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Tuesday, 23 October 2018
Page: 10858


Mr LAMING (Bowman) (19:16): A federalist nation as Australia is, we can often sit back, grab popcorn and watch the devious antics of the seven other states and territories. If you're a four-wheel drive owner, you don't have to go far past the Queensland government for a case study in complete incompetence. Four-wheel drive owners are passionate people. They're not hoons. They're family people. They love their vehicles. They love to raise and lift their vehicles within safe limits so that they can engage in the simple pleasures of enjoying the great Aussie outdoors. They travel all over the far corners of this great nation, which offers you incredible getaways, places you can take your family and allow your kids to explore the real Australia, and do it in a safe way. Nothing is more satisfying, I think, than going to the hardest-to-access far corners of this beautiful nation.

Four-wheel drive owners—Member for Flynn, sitting next to me—are not people who every day read The Sydney Morning Heraldor The Australian, or watch SkyNews. They are ordinary, everyday Australians who just want governments to stay out of their lives. They all understand that there's a role for government; of course there is. There's a role for federal government in monitoring quality and standards for imported new vehicles—beyond that national code of practice, an arrangement for state codes of practice for vehicles once they're registered and, at that point, we allow states to take over.

But, of course, common sense allows in a federated arrangement working groups that involve each of the states and territories in the Commonwealth in how we continue to regulate vehicles on and off our roads. It was all a pretty sleepy sector until about 12 months ago, when, somewhere deep inside Queensland's department of main roads, someone decided to start a solo flight—that's right, a crackdown on lifted four-wheel drives. Now, it may well have been an incredibly tragic four-wheel drive accident where an investigation found that there were a multitude of possible causes, including driver error, unfamiliar terrain, youth and inexperience, potentially alcohol and also a raised vehicle. At what point do we say levels of lifting are safe or unsafe?

It is an incredibly complicated area. There are, of course, experts around much of Australia—engineers permanently focused on this issue of modification plates stating that a lift is safe. It's not simple. It's not just a matter of saying that mark X lifted this far and these tyres are safe. It's very, very hard to make that assumption. But most states maintain a panel of engineers who do that complicated job, because every person buys a different mark, a different model, a different variation, with different racks on the roof and different lifts, different variations and weight distributions.

To work out if it is safe, there are many ways of getting around it. But what we know in Queensland is that it is completely impractical in this great state, which is the mecca for four-wheel driving in Australia for both locals and tourists, to send your vehicle down to rural Victoria and spend nearly $20,000 on testing. That $20,000 investment in your vehicle involves taking off the front and rear bumpers, putting seated robots inside, doing swerve tests, using cameras. It's not a simple process. It's ridiculous to expect the average Australian to have to go through that testing procedure.

Most states and territories will accept an engineer's report, and that can involve a more simplified swerve test together with an arrangement of data that's available to engineers, not to politicians. But Queensland decided that that just wasn't good enough. So what we know is that last year, in around November, the Department of Transport and Main Roads started to get a bee in their bonnet about lifted four-wheel drives, and we really don't know why. They decided that they were going to increase the pressure on those who had already lifted their vehicles and set a hard stop at 50 millimetres. That meant that if you had already lifted your suspension, as is legal around the country, and put a new set of tyres on that put you to 75 millimetres then suddenly that was unacceptable. I need to make the point that, unlike someone who says that the speed limit is changing, when you change the lift limits, everyone has to spend hundreds of dollars remodifying. This was a tragic set of circumstances because no other state or territory was even slightly seduced into such a ridiculous operation, as they called it in Queensland.

And then we had the drag nets. Police were picking up four-wheel drives the minute they left your electorate, Deputy Speaker, and drove into electorates like the Gold Coast. No sooner would you be there than you were pulled over by the police and given a ticket that would never be issued in any other corner of Australia except Queensland in a drag net that was effectively ticked off by a department minister in a Labor government telling his police colleague to go ahead with Operation Lift. It wasn't even that simple, because four-wheel drive groups all around the country had been begging, pleading, engaging with the Queensland government to say, 'What do we have to give you to satisfy you with what the rest of the world is doing and every other state and territory, is okay?'

