Ms BUTLER: My question is to the Minister for Resources and Water. Does the minister support the development of a domestic nuclear power industry fuelled by Australian resources and cooled by our scarce water reserves?
Mr PITT: I thank the honourable member for that question. As the honourable member knows, there is already a nuclear industry in Australia; it’s at Lucas Heights. We already have a nuclear reactor in Australia producing very important medical technologies for all Australians. As the member knows—and those opposite should do their research—I was a supplementary member of a committee; I couldn’t even vote on the report that was put forward—
The SPEAKER: The Leader of the Opposition on a point of order?
Mr Albanese: The question went to the domestic nuclear power industry.
The SPEAKER: I will just say to the minister that he’s entitled to a preamble, and he’s not yet 30 seconds in, but the time for that preamble’s rapidly coming to an end.
Mr PITT:As I was saying—
The SPEAKER: No, that’s a ruling. You can note it and act on it, I think is the most important thing.
Mr PITT: As I will. The opposition knows the government’s position. There is a moratorium on nuclear energy in this country. I was a member of a backbench committee which made recommendations. Those recommendations have gone to the shareholding minister, Minister Taylor, and the government will respond to them in due course.
Mr PITT: Lives have been lost across the country, as the previous speaker has said. Some 11 million hectares have been destroyed by fire. Individuals have lost businesses and livelihoods. They have lost all of their property, all of their holdings, many of their stock—many animals across the country have been affected or killed. There is no doubt that this has been a tragic and difficult fire season, and it is not finished yet.
I know my colleagues have been far more affected than my electorate. We have had some fires, one in particular at the little beachside community of Woodgate. There but for the grace of God—and the Rural Fire Service—go I. They have done a fantastic job right across this nation, and I can only thank them. What more can we do but put forward our words of thanks for the people who volunteer their time, put forward themselves for risk, and fight these fires which are very difficult to fight.
But what we must also look forward to are the challenges of making change. Because fundamentally—and this has been brought to my office now for many years—we must in this country allow landowners to manage their land, not continue to override their needs with bureaucracy. The idea in Queensland that you can only clear a firebreak from your property or structure, of just 20 metres, without a development approval—this is absolutely ridiculous. These are individuals who have their own staff, massive landholdings and heaps of equipment, and they have always managed their own land. This has been a complaint that I have continued to hear not only from them but from my colleagues in terribly affected areas.
The national broadcaster reported on 8 January 2020 that in Queensland, in terms of the fire hazard reduction program, in 2016 the state had planned 242 burns and completed 122. In 2017 they’d planned 225 burns and completed 131. In 2018, 177 were planned and 69 completed, and in 2019, 168 were planned and 117 burns were completed. Now, anyone who is involved with land management or fire knows that you cannot always get the perfect conditions on the day that you choose. The weather makes up its own mind. But what we have heard consistently over and over and over from our firefighters, from our volunteers and from our landowners is: give us back control of how we manage our land. I’ve got some examples here that I want to put on the record.
As I said, in the township of Woodgate the fire closed the road for approximately two days. I went down and spoke to the individuals who were parked on the side of the road who were separated from their loved ones, and these were challenging circumstances—a father whose wife was still at Woodgate and couldn’t get out; individuals who had elderly parents on one side of the fire break and they were on the other. These were very, very difficult times, and the Woodgate Rural Fire Brigade were single-handedly awarded the volunteer organisation of the year by the Woodgate community on Australia Day. Can I say, there are no more deserving recipients. Many of them are retired, and they spent literally days fighting this fire.
I want to go to another report by the national broadcaster where they interviewed volunteer firefighter and farmer Roger Draper. Roger said that the new regulations in Queensland had had a major impact on how they tackled the Walkers Point blaze. Walkers Point is a small community at Woodgate—it is in the same location and was the same fire. He said:
All the new rules mean the firies have to sit on the break and wait for the main front to come to them before they can put it out.
Mr Deputy Speaker Zimmerman, I’m not sure what your experience is in fighting fires, but when there’s a 40-kilometre-per-hour wind up the backside of these things and it’s 60-, 80- or 100-feet high, that is incredibly risky and incredibly brave.
In the remainder of the report, Mr Draper said:
… that fire eventually jumped into the council area, and because we could not back-burn that Wednesday evening it created another two days of extra work to stop the fire on the western end.
We have to give local control back to the individuals who are on the ground. These are fast-moving situations. Certainly there is always a need for oversight, but as a former canefarmer—and many canefarmers used to burn an awful lot of their product every single year—I can say that there are particular periods when you get a small gap to do something substantial. These individuals waited 2½ hours for an approval to back-burn to defend the Woodgate community. This fire would have basically been controlled if they were allowed—and in their view they were stopped from doing just that.
