Second Reading – Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2017-2018
Mr PITT (Hinkler—Assistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment) (17:17): I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2017-2018. As a regional MP, one of the important aspects of the 2017-18 budget is the government’s commitment to investing in regional Australia. We are doing that by delivering infrastructure which will drive economic growth and secure more and better-paying jobs. It is important that the benefits of economic growth are shared across the country and in communities just like my electorate of Hinkler. There are a number of programs announced by the Treasurer on 9 May which I believe are worth exploring in my electorate.
The National Rail Program, of course, is one. The coalition government will invest some $10 billion over the next decade for the National Rail Program. This program will fund transformational rail projects so people can move around our cities and regions more efficiently and better connect our cities, suburbs and surrounding regional areas. This $10 billion rail investment will reduce the burden on Australian roads, provide more reliable transport networks and support our efforts to decentralise our economy and grow regional Australia.
Last week I met with state and local government representatives to discuss the possibility of developing the inland rail through to the Port of Bundaberg, which can then be developed as a container facility. We need ambition in this. The Port of Bundaberg exports raw sugar, molasses, wood pellets and silica sand, however its throughput on average is only 254,000 tonnes a year for the last five years. In comparison to somewhere like Gladstone Ports, which does almost 100 million tonnes of coal—just one product—obviously there is room for a potential expansion.
In February this year, the Queensland government Coordinator-General declared the Bundaberg State Development Area. The 6,067-hectare SDA includes land on the eastern side of the Burnett River, near the Port of Bundaberg, including surrounding port-related industrial uses, and land on the western side of the Burnett River predominantly used for sugarcane cultivation and rural landholdings. According to the Coordinator-General:
The Bundaberg SDA was established in response to a growing demand for land for port-related and industrial activities around the Port of Bundaberg. The Bundaberg SDA could help facilitate economic growth and employment opportunities in the Bundaberg and Wide Bay Burnett regions.
The $19.8 million, 28-kilometre Bundaberg Port Gas Pipeline was completed by Australian Gas Networks earlier this year and has opened up even more opportunities at the port. Without that gas pipeline, the Knauf plasterboard-manufacturing plant would not have become a reality. This $70 million facility is nearing completion and is expected to create around 70 permanent jobs. It will be the company’s third facility in Australia, with manufacturing plants also in Sydney and Melbourne. The project will include gypsum-handling and processing facilities to support plasterboard production and for the sale of gypsum to our large agricultural sector. As many of my colleagues know, the Bundaberg region is one of the largest horticultural producing areas in Australia. For us, as the biggest producer of heavy vegetables, to have a company directly import lime and make it into pelletised product—at a much-reduced cost, of course—right there on our doorstep will be of great benefit to our local growers. While there has been a lot of talk about opportunities, I am calling on the state and local governments to fight for significant expansion, which will result in jobs. We must absolutely continue to build our local economy.
I was very pleased to see in the budget funding of $1.295 million for improvements to five road black spots in Hinkler—three in Bundaberg and two in Hervey Bay. The coalition government is continuing to fund the Black Spot Program, with $684½ million from 2013-14 to 2020-21 so it can continue to deliver safety improvements such as safety barriers and street lighting to sections of dangerous roads that have a crash history. Already there have been a number of local black spots identified in Hinkler which have received funding through this program: $536,500 to install a roundabout at the intersection of Torquay Terrace and Bideford Street in Torquay, and $410,000 for the intersection of Scotland Street, Eastgate Street and Steindl Street at Bundaberg East to upgrade the roundabout and improve signage, line marking and bike lanes, just to name two. Since I was elected in 2013, more than $8 million has been invested in making road black spots safe for the motorists of my electorate.
A local project nearing completion is the $1.4 million extension of Kay McDuff Drive through the ring road in Bundaberg. This is funded through the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program. Once complete, the extension will not only direct traffic away from one of the largest high schools in the district but allow easier access for 25-metre B-doubles to the industrial area. More than 6,200 vehicles, including 320 heavy vehicles, use the current route every single day, and this extension will make the road safer for the 1,500 students of the nearby school and provide direct access to the freight network. This project is also expected to deliver vehicle savings of some $15 million over 25 years.
