Constituency Statement - Dive Wreck Petition
Mr PITT (Hinkler) (10:03): I table a petition from the Wide Bay Burnett Regional Dive Wreck Advisory Group, local residents, business owners and tourists concerning the need for a new tourist attraction to increase domestic and international visitations to the Wide Bay Burnett Region to stimulate the local economy and create jobs. The petition has been approved by the Standing Committee on Petitions.
The petitioners, led by Ed Gibson, are asking the House to gift, remediate and scuttle HMAS Tobruk, or a similar decommissioned military vessel, in waters between Hervey Bay and Bundaberg to create a 'diving into history' experience. Tourism operators need another water-based attraction, an attraction that will keep boats in the water during the months that humpback whales and loggerhead turtles are not present. It is estimated that a military dive wreck will contribute between $1 million and $4 million each year to the local economy. This would be a great rate of return for a one-off investment estimated at just $6 million.
I would like to congratulate all of those involved, who have managed to collect 4,042 signatures in less than three weeks, in order to have it tabled before the parliament breaks for the year. The idea of a military dive wreck was first floated with me before the last federal election by well-respected local fisherman Nicky Schulz. Not long after being elected I contacted local business owners, recreational scuba divers and my state and council counterparts to gauge their interest in the proposal. I was absolutely overwhelmed by their positivity. I wrote to the Assistant Minister for Defence, Darren Chester, to seek advice on which military vessels were due to be decommissioned over the next few years. In November last year, Mr Chester visited the electorate to see firsthand why the Wide Bay-Burnett is an ideal location for a military dive wreck. A Wide Bay-Burnett regional dive wreck advisory group was formed to assess the project's feasibility. The advisory group includes a variety of key local representatives, including a marine biologist and experts who have established dive wrecks in other locations. I have met with Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis, to discuss any potential legal impediments or public liability issues for the government. Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister Senator James McGrath, who is highly supportive of the project, has questioned senior Defence personnel during committee hearings. Local media coverage has been overwhelmingly positive.
The Fraser Coast Regional Council has committed $1 million towards the project. The Bundaberg Regional Council, however, has declined to contribute, and so, on 20 November, I wrote to Bundaberg's mayoral candidates to seek a commitment to allocate $1 million if elected in 2016. Without that funding, we risk losing this vessel to another region. I have sought an urgent meeting with the Queensland Premier.
I believe that Defence assets that are paid for by the Australian people can, and should, continue to serve the community long after they are no longer of use to the military. HMAS Tobruk should not be sent to the scrap metal yard. The Wide Bay-Burnett is an ideal resting place for HMAS Tobruk. We are a region who admire our veteran community, and we will treat the Tobruk with the greatest of respect. The project will boost the local economy and create jobs in my region.