My community has been very fortunate to date. I’m advised it’s raining there right now, and I hope that continues. But we live in a nation of extremes. This has been a tragic fire season, and we need to put forward practical responses that actually make a difference. Regardless of what level of government is responsible, we need to get our heads down, get our heads together and deliver for the people we represent, because they are the ones who lose their lives and their properties, and there are all those other issues associated with natural disasters. Thank you.
Mr PITT: Many in this chamber may have got an email from a mob that call themselves Extinction Rebellion. Some anonymous numpty has taken it upon themselves to send us an email full of blackmail and threats saying they will close down our path to the airport. Well, I have a couple of suggestions. Firstly, stay at school and learn punctuation. They are out there and may want to glue or chain themselves to something. Well, here are some more suggestions. Get yourself down to your local volunteer fire brigade and chain yourself to a fire hose. Stand up with those individuals who show courage and are out there protecting life and property. Chain yourself to a chipper, a rake or a shovel. I know these might be new concepts to you, but there are individuals there who can explain how to use these pieces of equipment in the right way. They will lend you a set of gloves. I say to those from Extinction Rebellion, who are allegedly out to disrupt and cause problems: how about you pick up some courage and bravery and stand with those individuals who are out there defending life and property right across this country. Volunteer your time for an actual purpose. Make sure you get yourself out, line up, link arms in a firebreak with every single one of these individuals who are, in the most, seniors and retirees, who’ve taken up their spare time to go and fight fires. Learn some courage, stand against an 80-foot wall of flame with a 40-knot wind behind it and see how you go. Tying yourself on the road and gluing yourself to the bitumen is no way to help this country. Here is an opportunity for you.
Second reading – Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management to Cashless Debit Card Transition) Bill 2019
Mr PITT: I once again find myself on my feet speaking after the member for Barton, the shadow minister, on the cashless debit card. I once again publicly invite the member for Barton, the shadow minister, to my electorate of Hinkler to come up and talk to trial participants, talk to our individuals who are out there on the front line providing services for those in need, talk to our law enforcement agents, talk to real estate agents and talk to individuals who are actually in the community and have ties, not to those social activists who are on Facebook and those individuals who don’t live there. Come and see the real people who are actually affected by the card, who are participating, and see what the real results are on the ground.
In terms of consultation, I say again to the member for Barton: what more do you want? I will speak in detail later about what we’ve already done, but if you want more consultation then please be specific. Tell us what it is that you want us to do. To my mind and to my view, we’ve done extensive levels of consultation throughout the electorate, and I’ll outline those as the speech progresses.
The University of South Australia has been engaged to assess the outcomes and results of the cashless debit card trial in Hinkler. My understanding is they are out there and they’ve put together their baseline data. That is very near to being released. That will give us something to work on which is consistent, identifiable and verifiable. The University of South Australia is an organisation well-recognised for doing this type of work.
We find that those in the other place have magically discovered the benefits of my electorate. In Bundaberg and Hervey Bay we’ve had more visits by those opposite in recent weeks than I have seen in the past couple of terms. A senator in the other place, Senator Chisholm, has magically discovered the joys of Hervey Bay and Bundaberg. I hope that he spent plenty of money while he was there. I note that he had a meeting in Hervey Bay with regard to the cashless debit card. From what I’ve seen of the pictures, I don’t know that there was a single participant at the meeting. I’m not sure that there was a single frontline service provider. There were a handful of individuals who looked like they don’t even belong in the electorate; they’re not affected. If you want to consult with those individuals, call my office and we will put it together. We will put you with people who are actually on the card, who are participants who work there. Don’t just roll up and think this is simply a media opportunity for you to move on with.
To the Facebook activists: once again, come up and talk to the participants. It’s no good putting on social media things that frighten individuals, particularly if you’re based out of Sydney.
The Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management to Cashless Debit Card Transition) Bill 2019 extends the date for existing CDC trial areas from 30 June 2020 to 30 June 2021. It gives an end date of 31 December 2021 for the CDC trial in Cape York. It removes the cap on the number of trial participants. It removes the exclusion to allow people in the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay trial area to be able to voluntarily participate in the CDC trial. I will say that again for those social media activists who are out there frightening individuals: they can volunteer. This is not forced upon those individuals. They can volunteer—for those outside of the trial participants in the Hinkler electorate. It establishes the Northern Territory and Cape York areas as CDC trial areas and transitions income management participants in those sites onto the CDC trial. It enables the secretary to advise a community body when a person has exited the trial and improves the workability of the evaluation process.
I want to focus on a couple of points in the bill, the main one being the ability to volunteer. We have people out there, particularly on Facebook and other social media platforms, who are trying to scare my local people. Whether they are pensioners, whether they are veterans or whether they are on a disability support pension they will not be forced onto the trial. Those individuals who are doing this should stop doing it in the Hinkler trial area. It is wrong and it is inappropriate. You are simply scaring those individuals who are vulnerable. This is a voluntary provision for those in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. We will also see those 23,000 individuals in the Northern Territory and Cape York transition from income management to the card from April 2020.
