Second Reading – Appropriations Bill 2016
Mr PITT (Hinkler—Assistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment) (20:06): As one of the people who just sat through the ramblings of the member for Wakefield for the past 15 minutes I am pleased it has come to an end! Certainly, I think the people of Australia would be out there building bronze statues to anyone who has kept to Bill Shorten and the Labor Party away from the Australian Treasury. That is the reality.
But the people of my electorate want to hear what we are doing, and the most important thing for them is creating jobs, so we will continue to do things as a government to ensure there are more jobs in my electorate of Hinkler and across the nation. I know I sound like a broken record, but I want to talk about ex-HMAS Tobruk. I know the Minister for Defence is sick of hearing from me and I know the staff of the Minister for Defence are sick of hearing from me. Certainly, a number of people are sick of hearing from me about ex-HMAS Tobruk. For three years we have been fighting to bring a military dive wreck into the electorate of Hinkler, to be parked in some 30 metres of water between Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, directly off Burrum Heads.
I am pleased to report we are finally seeing some progress. I have to say—and this is not something I would do often—that I congratulate the Queensland Labor government. They have finally got on board. The state government has listed an expression of interest, which was submitted to the Department of Defence. I want to take the opportunity to thank the Queensland tourism minister, state Labor minister Kate Jones, for her support for the project and for the work she has done to progress the proposal, because where I come from we fight for what is best for our people and we try to deliver for them, regardless of who is in opposition or what position they might hold.
The state government has called for expressions of interest from local councils across Queensland to use ex-HMAS Tobruk as a military dive wreck. Since this announcement they have come out of the woodwork. Like rats off a sinking ship, they have come from everywhere. Every coastal council in Queensland seems to think that it needs a military dive wreck and has the capacity and infrastructure to actually use it. And why wouldn’t they? A project like this demonstrates how much potential it has to build local regional economies.
Unlike some of those areas, I have two councils, the Fraser Coast Regional Council and the Bundaberg Regional Council, which have committed $1 million each towards this project. They are willing to work together. I know, Deputy Speaker Kelly, that you have a lot of experience in this place and I am sure that it would be very rare for you to see councils working together on a project like this. They tend to box into their corners. But, as I have said many times, this is a unique opportunity to bring a tourism venture to the Hinkler region to add to additional tourism infrastructure. It will bring a much needed boost to the local economy and it will create jobs, as it has done in other places. The increased tourism numbers to the region have a flow-on effect, of course—increased spending in local restaurants, in local shops and with local businesses. There are small-scale dive operators already in my electorate, at each end. They customarily service locals and backpackers. And thanks of course to the whale and turtle markets Hervey Bay and Bundaberg already have the capability, the capacity and the infrastructure needed to support a substantial dive tourism industry.
Ecotourism, retail and hospitality and accommodation businesses do need another attraction to boost visitor numbers, particularly in the months when the whales and turtles are not in season. That infrastructure is already there—some 26 whale boats in Hervey Bay. Ex-HMAS Tobruk has the potential to contribute somewhere between $1 million and $4 million to our local economy, on estimates, for the next 50 years, with growth.
A report by the Centre for Conservation Geography into the economic impact of the scuba dive industry in Australia estimates that dive related spending in Australia is $2.2 billion a year. We want our fair share of that I must say. In Queensland, dive related spending is potentially as much is $950 million a year. This demonstrates that there are real economic benefits from the project, if we are successful in the local bid. This could bring literally thousands of divers to the regions.
Here are some examples. HMAS Adelaide, in New South Wales, already attracts 5,000 divers a year, with at least 90 per cent of those coming from outside the region and at least 20 per cent from overseas. Just recently, a dive operator on the Sunshine Coast said that his business increased by 1,500 per cent since HMAS Brisbane was sunk 10 years ago. How would you like that on your bottom line? They are the sort of numbers we are talking about. And, of course, people would flock to the region to see the actual scuttling take place. When ex-HMAS Adelaide was scuttled it attracted 30,000 visitors to see the ship sunk. HMAS Tobruk is a unique ship and we in the electorate of Hinkler will take great care of it and treat it with the respect it deserves.
