Second Reading – Appropriations Bill 2024-2025

Wednesday, 29 May 2024

Mr PITT: Thank you very much. In September, I would have been here for 11 years. This is a place of highs and lows, challenges and roadblocks. There are a lot of things that get in the way, I’ve got to say, Mr Deputy Speaker—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: But not 7.30!

Mr PITT: Not 7.30! However, when you get something done here, it’s usually a serious something. It is something that matters. They could be things that move the country. They could be things that are in the national interest. They can be things which assist your community. In terms of disappointments in the last budget handed down by the Treasurer, I don’t think I’ve ever been more disappointed than to hear that the almost $600 million which we secured as the coalition government for the repairs to Paradise Dam had been cut. The budget paper has a line in it that says they are deferred. I can tell you they’re not deferred; they are not there. In the five-year forecast of the budget, the money is not there. That is a cut. By definition, it has been cut from the budget.

To give you an idea of just how important this is, this dam secures our agricultural region. It has been one of the highest-reliability dams in Australia for water supply, and it has been an absolute debacle. Make no mistake this is the biggest public infrastructure failure in this country’s history, and it is all at the feet of state Labor governments and now a federal Labor government who will not fund it. The repairs are necessary. Some of the history—it has now been 4½ years since the Queensland state Labor government announced the dam had safety issues and capacity would need to be reduced. So they lowered the level of the dam and then spun that as ‘free water’. So you were pouring literally thousands of megalitres down the river for people who may or may not be able to pick it up at the time it flowed past. Apparently, that was free and that was a great outcome. They then passed legislation to override all the other things they’d have to do in order to knock the wall down and reduce capacity.

Now Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, on 22 July 2021, in the ABC Wide Bay studio, my local studio, said of Paradise Dam, ‘It should be fixed and it should be fixed as soon as possible.’ Well, Prime Minister, you can’t fix it without funding. You simply cannot. For the people in my region, this will have a direct impact on the value of their properties and on the reliability of the water supply for what is now a very expansive agricultural area that relies on water for tree crops, macadamias, avocados and horticulture. If you cannot guarantee your water supply, then potentially you lose decades of investment, because tree crops are lost in a drought. If you’re growing high-volume, low-value crop, like sugarcane—I don’t have wheat locally—the reality is that you can pick up next year and try and recover, but not with tree crops. So this is an absolute disaster, and the people of my electorate know it. They know that it has to be delivered. But the idea that the Commonwealth, this federal Labor government, will not contribute in the next five years—five years on top of the 4½ that we have already had. So nine years, no money, no action, not repaired—that is clearly the only option, because it’s not funded.

So what happens locally? There is a loss of confidence. Potentially, you have a loss in value. You definitely have a loss in people forecasting, planting and investing. There is no doubt about that whatsoever. I’d say to the state Labor government and to my own side, the state LNP: you need to fast-track this proposal. The concept that an existing dam, which has now been reduced in capacity, which is allegedly going to be repaired and reinstated to the same capacity, has to go through every single approval again, to put it back to the same level of water, in the same place, at the same dam, with the same offtake—you do not need to do the environmental assessments again. You do not. There is no change in the impact; it is the same. It is the same level. So there are opportunities here for state governments to put legislation in place which will fast-track this dam and get it secured for the people I represent, and that is absolutely critical.

I was at a function over the weekend. The Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetables Growers do a biannual event. It’s huge. The waiting list has hundreds of people. Unfortunately, none of the state Labor members, including the local member—the member for Bundaberg—could get there. The state minister sent a video. Can I say that it went down like a brick and tile glider. Minister Furner presented a video to the group, and I heard one person clap out of the hundreds that were there. They know the impact of this decision. This is the future of our region. It is about water security, which they had; they had made investment decisions on it.

Can you imagine if you borrowed money for your home only to find later down the track that, actually, there had been an error and you would have to reduce it by three bedrooms, back to five bedrooms, assuming you had a substantial palace—off the basis of a failure by the then government to build a dam which they actually built to a price and not a standard and which has now failed. It is outrageous. There should be more noise about this, because Sunwater, the local operator, has said it is now going to cost—on top of the existing construction costs and the couple of hundred million dollars to already knock it down and do repairs—more than the $1.2 billion we had allocated to repair it. This is an incredible failure.

I reiterate that state governments—and I don’t care where they come from—have an opportunity to fast-track this dam. It will make no difference to the environment. It is the same footprint at the same level. They could give confidence to my community and they could commit the funding that is required, and the Prime Minister could meet the promise he made to the people of my region. He made it publicly.

In terms of other things inside the appropriation bill, there’s a significant number of projects and there’s some argy-bargy. We heard from Senator Chisholm in the other place about how he, of course, always invites the local member. Well, he might have missed a couple. In fact, he was there for the opening of any number of the projects which were commenced by the coalition and completed in recent months. If we look at the Pacific Marine Base at the Port of Bundaberg, which was significantly delayed over a period of time, Senator Chisholm managed to open that in September 2023, but my invitation must have been lost—what an inconvenience! But that’s great; we still got it delivered.