This has been, without doubt, a long and difficult process in terms of the implementation of the trial and the rollout in the first instance. The electorate was announced as the fourth region for the CDC—the cashless debit card—trial. Here are some of the stats and some of the reasons. What we’ve discovered is that 90 per cent of individuals under 30 and on welfare had a parent who was also on welfare during the past 15 years. The majority of those were on welfare for at least nine of those 15 years, and, without intervention, the projection was that 57 per cent of those under 30 on welfare would still be on income support in 10 years time. So the real question is: do you want to do something? What happens is those opposite quite simply don’t want to do anything. I can understand them being ideologically opposed. There is no doubt that that is usually the position for those on the other side. But my community actually wants action. They want change. They want our community to improve. They want opportunities for our youth. They don’t want to see these types of statistics into the future.
The cashless debit card is a tough but necessary policy, and my community wants change. Doing nothing is not an option. It works like any other debit card. People can pay their rent, their bills, their groceries. The anecdotal feedback from local organisations has been very, very positive: improvements in the rent roll; shopkeepers who are seeing people buy groceries and other types of foodstuffs—people they’ve never seen do that before. All of these services are available through this new technology. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: the cashless debit card is by no means a silver bullet. It does not hold all of the answers for all communities. It is a complex situation, but we are actually taking action, as doing nothing will never be an option. We hope the card will provide more stability for families and/or those jobseekers with the restrictions on welfare payments for alcohol, gambling or illicit substances.
We had Minister Ruston in the Hinkler electorate in August, and this is some of the feedback that we received at the time. We had individuals actually ask to go on to the card. This amendment allows that to happen. That legislation is now before the House. People are able to budget better. They have money left over at the end of the fortnight. They have some savings. One of the emergency relief organisations in Hervey Bay reported a reduction in people coming in for their free food service. I will quote from the transcript from the 7.30 program on the CDC. It is anecdotal evidence, but we are doing the reviews and we do have the University of South Australia doing the work for us to identify how it works. Jan Carlson, from We Care 2, said on the program:
We have noticed since about July a significant decrease in the number of people coming in for free food through the emergency relief program and an increase, almost parallel in numbers, to the people coming through our low cost food centre and actually purchasing food.
The journalist, Peter McCutcheon, asked:
Do you think that can be attributed to the cashless debit card?
Ms Carlson replied:
Well, I can’t say unequivocally but it’s a trend that we have never seen before. We have never had that, we usually would get in three days we would get at least 30, maybe 36 people through emergency relief previously. Now we’re probably seeing 12 a week.
The CDC started rolling out on 29 January 2019 across Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. It includes the townships of
Aldershot, Bargara, Elliot Heads, Woodgate, Branyan, Booyal, Burrum Heads, Torbanlea, Toogoom, Howard, Childers, Burnett Heads, River Heads and Point Vernon. On 9 August 2019, we had 5,764 participants aged 35 years and under who are on Newstart, youth allowance jobseeker, parenting payment single or parenting payment partnered who have received the card. I will say that again: 5,764 individuals in the trial site for Hinkler.
This card looks and operates like any other regular EFTPOS card. It quite simply does. Obviously, 80 per cent is quarantined. It can’t be used for the purchase of alcohol or gambling products, and, of course, the restriction on cash means a reduction in the purchase of illicit substances. The formal evaluation was undertaken by those researchers from the University of Adelaide’s Future of Employment and Skills research centre, as I’ve said. Consultation gets raised regularly by those opposite, and I say again: what more do you want us to do? Between May 2017 and December 2017, the Department of Social Services conducted over 188 meetings in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. This included five meetings with Commonwealth government agencies, 19 with community members, three meetings with community reference groups, two large community meetings with the public, 25 meetings with local government reps, four meetings with peak bodies, and 55 meetings with service providers. My office contacted 32,000 constituents to get an indication of their views before the trial was even put forward. That is a very large proportion of an electorate of about 107,000 voters. We sent 32,000 individuals direct mail. We phone polled about 500 people. We sent an additional 5½ thousand direct emails. We had calls in and out of the electorate. The feedback we got showed 75 per cent were not against the trial or the rollout. That was the feedback to my office from that type of polling and that type of work. In May of 2018, the local newspaper, the NewsMail and the Fraser Coast Chronicle engaged ReachTEL to do a poll. Everyone in this place understands polling and how it works, particularly through organisations like ReachTEL.
An opposition member interjecting—
Mr PITT: I note the interjection from those opposite, who think the polling from the last election might have been inaccurate but we have had a very large poll since—the election. The ReachTEL poll showed that the overwhelming majority of people in the Hinkler electorate are not against the card. Just 27.8 per cent of those polled were opposed. There were 637 residents across the electorate polled. It is a good sized sample, it is a good indication that it is strongly supported in the community. I say again to those opposite: this is about actually doing something. It is not a silver bullet, it will not fix all problems but it is a big improvement on doing nothing.