Work to prepare the Tobruk for scuttling could also be carried out locally at the Bundaberg port, in the northern end of my electorate, which will provide more jobs—another $5 million to $7 million project. So, I will continue to fight for this project, because it has multiple benefits.
On the topic of big ships, earlier this year Fraser Island was host to the P&O cruise ship Pacific Aria, which is the first time a ship of this size has navigated the Great Sandy Strait. Fraser Island is in my neighbouring electorate of Wide Bay. Can I just take this moment to congratulate Llew O’Brien, the new member for Wide Bay, replacing long-term member and former Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss. There is no doubt that the flow-on effects into Hinkler are plentiful. There are many individuals in many local organisations who have made this historic event a reality. I congratulate Fraser Coast Opportunities, Tourism and Events Queensland, as well as the Fraser Coast Regional Council, P&O Cruises and Kingfisher Bay Resort. I think this will be the first of many cruise ships. The next cruise is scheduled to be there in December. I thank the passengers of Pacific Aria for showing an interest in the Fraser Coast, but why wouldn’t you? It is a fabulous place to visit and has some wonderful attractions. I say to any of the passengers on future voyages, don’t just go to Fraser Island. Have a look at Hervey Bay and Maryborough, in the neighbouring electorate of Wide Bay. You can get a hold of the local seafood—the Hervey Bay sea scallops; the Ocean King prawns; and all of the good fish—or you can explore the wonderful rich history that Maryborough has to offer, such as Portside, which has a collection of heritage-listed buildings that are now museums, restaurants and galleries. It is the electorate of Wide Bay, so I recognise my colleague Llew O’Brien. There is also the statue of the author of Mary Poppins, Pamela Travers.
We are talking about 1,500 passengers. Can you imagine the injection into the local economy from 1,500 passengers being offloaded for the day. They can visit the Fraser Coast and it is a wonderful opportunity to us to showcase what we have. So, when these opportunities come up, we should grab them with both hands and absolutely use them to the fullest advantage.
Whilst on the subject of tourism, I would also like to say what a great honour it was to be appointed the Assistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment. My electorate, like many others in regional Australia, has enormous potential for trade, tourism and investment. I look forward to promoting not only my own patch but other areas across this wonderful country. I have had the opportunity already to visit Port Moresby to discuss with ministers and business leaders in PNG ways that we can enhance our significant trade and investment links. In 2015 Australian investment in PNG was some $18.4 billion, with two-way trade totalling $4.7 billion, and there are more opportunities.
Australia’s economic relationship with PNG has tremendous growth potential and can drive job creation in both countries. There are significant opportunities for Australian companies in PNG, including in the mining and energy, agriculture, construction and tourism sectors. I have had the great advantage of attending a number of events recently, including Corroboree Asia 2016, where over 300 qualified travel agents from across Asia, including from China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Korea, India and Indonesia, came to get some more training. Would you believe, Mr Deputy Speaker, they call these tourism operators the Aussie specialists. They are trained specifically for Australia. I called them the ‘James Bonds’, the 007s that Australia has placed in these countries. The joke fell a bit flat. Perhaps I should have gone with someone more local, like Jackie Chan.
This is the first opportunity I have had to speak in this place since the election and I want to thank the voters of Hinkler. They put their trust in me to be their advocate in Canberra for another three years. It has been a very humbling experience to be re-elected as their representative, particularly as it is the electorate I call home, the electorate where I was born and where I have lived most of my life. I also want to thank all the volunteers and supporters who gave their time so willingly, because it is not a one-person effort; it is a team effort that gets you elected. I would like to thank the local members: Ted Sorensen in Hervey Bay, Stephen Bennett in Burnett, Ken and Christine Tyson, Peter Carey and everyone else—the hundreds of people who turn out for an election. And they do it the right way: with integrity. As many of my colleagues would no doubt agree, the campaign was a bit long, but it is great to have the support of the people that I represent. I will do my utmost to represent them and to spend the next three years kicking goals for them. They are the ones who sent me here and I will always act in their interest, as I did in the previous term.
Throughout the election campaign I spoke about what the coalition government can deliver, because this is about delivery. It is not about rhetoric, not about social licence; it is about what you can deliver for your people. We have made a number of commitments, and we will ensure that each of those commitments is delivered, just as I delivered those from the 2013 campaign.
