on earth and arguably this nation’s greatest asset. One is carting their water in by train from Mount Isa, and Mount Isa is down to only 100 days of water.

This is not an area bereft of water. Cloncurry, my home town, every year on average has 400,000 megalitres flowing past it. All we want or need is 20,000 megalitres. This giant river has run every single year in white man’s history. I can say that because my family were amongst the first Europeans to get there. I can speak with authority because we have been living there for 110 years. Each and every year the river has run. The people of Australia want this to be done but the governments have decided that they will not even allow you to build a weir in that river.

Mr Deputy Speaker Sidebottom, I am sorry to tell you this, but you are a member of the Labor Party, which rules Queensland and now rules Australia. We have actual legislation on this in Northern Australia. I represent about half of Australia’s entire rainfall runoff. Half of the water of Australia is in the Kennedy electorate. For those looking quizzically at me I will give the figures. There is 134 million megalitres of runoff in the Gulf country and there is 80 million megalitres of runoff in the super wet belt, the rainforest where it rains all the time. That is on the coastal part. If you put those two together it is 214 million megalitres, and Australia only has a rainfall runoff of 304 million megalitres. Are you happy? Then I will continue.

We have a law in Queensland called the wild rivers legislation which says you are not allowed to touch any of the water, you are not allowed to take any of that water; the fish need it. But that surprises me because when I am down on the beach there seems to be an awful lot of water out there for the fish. You may say the water has got to flush every year. You can build all the dams you like, you can build four million dams up there, but our flooding, all of our rainfall, comes in three months. That flooding will never be stopped. It does not matter how many dams you want to build, they will never contain the giant floodwaters of North Queensland. I would very much doubt that it would be possible to ever harness more than about 15 per cent of those floodwaters. We do not have rivers that run like the Murray-Darling, we do not have running rivers; we have floods and we have dry river beds. We only have those two propositions. As the great Ernie Bridge, long-serving minister in the Western Australian government, said, ‘All we are asking of government is that our mighty rivers, on their long and great journeys to the sea, pay a small tribute to those people living along their banks.’

Let me now be very specific. Not only does the area I represent have no land to build houses on, so we cannot get workers—we have to fly them in at absolutely disastrous expense—but we also have no water. It is being carted into one place and the other place is on 100 days, that is all that is left in the dam. We also do not have any electricity. We had a minerals conference last week and Steve de Kruijff, the head of Mount Isa Mines’ copper division, quoted the figures that we have 350 megawatts of generating capacity and we have over 300 megawatts of demand. That is a very near run thing in itself, but because of the new mines coming on stream and the increase in population, we will be in very serious trouble to meet our electricity demands within two years. But of course all of the potential new mines cannot open up because they have no power, unless they want to build diesel power stations. The cost there is about $200 a megawatt versus $35 a megawatt on the grid. They would be enormously non-competitive with their international competitors in the marketplace.

Finally, we have no rail capacity. The railways had informed any potential new miners that there is no rail capacity. Curiously, in Australia we tear up infrastructure; we tear it down. There is a weir in the Cloncurry River and it is broken. It was, by determination of the government, left broken. We pulled up the railway line to Kajabbi, which Dugald River and the mining leases at Mount Roseby desperately need. Joe Gutnick and his Legend phosphate proposal want to move eight million tonnes. If that is processed in Australia, as we hope it will be, that is worth $10,000 million, just that one mine, to the Australian economy. They have been informed by the railways there is no railway capacity. The previous speaker, the member for Leichhardt, God bless him, told us how wonderful the government was and that they were doing all of these things. Unfortunately, Mr Deputy Speaker, you did not allow my interjection to be taken, but I pointed out that the current government are not doing anything. They say they are intending to do it. Mr Deputy Speaker, you had better start moving because one-third of your life has gone and you have done absolutely nothing.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —No, the chair has not. You are making directions through me, so please—

Mr KATTER —Mr Deputy Speaker, I did not even remotely refer to yourself, and I would be deeply offended if I thought for one moment you took it in any way personally.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Grievously!

Mr KATTER —I must emphasise that my remarks apply far more to the last government, who were there for 12 years and left us with this situation, where not a single cent was spent on infrastructure. They were not short of money; they found $660 million to build a railway line from nowhere to nowhere. I do not mean to be disrespectful to the Adelaide people and the Darwin people, but it is nowhere to nowhere through the biggest desert on earth. I said, ‘Why did we do that?’ A number of Liberal members explained to me that I did not understand that it saved demurrage. I said, ‘There are no exports going out of Adelaide or Darwin.’ They said, ‘Yes, but it is imports.’ ‘How stupid of me. I hadn’t realised that we were subsidising imports.’ But nobody laughed; they did not catch the joke at all. Yes, we spent $660 million so that the Liberal Party could buy their way through the South Australian elections. That is where the $660 million went. If you want to come to my electorate, you can see how they spent some $300 million in handouts to try and get rid of me the election before last. I just say thank you. Some of them possibly should be looking at some jail time, but I simply say thank you.

I want to be very specific. Dr Bradfield, one of the greatest men in Australian history, is a man we have chosen to name an electorate after. He built the Sydney underground railway system. He built the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Story Bridge in Brisbane. He built the University of Queensland. He built a number of the major dams in New South Wales. In fact, there were not a lot of things that were not built by JC Bradfield. He conceived the scheme to take a little tiny bit of the giant floodwaters in the super wet belt where we get drowned every year by the floods that occur. I am not saying we can solve the flood problem, but we will alleviate a tiny bit. We could bring a little bit of that water back on the great inland plain of Queensland.

The greenies fascinate me because they are people who must have studied to achieve the level of ignorance they have achieved. You would have to study to achieve that level: ‘The tiny patina of topsoil in Australia will be threatened by farming.’ The tiny patina of topsoil in my electorate is about a thousand feet deep. They say, ‘You will get salination.’ I doubt it is going to happen in my area, because our watertable is a thousand feet deep. I do not think any watertable can rise a thousand feet. It slopes towards the Gulf of Carpentaria as well. How incredibly stupid. ‘We must preserve the native flora and fauna.’ Six million hectares, an area as big as your home state, Mr Deputy Speaker Sidebottom, have vanished under the prickly acacia tree, which has destroyed all flora and fauna. Do we hear any whinges from the greenies? No. They would not be able to spell Acacia nilotica tree, let alone understand those things. But if you dug a trench and you filled Lake Eyre up with water, which would cost you about $1,200 million, not a lot of money, you would make $4,000 million a year in the salt reduction from one-tenth of that area. What a magnificent asset for this country.

We are in a financial crisis, and in America during the Great Depression they built the Tennessee Valley Authority project. Somebody should study that. If ever there was a great project in the history of the world it was that project. We do similar things in the Snowy. But unfortunately Mr Chifley, Mr Curtin and Mr Theodore were not listened to; in fact, they were voted out of office when they said that in a recession government should borrow money and spend on major public works. This government has taken the money in but there has been no spending on major public works. The biggest mineral province on earth is starved of land, of water, of rail capacity and of electricity. But if you build the Bradfield scheme and you build the ancillary water schemes in North Queensland, just three of them, then you have $14,000 million worth of ethanol production which will solve your CO2 problem because it is coming from sugarcane. There is $14,000 million for the Australian economy. The Alligator and Daley, the Ord and Fitzroy—there is another $7,000 million. We can grow all of Australia’s petrol in northern Australia just by taking a minuscule five per cent of the land and seven per cent of the water.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I call the member for Makin. I think the railway that the previous speaker was referring to begins around there, doesn’t it?