My community wants change. They want action. We are doing this. We are taking that action and we are looking forward to the results of the trial. Quite simply, this has been a tough but necessary policy. There are people who have been inconvenienced—there is no doubt about that. It is inconvenient in places but, once again, I say to those opposite: you are welcome to come up. We will help you coordinate and meet these individuals. We will put you into the community with those who actually do these services, who are working every single day with individuals in my community who find themselves in very difficult circumstances. So please take that opportunity and come up to the Hinkler trial site. It is the purpose of a trial—that is why we run a trial—to establish the baseline, to establish the results, to establish whether it works, and the anecdotal evidence to date has been very positive from the community.
To all those individuals in my electorate who are listening who are on the CDC trial: if you have an issue, if you have a challenge with the card, if you find a fundamental technical problem, there are shopfronts in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay that can help you. You can go online; you can use the website. There is any number of ways to get help. The way you don’t get help is to go to a social media activist, post it on their Facebook page and tell them what you think may or may not have happened; that will not help you. I will say to all of those activists again: you are helping no-one by encouraging individuals to come to you so you can post something on social media. That doesn’t help a single person. Those shopfronts are active and their services are available.
In conclusion, and in my support of the original social security bill, there are just under 6,000 participants. If all of the challenges that the social media activists put forward are actually happening, I would have a queue of 1,000 people around the corner from my office. I do not. Individuals in that bracket, under 35, quite simply do not use a lot of cash. They use a debit card just like the cashless debit card. I fully support the amendments and the trial, and we look forward to the results. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr PITT: Can I acknowledge the contribution of the member for Blaxland, which is incredibly important to all Australians. It is a fantastic message that I hope they all heed, and I wish him well in his recovery.
But back to the issue of the day. The 12 days of Christmas approach, and for those people I represent in Hinkler, the things that we need for those 12 days are the ones we need from the Labor state government—Premier Palaszczuk’s government in Queensland. At No. 1 we have the Paradise Dam, and all we ask for is transparency. Tell us what is wrong with the dam and what you plan to do about it other than send 105,000 million litres of stored water down the river—105,000 megalitres in a drought. Gift wrap that one for us.
No. 2 is the Hinkler regional deal. Sign up and put that one in our stocking. There is just a lousy $9 million on the table right now from the state Labor government. We certainly need more. No. 3 is to build a multiuse conveyor at the Bundaberg port. It is 100 per cent federally funded. All you have to do it build it. No. 4 is the demaining of Quay Street in Bundaberg. The federal government has $32 million on the table; the state government, zero. We need Annastacia Palaszczuk to step up and start to put some things in the Christmas stockings of the people I represent.
At No. 5 is a $750,000 prefeasibility study for the port of Bundaberg. It is a look at whether an outer harbour is feasible, at the potential for larger ships to use the port and at more use of our local port, because it is the port of Bundaberg which will help drive our local economy into the future. At No. 6 we have the Urraween Road extension. Federally, we’ve committed $7.7 million and the local council has put up $7.7 million, but Premier Palaszczuk and the Queensland Labor government, once again, have put in zero. They have put not a single dollar towards the road extension, which is an important extension for the people of Hervey Bay. No. 7 is the level 5 hospital in Bundaberg. It’s been talked about, talked about and talked about. Planning has commenced—I have to say that that’s a positive—but we are yet to see an announcement on a location or a commitment of funding. This is a level 5 training hospital for the people of this region. It could help to service up to 300,000 individuals in Central Queensland. There are very few more important projects than this one.
Vegetation laws I know are close to your heart, Mr Speaker, and come in at No. 8. In Queensland at the moment we just want common sense on bushfires. The Queensland Labor government has put in place vegetation laws which mean you can only clear 20 metres—just 20 metres—from a structure without a development approval. That is 10 metres on either side of a fence. Mr Speaker, I know that you know that if you’re standing in front of a 60-foot raging inferno with a 30-knot wind up its backside you’re not stopping it with a garden hose. So we say to those in power in Queensland: ‘Just do something that matters.’ These laws would have been introduced across the country if those opposite had been elected in May 2019. We need to back-burn. It is the way we have managed these risks for a very long period of time. Let’s bring some sense back to the debate.
At No. 9 we have cheaper electricity. I couldn’t count how many times I’ve called for this in this place. In regional Queensland there is one provider, the Queensland state government. They own 70 per cent of the generators, they own all of the transmission and they own all of the distribution. Our local farmers and consumers are desperate for relief. They simply can’t pay any more. Cheaper electricity is certainly on our list. At No. 10 is a power upgrade for the state controlled port of Bundaberg. We’re doing everything we can to expand the port, but it is limited in capacity. We need an electrical upgrade. Once again, it’s all owned by the state. It’s a state owned port and there is state owned responsibility for power. No. 11 is water infrastructure. The Labor member for Maryborough has admitted that funding might have been spent on water storage, but he used it on other projects in his electorate. The Queensland state Labor government will take any opportunity to not build water infrastructure for the people I represent. I say to them once again: ‘Get on board and build what is necessary. We need to improve water reliability in our region.’ We can pop that one on our Christmas card. At No. 12, on the 12th day of Christmas, Premier Palaszczuk gave to me a partridge in a pear tree, because I think that’s probably just as likely as them delivering on the other things that I’ve called for in this House today.
