Second Reading – Appropriation Bills 2023-24

Wednesday, 24 May 2023

Mr PITT: We’ve seen the third instalment of ‘Jimbo-nomics’ in the most recent budget. We saw the first instalment last October. The second instalment of ‘Jimbo-nomics’, of course, was the treatise that we all saw—some 6,000 words, from memory—that said that the Labor Treasurer is going to change the way that economies works and the way economics works and the way business works. It will be quite an extraordinary effort, to be frank. What we’ve seen in this latest implementation of the ‘Jimbo-nomic’ plan from the Labor Treasurer is very, very straightforward. The Reserve Bank of Australia has its foot on the brake of inflation, and the federal Labor Treasurer has his foot on the accelerator. We saw in the most recent budget an increase in expenditure of $185 billion in the forwards. What’s one of the fundamental tenets of ‘Jimbo-nomics’? It is to take money from those who have earned it and deliver it to those who want it.

Quite simply, the people who have got it in the neck in the most recent budget are middle Australia—the taxpayers of this country—and, in my electorate, the ones who desperately need support when we have raging inflation of some seven per cent. We’ve seen the price of a loaf of bread go up by as much as 70 per cent. People’s money is worth substantially less now than it was a year ago. What did those opposite do? The government decided not to deliver the low-income tax offset for 51,000 people in my electorate. There are 51,000 people who will desperately need up to $1,500 when they do their tax return. These are people who are working hard and paying their taxes. Now they’ve seen increases in their electricity costs, their gas prices, their rates, their food and their fuel. Included in the most recent budget is an increase in the cost of transport—an attack on the cost of fuel for the people who deliver almost everything in this country. No matter whether it’s food or white goods or televisions, they arrive on truck transport, and, every time the cost of the transport goes up, it is paid for by the people who purchase those products. So inflation will continue to skyrocket under this government because they simply don’t know how to manage it.

The Reserve Bank is doing their best, and it is incredibly difficult for mortgage holders because interest rates keep going up because this government can’t get a hold of inflation. We see that, in order for the new Treasurer to spruik his wares, they have substantially delayed funding for infrastructure that is critical for productivity and critical for road safety. The coalition’s $120 billion plan has been stalled for two reasons. The first reason is that they do not want it in the budget and they’ve pushed it out into the outlier years. The second reason is that many, many programs are now under review, including programs like Roads to Recovery, the bridges program, black spots and the national heavy vehicle road safety program.

In the regions I come from, these programs are relied upon by local government in particular, because it’s the way they actually fix this infrastructure. And guess what? If they don’t have that money, that work still needs to be done, and it will be worn by the ratepayers of those local government areas. My two major councils, the Bundaberg Council and the Fraser Coast Regional Council, got it in the neck in the Queensland state Labor government review for the financial assistance grants that go to those local governments. Those decisions are made by a Queensland Labor government committee. The coalition increased funding by some $70 million, and that funding to these two major councils has now been cut by millions of dollars, to be paid for by ratepayers. It is another increase in taxes for those hardworking individuals.

The people I represent do not have readily available cash; they do not. They have one of the lowest per capita incomes in the country. They simply cannot pay these increases in electricity prices, in logistics costs, in food costs. They don’t have the available money. Here are the two sides of the Labor Party. I have correspondence from Minister King, in writing, saying that the federal Labor government will honour the existing commitments in the Hinkler regional deal, and I took her at her word. I thought: ‘Well, that’s good. These are important projects. They’re moving through the process. Many of them are contracted. Many of them are underway. Many of them are close to being done.’ I thought, well, that’s great; that is good for the local people.

Imagine my surprise to find that they’re on the cut list. We have a number of projects named in the media that have been listed as now under review. When inquiries were made of the minister’s office, guess what the response was that came back? That guarantee is a ‘starting position’ for the Labor government—a starting position. This is incredible. There is correspondence that says you will honour the deal, followed by a statement—I assume from the media adviser in the minister’s office—saying that a guarantee is a starting position. Now, I’m pretty sure that if you look up the definition of ‘guarantee’, whether on Wikipedia or in the MacquarieDictionary, a guarantee is a guarantee; it is not a starting position.

The people I represent expect these commitments to be honoured, because they are important. They are incredibly important, if we look at what happens with road infrastructure right now. We have had two lots of fatalities in the region in the past 48 hours—a five-person crash on Goodwood Road and today a fatality on the Bruce Highway, north of my patch, in Gin Gin, in the electorate of the member for Flynn. This, unfortunately, is a regular occurrence. This infrastructure money needs to be spent, not delayed. It needs to be spent. You cannot expect ratepayers to wear the increasing costs for this infrastructure. It is incredible that the government would even look to review it.

And then I come to one of the major drivers of my economy, and that is Paradise Dam. We saw a commitment from the Labor government to match the $600 million, and it’s guaranteed. Is it the same guarantee we got on the Hinkler regional deal—the one that’s a ‘starting position’? Or is it a real guarantee? I’ve asked the minister’s office for the profile for funding for Paradise Dam. This is an enormous project. It is critical to agriculture in the region. You cannot grow tree crops, for example, without a guarantee of water, because—guess what?—they die, and they take seven to nine years to get to the point of peak production. That is why it is so important that the federal Labor government actually honours their commitments. If they do not, people will not invest.