The coalition government has already invested almost $30 million in upgrades of the 90-kilometre stretch of the Bruce Highway which runs through my electorate. These upgrades include an $8 million upgrade to the three intersections near Childers, $6 million for an overtaking lane north of Howard, $4½ million to widen the four-kilometre stretch near Adies Road at Apple Tree Creek, and $7.1 million for widening of the highway for 2.2 kilometres near the Wongi State Forest south of Torbanlea. In Queensland, the government is providing $844 million for new Bruce Highway projects. These will benefit motorists that travel both north and south of the electorate for business or leisure, as well as ensuring freight has a flood-proof and reliable route to market.
Unfortunately, getting projects off the ground in Queensland has been hampered by a state Labor government. On more than one occasion, the federal government has made funding available and it seems like the state government want to avoid that at all costs. A prime example is the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund. The feasibility study component of the project agreement for the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund clearly sets out that the federal government will make annual payments for projects on advice from the Queensland government that the agreed milestone has been met, yet the Queensland government was claiming the successful proponents did not know the funding was provided in this way. Under the agreement, the state or territory government is the project proponent, not the councils, not-for-profits or industry associations. The agreement is intended to support state and territory governments to deliver key water infrastructure projects, which is their responsibility, and to help them to attract co-investment from project partners. In the end, the Queensland government dragged its heels for seven months before finally submitting a project delivery schedule for feasibility studies, two of which directly affect my electorate.
And we want to get on with the job of delivering water infrastructure needs in our regions and delivering our election commitments, which will ultimately provide long-term jobs, because water is wealth in this country, Mr Deputy Speaker Irons, as I am sure you are aware. So, I hope that the Queensland government can get its act together—although, I have to say, I am not that confident. In terms of local infrastructure, a new initiative announced in the budget, which again shows the government’s commitment to regional Australia, is the Regional Growth Fund. This fund will invest $272 million to provide grants of $10 million or more for major transformational projects which support long-term economic growth and create jobs in Australia’s regions. While small infrastructure projects are very important for regional communities to upgrade and improve facilities, in some regions larger infrastructure investment is needed to unlock significant economic potential and to transform a local region.
The government has also extended the Building Better Regions Fund for four years from 2017-18, with an additional $200 million investment. This fund will be targeted at regional communities, just like my electorate of Hinkler, and not capital cities. The first round of BBRF is being assessed right now, but the second round will again consider local infrastructure projects that will drive economic growth, create jobs and build strong regional communities. Successful projects will be required to deliver economic and social benefits, and grant funding is available through two streams. The infrastructure project stream supports projects that involve construction of new infrastructure or the upgrade or extension of existing infrastructure. The community investment stream funds community development activities, including but not limited to new or expanded local events, strategic regional plans, leadership and capability-building activities.
I look forward to seeing the successful applications under round one, and I would certainly encourage any groups or organisations in my electorate to start thinking about round two. Locally we have had several successful community development grants get underway, including stage two of the multiplex in Bundaberg. The coalition government has committed $5 million to stage two, which will include a civic hall, community function rooms and a commercial kitchen and cafe. Once completed, the multiplex will be able to attract community events, business conferences and major sporting events to the region. Stage one of the multiplex was officially opened last month, April 2017, and stage two is due for completion later this year. It is being built by a local contractor, Murchie Constructions. They are doing a fantastic job.
Another great local project that is about to break ground is the expansion of the Bundaberg netball courts—again, through the community development grant. The Bundaberg Super Park will gain another four courts, shaded grandstands and shade structures around the barbecue area to provide cover in bad weather. With the additional courts, the Bundaberg Netball Association would be able to bid to host the state carnival, potentially attracting 500 teams of 10 players each, and their families and supporters. That could bring up to 10,000 people to our region, who all need somewhere to stay, somewhere to eat and, of course, somewhere to shop. This will be a great boost to our local economy.