The Queensland Labor government are broke. We’ve just had to prop them up with nearly $700 million of additional infrastructure funding because they cannot get Queensland moving. I say to the Premier of Queensland, Annastacia Palaszczuk: don’t be the Grinch this Christmas for the people in my electorate. We do like coal up our way, but we don’t want to see it in our stockings. There is an opportunity for Premier Palaszczuk and the Queensland Labor government, once and only once, to do the right thing. You’ve never done it before. Now’s your opportunity. Deliver what we need for our economy.
Mr PITT: First and foremost I agree with some of the most recent comments from the previous member. I’ve described them this way before and I’ll do it again: unions are a necessary evil, just like banks. They do play a role. They are an important part of what happens in the industrial relations system, just as employer organisations are. Over a long period of time they’ve genuinely done some good things. I was here for the contribution from the member for Watson, and I genuinely like the member for Watson. It’s rare that I’ll stand here and give advice, but I’ll give him some advice on this: be very careful about politicising fatalities in workplaces. I spent some time, when my hair wasn’t grey, as a principal inspector, and I know those individuals who are out there every single day, every week, every month and every year, getting called to workplaces to investigate incidents where people have been very seriously injured or lost their life. We in this place should all be incredibly cautious about how we look at these issues. Individuals around the country are distinctly affected.
This brings me to my next point. I know the individuals who do this type of work. They are ex-tradespeople, ex-engineers, ex-construction workers, ex-nurses, ex-union officials—it doesn’t really matter. They are doing an incredibly difficult job at a time where those workplaces are in absolute crisis. They are not wilting wallflowers. These are individuals who go onto some pretty heavy-duty construction sites and deal with some roughnecks, I have to say, and they have done so for a long period of time. Yet on 30 January 2019 we saw a report in Queensland’s Courier-Mail that says:
The … Government’s own … inspectors are so fearful of “occupation violence” from unions and workers they are refusing to attend 17 construction sites across Queensland.
That is in no-one’s interest. These people are highly skilled at identifying challenges and problems and ensuring they are fixed. So, regardless of what we are doing here in this debate, we need to ensure that those individuals can continue to do their job, and—I’d say to everyone in the chamber—that is what we need to be doing because this is about ensuring that no-one loses their life on a worksite. Once again, I will acknowledge the member for Cooper’s genuine work for the union movement and her absolute commitment over a long period of time. If we look at asbestos, and this seems to be the topic of the day, standards around asbestos—working with it, the removal of it, getting rid of it from workplaces—have genuinely improved over a long period of time with consultation between unions and employers, and we need to continue to do that.
I would say to those opposite, who are calling us out saying we don’t look after workers, that we’re not interested in workers and that we don’t do things for them, I will give you some examples. Mr Deputy Speaker Hogan, I know you were involved in this. You were interested and you certainly worked hard to make sure we had a solution to the exploitation of foreign workers, particularly in horticulture. We have a real problem with these issues across the country. But what happened? We on this side actually did something about it. We established Taskforce Cadena, a multijurisdictional task force which cracked down on those bad seeds in the industry, ensured there were prosecutions and protected workers. What did those opposite do? They had another inquiry. That’s what they did when they were in government, another inquiry with no real action.
When we are talking about looking after workers, the government are absolutely doing those things and we are acting in their interests. Labor, when last in government, cut the staff from Fair Work by 20 per cent. How does that ensure you have fair workplaces, can crack down on foreign worker exploitation and on individuals not being paid the correct wages and superannuation? Let’s face facts: that is absolutely what happens. If you don’t have that oversight, if you don’t have the enforcement, if you don’t have these inspectors, if you don’t do that work then individuals will take advantage of the system.
What we know is we are doing things for workers in this country. We are ensuring that workplaces are as safe as possible. We need to be very careful with our rhetoric in this place when we’re discussing those types of issues. We know what happens on the other side. We have a Labor Party now that are completely lost as to what they stand for. You only have to look at Deputy Premier Trad in Queensland, who went out, stood in front of a microphone and said to every single worker in the resources industry that they need to transition out of their job. The best thing we can do for any individual in this country is ensure they’re employed and that they have long-term jobs they’re committed to, that are highly skilled, well paid, and that go on until they are ready to retire. It’s how they pay for their families, it’s how they pay for their kids to go to school, it’s how they pay for their house and their needs, and we need to ensure that that continues. Those opposite are completely lost. They no longer stand for working people any more, and I think that is a great shame.