The $20 million Wide Bay Burnett jobs package is an enormous announcement for our region. For somewhere that has had high unemployment for a long time, anything that can help build the local economy will be of great value. This package will give local businesses the confidence to invest and grow further. It will attract matching funding from participating businesses, resulting in a minimum package of $40 million. If I know one thing about the people I represent, I know they are frugal. They know how to get the best out of every single dollar. We will do our utmost to make those dollars extend as far as possible. These grants will assist existing local businesses to grow and also offer incentives for metropolitan based companies to expand their businesses into the Wide Bay Burnett region. They are about creating new, sustainable, long-term jobs. We have businesses located in Bundaberg, Childers, Hervey Bay—right across the electorate—that will be eligible to apply for this funding. Local communities will be involved by assessing their region’s economic opportunities and developing tailored, forward-looking local investment plans. This is a key difference: they are local investment plans using local knowledge, local experience and local people who know their region best. It will create a community-driven investment partnership between the coalition government, business and local communities. Local knowledge will be a vital component.
We need to continue to develop skills, upgrade local infrastructure and provide business innovation grants, because we do not want to see our talented people continue to leave the electorate. I went to the former Deputy Prime Minister’s valedictory dinner in Queensland a few weeks ago. One of the things from Warren Truss’s speech that really stuck with me was that his great regret, in all the infrastructure that he provided over 26 years in parliament—the billions of dollars of improvements to roads and telecommunications, including the NBN—was that unfortunately those roads became roads out of town. We need to ensure, in whatever we do, that we continue to support our regional communities.
Another project which will underpin local jobs is the multiplex project, put up by Bundaberg Regional Council, to which the federal government has committed $5 million for stage 2. This will provide a civic hall, community function rooms, and a commercial kitchen and cafe—more job-creating projects with the capacity to bring in more investment. It is the missing element that will attract community events, business conferences and major sporting events to Bundaberg.
An extension of a busy road into an industrial area of Bundaberg 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. This government has committed $1.4 million to extending Kay McDuff Drive to the Bundaberg ring road, which is something I have advocated very strongly for here in Canberra. More than 6,200 vehicles, including 320 heavy vehicles, use the current route every day. This extension will make the roads safer for the 1,500 students of the nearby school and provide direct access to the freight network.
Many of the election commitments will not only provide jobs but enhance our communities. In Burrum Heads we have committed to a new bike path, for use by pedestrians, cyclists and parents with children, which will be accessible all year round. It is known locally as ‘the missing link’. As a community infrastructure project, it will have positive flow-on effects, providing Burrum Heads families and individuals with more facilities to get active.
Childers residents will benefit from a new hydrotherapy pool, which has been high on the wish list for many years in the community. My electorate has an older than average population, and this investment will have obvious benefits for the aging and senior residents in Childers.
Pacific Haven and Redridge will receive a much needed boost to mobile phone coverage under the Mobile Black Spot Program. The coalition government has committed an additional $60 million on top of the $160 million already invested in mobile black spots, bringing the total investment to $220 million. I met with Redridge residents John Hunter and Jennifer Symons last year to discuss their concerns that areas surrounding Childers did not even have SOS phone coverage. They organised a petition, which I tabled in this place in November, with 606 signatures from residents in Doolbi, Horton, Abington, Goodwood, North Isis and Redridge. I congratulate them on fighting for improvements to mobile coverage and, of course, being successful. We will deliver that coverage.
I will briefly mention Hervey Bay’s AFL team, Bay Power, who have been training in the dark. We have provided some funding for lighting, which will make things much easier for them. Not only will they be able to play night games; they will be able to train after the sun goes down—can you believe it, Mr Deputy Speaker?—in regional Australia. That is a substantial investment for us.
There will also be money for Bundaberg Netball, which will provide additional courts and shaded grandstands. The building could attract a state carnival of 500 teams, bringing some 10,000 people to the region.
Everything we do is about creating jobs and building stronger regional economies, ensuring we get the budget under control whilst continuing to have strong economic growth. That has been demonstrated by the last quarter’s figures of just over three per cent. I look forward to providing for the people of Hinkler for the next three years.