There’s a multipurpose conveyor at the Port of Bundaberg, which actually matters. Because the state took so long to approve it, the $10 million we had allocated wasn’t enough. I had to secure another $7.7 million. The Port of Bundaberg has, for a long time, basically solely been a sugar port. The local sugar industry is in decline. It is much smaller than it used to be. In fact, in the nineties the local region probably grew six million tonnes of sugarcane. This season I expect probably 2.5 tonnes. That has an obvious impact on what is exported out of a sugar port dedicated to that. One of the ways to ensure that the Port of Bundaberg is maintained and becomes profitable is to ensure that they can actually ship other products, and the purpose of the multiuse conveyor is to do exactly that.

The Treasurer showed up for that—sorry, it was Minister Kristy McBain who came along. In fact, the Treasurer was for a different one. He managed to find his way up to our place and to the local region. I’m sure if I sent him a map, he’d be able to find it again—it would be all good. The Hervey Bay CBD redevelopment, which is part of the Hinkler Regional Deal: Senator Chisholm came and opened that one too. I’m sure he did a good job. It’s underway, and it’s being delivered for the people I represent. That is the outcome that we need.

We hear from the Albanese government—from Minister King and others—who are constantly in the parliament, who are out in the media and who are out in our regions, and they describe some of our funds and priority projects as rorts. I want to give the House and those listening an idea of what the Labor Party, the Labor government and the Labor ministry consider to be rorts.

Under the Building Better Regions Fund in my patch, we contributed to and helped to deliver the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the LifeFlight joint base. The Labor government consider that to be a rort. Accommodation on site shortens the travel time, shortens the response time and delivers for the people at a time of desperate need. I’ve spoken about the Pacific Marine Base, the Burnett Heads town centre and IWC stage 2, but I’ll give you an idea of just how essential the Stronger Communities Program was, which included $150,000 per electorate. In the last round that it existed, because it was cut by the Labor government, my office received 100 expressions of interest requesting $1,436,108 for the funding allocation of just $150,000. That is how desperate the need is in my local region, and this program is no longer funded by the Labor Party, by the Labor government, by this Treasurer and by this Prime Minister.

Here are some things that the Labor government considers to be rorts. Outside broadcast equipment for Fraser Coast Community Radio: the Labor Party considers that to be a rort. A new kitchen at C&K Oaks Beach Community Kindergarten: the Labor Party considers that a rort. Air conditioning at the Woodgate Community Hall: the Labor Party considers that a rort. The Hervey Bay Neighbourhood Centre Community Cafe, used to provide training: the Labor Party considers that a rort. A wheelchair-accessible bus for the Endeavour Foundation in Bundaberg: the Labor Party considers that a rort. Little libraries for Childers built by the Men’s Shed: the Labor Party considers that a rort. Installation of a Liberty Swing at Hervey Bay Special School: because it’s part of this program, this has been described by the Labor Party as a rort. A trailer for the Bundaberg Rowing Club to transport boats to competition: the Labor Party considers it a rort. New scoreboards for the Woodgate Bowls Club: the Labor Party considers that a rort. New change rooms and amenities at the Diggers Football Club: the Labor Party considers that a rort. The kitchen upgrade at the Elouera Girl Guides campsite at Mon Repos: the Labor Party considers that a rort. Cold room condensers for Fraser Coast Meals on Wheels, a barbecue trailer for the Hervey Bay Amateur Fishing Club for fundraising, an armoured personnel carrier on display at the Toogoom RSL, freezers for We Care 2 in Hervey Bay, an amenities block for the Hervey Bay Woodcrafts Club, a shade sail for the Burrum District Men’s Shed, marquees for Woodgate Community Events, a tamping machine for the Australian Sugar Cane Railway at the botanic gardens in Bundaberg to replace the wooden sleepers, canteen upgrades at Bundaberg Touch and the Bundaberg Race Club, night vision goggles for the RACQ LifeFlight Bundaberg: these are all considered rorts by this Labor Party government.

A community bus for Woodgate residents; Angel’s Second 2 None opshop; the Olympic trap layout and bunker for Bundaberg Clay Target Club; driveways and courtyards at Bundaberg Players; air conditioning in the Childers cultural centre; fridges and freezers and washing machines for Regional Housing accommodation; kitchen upgrades for the Bundaberg Small Bore Rifle Club, the Burrum Heads Bowls Club, the Burgowan Bowls Club, the Fraser Coast Artslink; a mower and shed for Bundaberg tennis; a patrol trailer upgrade for Hervey Bay Surf Life Saving Club: all considered by this Labor Party government to be rorts.

It is outrageous. They should change their language, because in the regions that is a lot of lamingtons. You have to sell a lot of sausages on bread to cover these significant costs for predominantly volunteer organisations that are desperately needed.

We of course will support the appropriations bills, as all oppositions do. But I, for one, think the Labor government needs to reconsider its language on how regional areas are supported, particularly at a time like this where a cost-of-living crisis is in place.

I’ll conclude by saying thank you very much, Deputy Speaker Wilkie, for your forbearance, for the extra couple of minutes. We will get on with it, but, once again, a Labor government needs to change its language and reconsider what it means to live in regional Australia, because they need the help.

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