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Wednesday, 20 October 2010
Page: 1018

Mr EWEN JONES (7:50 PM) —In 2007, when Kevin Rudd led the Labor Party to power, the outgoing coalition government left them $762 million in housing funding for our first Australians. Those first Australians include the community of Palm Island in my electorate of Herbert. The coalition’s Minister for Aboriginal and Islander Affairs, Mal Brough, had released a plan for an estate of 46 houses on this island. The island community was looking forward to this much-needed housing. We are now in October 2010, three years on from Labor’s hollow words, and I would like to inform the House on the progress on this housing project. Let us see. You carry the one, add up the next column, bring it all down and what do you get? You get zero. Not one of these 46 houses has been built.

There have been four temporary structures placed on the island. These homes are in kit form and are not much bigger than an average sized garden shed. They have been plumbed and erected on steel posts, with the veranda resting on the neighbour’s fence line in one case. The cost of these ‘structures’—because you cannot call them homes—has been approximately $300,000 each. I can go to a local hardware store in Townsville and buy a three-bedroom kit home for $25,000, have it helicoptered to the island, import a master builder by hydrofoil and serve him cocktails while he puts the house together and I cannot get to $300,000 each.

The most disturbing part of this gross waste of money is that, although the island has its own electrician, four registered plumbers as well as a number of tradesmen and women, none were given any work on this job, not even the site clean afterwards. It all came from the mainland. No local labour was used to build these temporary dwellings. When is the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs going to release the desperately needed funding for permanent housing on Palm Island?

In my maiden speech, I referred to a consultant class of government and non-government people taking too much on the way through. Clearly, I was wrong. For that statement to have any veracity, some must, by definition, have made it through to the people in need. What the people of Palm Island need is a government that does what it says it is going to do—a government of action. During the election campaign, Labor trotted out the member for Griffith—in his new capacity as a backbencher—to Palm Island. He pranced around looking, for all intents and purposes, as though he was going to say or, shock horror, do something, but of course he did nothing. Still, nothing has happened for the people on this island. Despite promises, the minister certainly did not come anywhere near Palm Island. The people of Palm Island have, quite rightly, said that they do not want to talk about welfare; they want to talk about small business opportunities and jobs. I would like to suggest that the government stops sitting on its hands and actually creates opportunities for local residents to build their own lives through gainful employment.

Those opposite will have you believe that they are a party that believes in egalitarianism—that a child from Aurukun can become a High Court justice. He or she may be able to become a High Court judge but, under this government, he or she cannot even get a job building houses in their home town.

In conclusion, I ask the government to let us just get on with it. Palm Island residents are living in deplorable conditions, with up to 20 people to a house. On Palm Island there are licensed plumbers, licensed electricians, many local people with building and labouring experience. We could do anything and would get a better result than the one by which the government must stand shamed. Zero houses in three years is not that hard to beat.