This wasn't a government that needed to kick the hornet's nest, but no matter how hard we tried, they were led like a fly to a light to take on this issue, and sure enough, in early September, Operation Lift began. But it wasn't without warning. It wasn't without repeated efforts by the AAAA, the After Market Association of Australia, to meet with the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads, but no progress. The more they met with them, the angrier the departmental officials got and then, when they had the temerity to write to their own minister from those organisations, that's where the department went absolutely rogue. The communications stopped, and we had Operation Lift a week later after a commitment was given to talk. A commitment had been given to exchange data, and this was something that could have been resolved far more simply than it was. Operation Lift now is history because, after a two-week campaign that I was integrally involved in along with a number of state MPs raising this issue—we went to four-wheel drive expos and had one million Facebook hits on the AAAA Facebook page and 800,000 reach on my own small and humble page—we got a complete and utter backflip from the state minister.

You will clean up once for a minister, but the following time, normally, they have to wear it. This is about the fifth time that Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has had to airlift Mark Bailey out of the red zone and protect him from himself. It happened again in the last sitting week, where this guy ignominiously rolled into question time and gave a statement where he managed to, very cleverly, blame the Commonwealth. I mean, the Commonwealth regulates the importation of new vehicles and that's it. The minute a vehicle is registered to be on the road, it becomes a state code of practice, but he managed to blame the Commonwealth.

What we now know is that Queensland was down nickel-and-dime in Victoria to try to entice them to do the same thing. There are two types of bad governments in the country. There are governments who do know better—bad ones like Victoria—and there are bad governments who simply don't know any better and that's Queensland Labor. Queensland was down there trying to get Victoria on side and they couldn't even get them over the line for this crackdown on the four-wheel drive owners because there's no evidence, is there? So, believe it or not, it's only Queensland that is stupid enough to persist.

They've now said in a speech in parliament that we will now go back to the old 50 plus 25 limits, which are legal around the rest of the country, for vehicles with electronic stability control, ESC. And for those who don't have ESC, primarily before 2012, the limit is actually 150. In that same speech, the minister said we will also move back to 150, only to have the department come out later and say, 'The minister said that, and you can go to 150 but you've got to go and pay the $17,000 for your vehicle to be individually tested.' Completely ridiculous. So the minister was speaking out of one side of his mouth to save his political career and then using the department to go out and do the rest.

It reminds me of Steven Miles, the health minister up in that same state of Queensland, when they decided to tear down the name of Lady Cilento in the most humiliating and embarrassing way, removing that great woman's name from the children's hospital on the pretext that people didn't know it was a public hospital because it had a lady's name on it. Five kilometres away is the Princess Alexandra Hospital. They don't have any problem with that. That's a public hospital. They spent half a million dollars to do it and, for good measure, reduced funding to that hospital by 10 per cent while the Commonwealth tops up their funding by 10 per cent to keep that kids' hospital's doors open.

In this absolutely heinous crime that they've committed against our Queensland kids' hospital it was the same pattern. Do you think it was the minister who came out and phoned the Cilento family to tell them of their decision? No, no; they used a departmental official to make a phone call to the Cilento family—too gutless to make that call. They were happy to spend half a million on it, happy to make the decision that ripped the name off the hospital but too gutless to pick the phone up.

Back here on the four-wheel-drive issue you've got exactly the same circumstance: too gutless to actually give the true conditions in that speech. We've got Mark Bailey as the transport minister up there who then used the department to say what he actually said there doesn't count at all. We don't stand behind the words of the minister, because we've always got some fine print. There's always a little asterisk in what the Queensland Labor does. I've said there are governments that should know better and there are governments that simply don't.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Hogan ): There being no further grievances, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.