As I have said many times in this place, small business is the lifeblood of regional economies. In my electorate, around 8½ thousand of those small businesses will benefit from recent tax cuts. We have cut the small business tax rate to 27½ per cent, the lowest level in many decades. We also redefined small business to a $10 million turnover so more small businesses will pay that lower tax rate. The budget has also been good for small business with the $20,000 instant asset write-off extended for another 12 months and $300 million to help state and territory governments complement our cuts to red tape.
I want to take this opportunity to thank some of the Bundaberg business owners who received a visit from the Minister for Business just last week. Kate Marland and her mother, Kay Warner, Scott Allison, and Tracey and Michael McPhee all had the chance to speak to the Minister for Small Business about the budget and what it would mean for their businesses directly. Kate was a great advocate for the instant asset write-off. It sounds like she has already planned what assets will be purchased in the next financial year. I have been a business owner, and I know just how important these measures are. It is great to see that they are having positive impacts for the people who are getting out there and actually having a go.
The other good news of course was for local government, in terms of Financial Assistance Grants. A measure from the budget which I know the two mayors in my electorate were extremely pleased about was the announcement that the coalition government would resume indexation on the Financial Assistance Grants Program from 1 July. Queensland is estimated to receive $465.3 million under the program, which includes the payment brought forward into 2016-17. Individual council allocations will be finalised early in 2017-18, and councils will benefit from an estimated additional $78 million, bringing the total allocation for that year to almost $2.4 billion. That is a substantial investment.
This year’s budget estimates that councils will receive a total of $12.3 billion between 2016-17 and 2020-21. The government has also announced that it will bring forward two quarterly payments from the 2017-18 allocation, to be paid in 2016-17. This decision will result in councils receiving an immediate cash injection of almost $1.2 billion in the coming weeks. The reason that this program is so important to local councils, as I am sure my colleagues know, is that they can use this untied grant funding according to local priorities, including for infrastructure, health, recreation, environment, employment and roads projects.
The other thing we are doing is decentralising. The government is committed to building the capacity of our regional communities by boosting their skills base and supporting job creation. One of the ways this is happening is through the coalition government exploring opportunities to decentralise Commonwealth agencies and broaden the range of skills and job opportunities in our regions. I am a supporter of decentralisation. The 33 per cent of Australians living in regional areas should have the same opportunities as anyone who lives in the city to get the benefit of their taxpayer money. I think it is important that we diversify the locations of the departments and that people in regional areas should get the benefit of those jobs in their economies.
Regional Australia deserves well paid, skilled jobs. It deserves centres of excellence to be established to create knowledge hubs which will continue to attract and grow those jobs. Technology and modern communications give us the opportunity to reshape our vibrant regional communities. More government functions can be delivered from across Australia and no longer have to be centralised here in Canberra and other capitals. I am sure I am not the only regional MP who is eager to see the report later this year into which departments might be suitable to be moved to regional Australia.
Finally, there is the cashless debit card. Two additional communities for the cashless debit card were announced in the budget. The evaluation of the trials in Ceduna and the east Kimberley has shown a significant reduction in gambling, drug use and alcohol consumption, and an improvement in the care of children. The independent evaluation of those trials reported that across the two trial sites, on average, trial participants surveyed reported that 25 per cent of them were drinking less alcohol and 25 per cent were engaged in less binge drinking; 32 per cent said they gambled less, 24 per cent said they used illegal drugs less often, and 31 per cent said they were better able to save money and care for their children.
As the local member, I think this is an incredibly important issue. We have a community which, for some time, has certainly struggled in terms of employment and the very longstanding issues with multigenerational welfare dependence. My view on this is quite simple, and I think we have got the community behind us: if we continue to act in the same way that we have been, we will continue to get the same outcomes. Change is difficult. Change will be hard. Change will be controversial. But change is absolutely necessary. It is absolutely worth the attempt. We have an opportunity with the cashless debit card to make change for our community. It will be tough, but it will have absolutely a good outcome. As I am sure you are, Mr Deputy Speaker Vasta, I am tired of talking to school principals who feed over 100 children a day for breakfast because, without that, the children would not get a feed. I am tired of talking to businesses and employers who fail to get people to even apply for their positions. So I commend the bill to the House.