Mr PITT: It’s always a great pleasure to follow on from the member for Melbourne. I really think he’s missing the point because the point here is about getting the cost of electricity down for consumers and business. That is what matters to those individuals. It never ceases to amaze me that we have individuals like the member for Melbourne who think they’re design engineers for our electricity generators, our transmission networks, our distribution systems. I would suggest to the member for Melbourne: do you really want to be out there designing under-river tunnels? Do you want to design a high-rise building? How about a 200,000 tonne ship? Would you like to put your family across a bridge that you have designed? Yet we continue to have individuals in this place, like the member for Melbourne, who think they can design the most critical piece of infrastructure for this nation and its prosperity. I think they should take some advice, those individuals, from people who do this for a living. And I can tell you, I’m very happy to compare resumes with the member for Melbourne any time he is ready. The reality is even I wouldn’t put myself up as a transmission design engineer. It is an incredibly complex role that takes years and years, decades in fact, to achieve the point where you can design, develop and deliver that type of infrastructure network.
This big-stick legislation, the Treasury Laws Amendment (Prohibiting Energy Market Misconduct) Bill 2019, is about one and thing only—that is, getting electricity prices in this country down and taking action, particularly against gentailers, and, in one case, the Queensland Labor government, which is robbing consumers. It is taking margins that are astronomical. We only have to go to a report in Queensland’s TheCourier-Mail on 2 October 2019, which said: ‘State-owned energy companies poured $1.5 billion of profits into the state Labor government’s coffers last financial year but the dividend bonanza did not stop spiralling debt.’ This was a recommendation from the ACCC in its review. It was a recommendation particularly aimed at the Queensland Labor government, the gaming of the system and the wholesale generation system in the NEM. They have now produced a $1.5 billion profit from all of the networks and generating assets that they own.
I say again to the member for Melbourne: this is about getting down the price of energy for consumers, for seniors, for people who want to be in business, for those who might want to run a refrigeration plant like a butcher, for a foundry. I have any number of examples here from small business through to big business.
I met with Shane Roberts, the owner of Pacific Coffee in Bundaberg, earlier this year, along with Minister Angus Taylor. The top three costs for his business are now wages, commercial rent and electricity. He had to invest nearly $40,000 to change his air conditioning over to try to bring down that monthly bill, because it is completely out of hand.
There is a foundry in Bundaberg, Walkers, which has been in place for more than 130 years—130 years for a heavy industry in my region. Their electricity prices have more than doubled since 2008. Enio Troiani, the manager there, told us at the start of the year that their annual power bill will climb from $1 million to $1.7 million a year—$700,000. If anybody out there thinks that these types of business have $700,000 hidden away in their bottom line that they can throw at increasing electricity costs, they’ve got rocks in their heads. Walkers pay 28c a kilowatt hour for electricity. That is expected to rise to 48c from next year because of new demand tariffs from the Queensland Labor government. A free audit provided by the state government in Queensland failed to find a cheaper solution. Do you know what they suggested, Mr Deputy Speaker Andrews? They suggested Walkers get diesel generators—diesel generators to replace what has been an efficient, reliable network on the riverside, in the middle of town. This is what it has come to. What hypocrisy from the Queensland state Labor government! It is outrageous.
According to the Bundaberg Regional Irrigators Group, energy costs have increased steadily since 1985 but rose sharply between 2007 and 2015. Their research shows there was about an 80 per cent increase in those eight years alone. This is simply unsustainable. It is unsustainable.
I’d say to idealists like the member for Melbourne: get off your high horse and get out and talk to people who are not earning a large salary like the member and others in this House—the ones who struggle to pay their bill every single month or every single quarter because they simply cannot pay.
This bill is about ensuring we have something we can throw at those idealists and the Queensland Labor government if they do not want to play ball. If they don’t want to put down the price of energy for the people that we represent, we have the opportunity with big-stick legislation to make sure we bust up those energy companies and provide competition. It won’t be privatised; it’s more GOCs. In fact, it’s the exact position that Queensland used to have not that long ago. It’s the Queensland Labor government which has combined all those assets, taken away competition, driven up prices and continued to rob $1½ billion from consumers.
I say it again: this bill is about getting electricity prices down. It is tough but necessary legislation, and I absolutely commend Minister Angus Taylor for putting it forward. If the Labor Party are supporting it, I will certainly support what they are doing. This is critical for our nation. It is critical for business, moving forward. We have to ensure we maintain industry in this country, and industry needs to be competitive on energy prices.
Mr PITT: I rise to explain to the House what it is the coalition government has been delivering into my electorate of Hinkler in the last two terms in particular that I have been the member. For some context, I think I should explain to the House and to those who might be listening some of the challenges that we have seen in my electorate over a long period of time, how what we are doing is actually working, what we are delivering on the ground and the great results that we have seen, particularly in the last 12 months. First and foremost, my electorate of Hinkler is just under 4,000 square kilometres. It runs from Bundaberg to Hervey Bay. It includes what I consider to be God’s country—all the local villages, the seaside villages and the towns. There are lots of beaches, lots of wonderful places to go, visit and stay.
