MPI - Economy
Just last month we confirmed our announcement for $4.75 million for work on Hervey Bay roads. We have also announced funding to finish the flood repairs at the port of Bundaberg, which is absolutely critical for the local sugar industry—an industry that employs thousands of Australians in my electorate, which was at risk from damage to the port. It is money that had to be committed. We have done that and the work will be done. The coalition understand that well-planned infrastructure delivered in a timely manner is vital to helping all of us get products to market. It also facilitates service delivery to regional Australia and provides long-term employment and opportunities for training and development. So together over the next 10 years, the Abbott and Newman governments will spend $8.5 billion upgrading the ailing Bruce Highway.
This is incredibly important for the people in my electorate. If you are an exporter, if you are in agriculture, if you are a manufacturer, or if you simply want to go to the shop to buy your groceries at the weekend, you must have access to the Bruce Highway. When it is closed due to floods, our food and our export products simply cannot make it into our region, and that is very, very important to families in my electorate.
The issues that we have for business are that in Australia regulation is high, input costs are high, labour costs are high, the Australian dollar is high, and currently profits are low. As a government that is something that we are working to change. Repealing the carbon tax will be a great first step in helping businesses to flourish. Electricity costs are skyrocketing. The cost of refrigerant gas is skyrocketing and, right now in my electorate, people are turning off their pumps because (a) they are out of water, and (b) they have already expended any possible profit they might have gained from their crops for this year.
It is absolutely incredible to me that we can go from a one-in-200-year flood at the start of last year to now having had no rainfall for almost 12 months. We have cane farmers who are ploughing out their crops, which will mean a replant for next year at the cost of thousands of dollars an acre. It is absolutely incredible. Currently, the estimate in the local region is for a potential loss of 800,000 tonnes of cane on the former estimate had it rained. To give you some idea of what that is, that is a $35 million turnover to the local economy. Our situation is desperate and I would like to congratulate our agriculture minister and the cabinet and all the senior members of the team for getting the drought package over the line and distributed as soon as possible.
The other thing that we need to do is cut red and green tape. A great example came when Assistant Minister for Employment Luke Hartsuyker visited the Hinkler electorate. We visited a training provider called Impact at Jobs Services Australia. The single biggest issue for that organisation was red tape. They are tired of expending all of their money ticking the boxes. They want to spend that money to find jobs and to train people for real positions. It is something that is exceptionally important to them.
A root-and-branch review of competition laws will ensure large and small businesses have an even playing field. The free trade agreement negotiated with South Korea is excellent news for the people in my electorate because the removal of tariffs will provide a benefit for a range of Hinkler exporters including those in sugar, horticulture and seafood. We are also working to conclude agreements with other trading partners. That is great news for the local electorate.
But the important part for small business is around unemployment. I do not need to tell the people in this House that jobs are sorely needed in Hinkler. Unemployment is our single biggest issue. Unemployment and financial hardship are often contributing factors in cases of marital breakdown, domestic violence, criminal activity, poor nutrition, health problems and declining school attendance. Under the Rudd and Gillard governments, unemployment in the Hinkler electorate increased from six per cent in September 2007 to 9.3 per cent in June 2013. That is compared to an unemployment rate of 5.4 per cent for the nation or six per cent in Queensland.
As promised, we are revitalising the Work for the Dole program. We will get people back to work. We will give them routine. We will give people structure, presentation skills and access to potential employers, and it is incredibly important that we provide the conditions for business to thrive so that they employ. So I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker Mitchell, for the opportunity to speak. It is great to be part of the team. Thanks for making me welcome.