I have 51,000 people who are missing out on the low-income tax offset. I have an enormous agricultural sector that is relying on Paradise Dam to be rebuilt. Let’s place the blame where it should be. The Queensland Labor government built this dam. They built it to a price, not a standard, and it failed. It is the biggest infrastructure failure in this country’s history. It is incredible that we are at this point. The dam basically has to be rebuilt. But the water that is in there is critical to investment in my region, because no-one invests without water security and water reliability. People have spent an enormous amount of time and money over the past decade putting in place avocado plantations and macadamia nut plantations. We’re the biggest producers of macadamia nuts in the country. It’s a major export crop. It goes to countries like China and everywhere else. They cannot have a guarantee not being met on a commitment of funding for Paradise Dam. I say again to the minister: what is your word worth? What is a guarantee worth? What is something in writing worth? It’s pretty clear at the moment that it’s absolutely nothing.

What is it that we delivered for my local electorate? We delivered important connecting infrastructure that builds our economy, not things that look it around, not increases in electricity prices, not increases in gas prices, not interventions in markets. If we look at something like the common user infrastructure of the Port of Bundaberg, a project that was originally scheduled to cost $10 million, we see that, through years of Labor delays in Queensland, it’s now $17.7 million. I secured that money in the last budget for the coalition. It’s underway, and guess who did the sod-turning. It was the local state Labor member, who was opposed. They didn’t want to build this.

We see now that we have organisations and businesses that are looking to utilise this infrastructure for exports and imports into the Bundaberg port, a port which is, unfortunately, terribly underutilised. We have a sugar industry which is in decline. It was the major user. We now have an opportunity for other organisations to be able to load at the port in a way that is competitive with the international markets and that is competitive in terms of pricing, which means they will invest in the local port because it’s the right thing to do. It’s close to their facilities. It’s a benefit for all.

We saw the Palaszczuk government declare the Port of Bundaberg a state development area, would you believe, in February 2017. That conveyor is under construction right now. It took years for the approval. The delays have been quite incredible.

For another project, the Pacific Marine Base at the Bundaberg port, we secured $6 million from the Building Better Regions Fund. It is a roll-on roll-off facility and commercial vessel wharf for the temporary berth of vessels undergoing maintenance, and it has great potential to deliver trade into the Pacific. That is important for my local region because it means they can export their products directly to the Pacific. What a great arrangement. But, once again, it was held up by the Queensland state Labor government for years in terms of signing the agreements and giving approvals. But a similar wharf in Brisbane, would you believe, I understand was approved in 12 weeks. It is 12 weeks if you’re in the city and years if you’re in Bundaberg and the regions.

We have the Torbanlea Pialba Road flood road immunity upgrade under the regional deal underway right now. There was $24 million from the Commonwealth on an 80-20 split. That will ensure that there is an all-weather access road between Hervey Bay and the Bruce Highway. It means that they won’t be cut off by floods. They won’t lose their access to what is the lifeline for Queensland: the Bruce Highway. It is that critical. If you want to transport product, if you want to get to a hospital by road or if you want to get to services which are not in your town, it is the Bruce Highway that takes you there in coastal Queensland.

We have the Boundary Road extension upgrade as part of the Hinkler regional deal, worth $7.7 million. It’s a $26.5 million project. It will provide a relief to cross-Hervey Bay traffic with another option, particularly for those who might need access to emergency services. It will get them to the hospital faster. It will be safer and better for all people who live down there.

We’ve had a number of black spot programs over the years, and I’m still astounded that there’s even any risk at all that a very longstanding policy which is relied on by nearly every council I can think of right across the country would even have a question mark against it being delivered over the forwards. There is so much traffic build-up. We have enormous increases in terms of the population. Hervey Bay alone is growing, I’m told, some seven per cent a year. That is very high.

For upgrades to the Bruce Highway between Maryborough and Torbanlea we have $103 million, once again—guess what—delivered by the coalition government and opened by Queensland Labor government so much so that they didn’t even bother to invite us. But the member for Wide Bay and I weren’t offended. We held our own opening ceremony. It was very well received, I’m sure! But these are important upgrades. I heard the member for Blair’s contribution earlier, and the idea that these things are only applied to coalition electorates—who do they think uses the road? No-one checks to see who you vote for before you go on the Bruce Highway. It is a benefit for all Australians and all Queenslanders. The idea that this infrastructure is for some specific group is absolutely outrageous. The Bruce Highway continues to need upgrades in areas. I’m very pleased to see that the Gympie bypass is coming close to fruition. That is a very strategic upgrade, but, once again, it was one that we committed to in 2016 and took years for the Queensland Labor government to actually deliver.

In my own patch, the Royal Flying Doctors Service aviation training facility is another part of the Hinkler Regional Deal. RFDS pilots will come from across Australia to train on the new Beechcraft King Air 360 flight simulator. They all have to sleep somewhere. They all have to eat somewhere. They’ll all shop. They’ll all utilise the local facilities. With $15 million from the Hinkler Regional Deal, this project is underway. Tilt-up panels are up. Murchie Constructions, a local contractor, won the contract, which I’m very pleased about. It should be ready and open by the end of the year. It complements the RFDS LifeFlight facility, which is right next door. When you think about linking infrastructure to build your economy, this is what it looks like.

We have seen cuts to the Entrepreneurship Facilitator Program in the Labor Party’s most recent budget. Since 2019 Regional Business HQ has supported 1,300 businesses across the region. They were one year into a three-year contract, and it has been cut by this federal Labor government. Can you imagine what confidence that gives to everyone out there that utilises funding? They engage on the basis that the contracts will be honoured. They make decisions around equipment, infrastructure and staffing based on those three-year contracts. The rug has been pulled out from under them two years early, with an existing contract. It is outrageous—absolutely outrageous.

I don’t need to bang on about the $275, because it will never be delivered. That will never show up. We have seen 10 interest rate rises under this Labor government. I’ll go back to where I started. The RBA has its foot on the brake for inflation and it hurts mortgage holders, but this Labor government has its foot on the inflation accelerator and that is not in the national interest or the interest of our economy.

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