One of the chronic challenges we have had over a long period of time is high unemployment and in particular high levels of youth unemployment. We continue to address this through a range of programs, including the Hinkler Regional Deal and the cashless debit card—a tough but necessary policy. We do need to continue to do more to ensure that into the future those changes are long-term and they are systemic, particularly around our regional economy.
It is good news locally. Whilst we still have a number of challenges around what happens in our local region, particularly around the challenge of income, the per capita income for each individual—according to local government reports across the country—is the lowest of any area in regional Australia, or in Australia itself, at just approximately 32½ thousand dollars. We know that we have those challenges.
We know that between myself and yourself, Mr Deputy Speaker, we fight it out for the highest number of pensioners in each region. I think at the moment we hold the title. So whilst it’s a wonderful place to retire; it’s also a wonderful place to work, to live and to raise a family, but we need to ensure that those jobs into the future are provided.
The regional jobs and investment package which we have delivered has been substantial. It has meant that there has been private investment, particularly for someone like Bundaberg Brewed Drinks under the Regional Growth Fund. Macadamias Australia, which we inspected just last Friday, is an over a $20 million facility which will ensure more jobs into the local region. It includes an opportunity for tourism. The tourism piece, I think, is very, very strong in terms of future growth. We’re famous, of course, for Bundaberg Rum in Bundaberg. The Bundaberg Rum facility delivers some 80,000-plus visitors into our region.
I will defer, of course, to the member for Calare who is in the chamber, who I believe also has a contribution with regard to his electorate and what else is happening. Thank you.
Mr PITT: Today in the Queensland parliament history was made, and I have to say not in a good way, with the Queensland Labor Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, being forced to apologise for contempt of parliament. This is the first time a Queensland Premier has ever had to apologise to the parliament for contempt. I say to the Queensland Premier: ‘Don’t stop there. There is a long list of things that you should apologise for when it comes to the people of Queensland, and that starts with refusing to sign the Hinkler Regional Deal.’ The Hinkler Regional Deal is a deal which drives jobs into our local economy, which creates long-term change in economic growth, which delivers vital infrastructure for our region, my electorate and that Central Queensland area.
The things we are waiting for in the Hinkler Regional Deal include the federal government putting $32 million on the table for what’s known as the Quay Street bypass. This will allow the removal of heavy vehicles and commuter traffic from the area of Quay Street, which is in the middle of Bundaberg. We announced that on 1 April 2019. We have put up $10 million for a safety upgrade for the Buxton Road intersection on the Bruce Highway—a critical piece of infrastructure. As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker Hogan, we cannot deliver roads infrastructure unless the state comes on board. We have existing infrastructure agreements for the state contribution at the moment; they continue to refuse to participate for that particular road.
We have put $7.7 million on the table to extend Urraween Road through to Boundary Road in Hervey Bay, a project that has waited 20 years to come to fruition, and the state refuses to participate. In fact, we’ve actually funded some projects for state government owned corporations in full. We have delivered $10 million for a multi-use conveyor at the Port of Bundaberg, once again announced on 1 April 2019. Fortunately, the true premier of Queensland, ‘Premier’ Trad, has accepted that we’ll be able to deliver that money. They’re happy to administer a 100-per-cent funded program by the federal government and $750,000 for a pre-feasibility study for the Port of Bundaberg outer harbour. Mr Bailey, on 14 June, said they discovered some funds in their budget—I’m fairly confident they actually weren’t aware they were committed to the projects. But that does include the Torbanlea Pialba Road flood mitigation project, the Torbanlea Pialba Road; the Bargara Road-Princess Street upgrade; and what’s known as the Isis Highway overtaking lanes between Bundaberg and Childers. But, federally, we’ve committed $24 million for Torbanlea Pialba Road, $8 million for Bargara Road-Princess Street upgrade, $4 million for overtaking lanes, and we have just the 20 per cent contribution from the state.
No. 2 on the list is their dishonesty in regards to Paradise Dam. The Queensland Labor government are being absolutely shifty again. Their first announcement was political spin at its absolute worst: ‘Great news for drought stricken farmers: free water’. The fine print was pretty fine. What it said was they were releasing 110,000 megalitres from our state’s newest dam storage, and most of that, in my view, will run out to sea, because you simply cannot pick it up and put it on a farm storage that doesn’t exist, or use it on a crop when it’s not the right part of the cycle. Then, it was a safety issue of unspecified nature. If there is a safety issue with this dam, my community deserves to know. So I say, again, to Premier Palaszczuk: walk up to a camera, walk up to a microphone and tell my community what the problem is. They have stated, would you believe, that they’ll spend $100 million to take five metres off the dam wall and reduce its storage capacity by 85,000 megalitres permanently. That is an absolute kick in the guts for the people I represent, and it is a loss of wealth.
At No. 3: the true Premier, ‘Premier’ Trad, purchased a property at Woolloongabba, which is in close proximity to the Cross River Rail project that Ms Trad was overseeing. She was referred to the CCC in July by the opposition for failing to disclose the investment on the state parliament’s Register of Members’ Interests within the time limit. She then referred herself to the CCC, personally called the CCC chairman to discuss the matter, so the chairman had to recuse himself from the inquiry. Ms Trad has since sold that home, allegedly for the same price that it was purchased, $695,500.
At No. 4: just last week, state Labor MP Peter Russo, the member for Toohey, denied he had a conflict of interest in his law firm receiving cases from the publicly funded Legal Aid service while he sits as the head of the parliament’s legal affairs committee. Russo Lawyers has been on the list of approved firms for Legal Aid cases for the past four years.
Kicking off the list at No. 5, the premier’s former Chief of Staff, David Barbagallo, a director of Fortress Capstone Pty Ltd and one of its major shareholders, a company which received a $267,500 government grant from Advance Queensland Business Development Fund to support the growth of CruiseTraka, a social media app for cruise ship passengers. Mr Barbagallo, who jointly owns 29½ per cent of Fortress Capstone with his wife, became Premier Palaszczuk’s Chief of Staff in May 2017. The Labor government in Queensland claims that the Advance Queensland grants are made to support cutting edge research or innovative ideas, products and services which lead to the creation of high-value, knowledge based and skilled jobs now and into the future. Unlike many other Advance Queensland grant recipients, CruiseTraka’s funding was not announced to the media. The matter has been referred to the CCC. Mr Barbagello resigned in September 2019.
At No. 6, and I know you’ll enjoy this one, Mr Deputy Speaker, is about the reef laws that are killing our ag industry. The Queensland Labor government has now decided that the reef laws will apply to my region, the Bundaberg region down towards Maryborough, in an area which is many, many kilometres from the Great Barrier Reef. In fact, there is real doubt about whether any of the water run-off actually gets to the reef from that region, and yet they are going to enforce these laws across our agricultural producers. These are mandatory standards. They drive up bureaucracy for our hardworking farmers and agricultural workers, they drive up costs, they make it harder for them to be competitive and have no environmental benefit to the Barrier Reef whatsoever.
At No. 7—and I know you have heard of this one, Mr Deputy Speaker—is that they are holding our tourism industry to ransom. They are threatening the personal safety of the people who swim on Queensland beaches by removing drum lines in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Drum lines have been part of the landscape in Queensland since the 1950s. They are truly effective. When you live in an area like that, where the coast is so attractive, everybody wants to go for a swim. Summer or winter, it doesn’t really matter. This affects personal safety. I’ve got to say, and I’ve said it before, that they’re more concerned about a fish than they are about the individuals who are swimming at our beaches. They are more concerned about a fish than they are about the person who might be attacked by a shark and might lose their life or the life of a loved one. I find that absolutely appalling.
At No. 8 is the land-clearing laws, which are surely the big reason for the devastating fires, or are certainly a contributing factor. We saw a report in the Australianthat the fires at Deepwater in July 2017 were absolutely tragic. Mr Deputy Speaker, I know that you know what causes a fire. It comes down to fuel and fuel loading. It comes down to oxygen. It comes down to ignition. If you fail to manage the fuel load in national parks and other regions and you fail to give permission for landholders to back-burn to control the fuel load on their properties, then, when this builds up over a period of 10, 20, 30 and sometimes 40 years, the results are absolutely devastating. Instead of having a slow, cool back-burn, where wildlife can escape, trees can regrow and grass can regrow, you end up with a fire of catastrophic proportions that wipes out everything. That is exactly what happened up in the Deepwater region. Quite simply, the Queensland Labor government would not give permission to landholders to back-burn on their properties and protect them from these types of events.
At No. 9 with a rocket is the Adani project being held to ransom because of the Deputy Premier wanting people to exit the resources industry. Deputy Premier Trad literally went to a microphone and told the entire mining sector they needed to transition out of their jobs into something else. It is an industry of over $200 billion with over 200,000 jobs. But you can quite simply transition to something else. That is what the Queensland Labor government is saying.
Last but not least, at No. 10 is Premier Palaszczuk’s complete inability to hold Extinction Rebellion to account and keep them out of our state capital. This will get out of hand. Individuals will take this into their own hands because they are tired of being obstructed over and over again by these individuals. I say to the Premier: take real action to ensure that people like Extinction Rebellion do not hold our state to ransom because they don’t like the umpire’s decision. The umpire has made up their mind; they’ve done it fairly. They need to accept that decision. They have a right to protest, but not to hold up individuals who just want to go to work.