House debates

Monday, 29 May 2017


Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2017-2018, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2017-2018, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2017-2018; Second Reading

6:45 pm

Photo of Cathy O'TooleCathy O'Toole (Herbert, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise in this place today to speak about the impact of this government's budget on my electorate of Herbert. The reality is that if I were just to speak today about what the Turnbull government has delivered for Townsville and North Queensland in the 2017 budget I would have very little or nothing to say, because this government has delivered absolutely nothing to Townsville and absolutely nothing to North Queensland. Instead, I will enlighten the government on everything that they could have delivered and everything they did not deliver in this year's federal budget.

Firstly, the two big-ticket items that were not in the budget, the two things for which Townsville has been screaming for some time now, the two infrastructure projects that need urgent acknowledgement and funding allocation are water security and energy infrastructure. The Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, has been meeting with local business leaders since before the last election and as recently as April to discuss how to get the Townsville economy and community back on track. In less than a month after his visit in April, the Leader of the Opposition came back to Townsville to announce $200 million for the building of a hydropower station and $100 million for water security infrastructure. These announcements were not rocket science. The lack of these significant and fundamental infrastructure projects is having a significant negative impact and is holding Townsville back. This is very obvious to those of us who live in the north, but if you see the world from the perspective of wealth, as does our Prime Minister—who is used to having a solid silver spoon in his mouth—I guess it does not really matter.

I was flabbergasted that the Turnbull government has committed nothing to water and energy security infrastructure in the budget for the north. The Turnbull government tries hard to copy a great deal of Labor's policy and commitments. This was clearly evident in regard to the Townsville stadium announcement. In October 2015, Labor committed $100 million towards the Townsville stadium, and more than eight months later—in fact, on the day before prepolling opened—the Prime Minister was dragged kicking and screaming to follow suit. Unfortunately, it looks like Labor will lead the way again, and I will continue to be a loud, persistent and strong voice in Canberra for my electorate of Herbert. I live in hope that someone in the government will listen and act. It would have been great if the Turnbull government had done what governments are supposed to do: deliver vital infrastructure for struggling communities. But it seems that Townsville's cries are falling on deaf ears. The Turnbull government's ignorance is outstanding. Townsville should not have to fight this hard to have access to water, and businesses should not have to shut their doors before the Turnbull government does something about addressing our growing energy crisis. But, due to the sheer pigheadedness of this government, I will take up the fight for Townsville and I will not stop until either this government is kicked out and a Shorten Labor government, which will deliver water and energy infrastructure, is voted in or the Turnbull government matches Labor's commitments.

Here we go again, it seems. The most obvious solution sits in our backyard, and even though the Turnbull government cannot seem to see it you can see the catchment area for this resource from space. Of course, I am talking about the Burdekin Falls Dam, a 'two birds with one stone' solution. The Burdekin Falls Dam is 130 kilometres west of Townsville. This dam is five times the size of Sydney Harbour, and the catchment area is bigger than England. But accessing this water resource is expensive. It is currently costing the Townsville City Council tens of thousands of dollars per day to pump 130 megalitres of water from the Haughton pipeline to the dam, which only delivers 90 megalitres due to evaporation. Currently, the Haughton pipeline does not directly feed to the Ross River Dam; it feeds into the Haughton channel, where water has to travel a further 46 kilometres to reach the Ross River Dam, which was built as a flood mitigation strategy.

What Townsville needs is a gravity-fed pipeline directly from the Burdekin Falls Dam, the raising of the dam wall and the construction of a hydro power station, as was the original vision. The plans were drafted in the eighties and the land purchased by a forward-thinking Hawke Labor government. It was the Howard government that stopped funding to deliver the full vision and construction of this vital infrastructure. The coalition government now have an opportunity to fix what they have ruined for the north, but they had better be warned: if you do not match Labor's $300 million commitment then you will be kicked out at the next election by the people living in the north that you have ignored.

Of course, this government could have addressed our growing ice epidemic. The electorate of Herbert has a substantial ice problem, which has contributed significantly to a high youth crime rate in the city of Townsville. Our closest youth drug rehabilitation and detox centre is in Brisbane, and this facility is mostly at capacity, which then leaves facilities in Melbourne available for our youth. That is simply too far for families and young people to travel. Once again, it would have been so easy for this government to match Labor's $5 million commitment to fund the Salvation Army to include a youth drug rehabilitation and detox centre in their new facility in Townsville, but, once again, the Turnbull government just did not think it was important enough.

This budget has pointed out the absolute hypocrisy of the Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, and his regional jobs plan, because nowhere in this budget has funding been allocated for government departments and services to be decentralised. It appears that the Deputy Prime Minister is interested only in his electorate and not all regional areas when it comes to his decentralisation plan. I have spoken to many organisations in North Queensland that have now seen the Deputy Prime Minister for what he really is. No funding in the budget has been not only a kick in the guts but a stab in the back, with salt rubbed into the wound. North Queenslanders will not forget this. It is not like it would have been hard for the Deputy Prime Minister to make a start regarding regional services. The government could have reinstated the 200 jobs cut from the Australian Taxation Office, the 19 jobs cut from the CSIRO and the four jobs cut from the office of the Department of Veterans' Affairs. That would have been a great start, but they could not even do that.

Now our community has heard whispers of even further uncertainty. It appears that the Turnbull government is considering closing the Bureau of Meteorology in Townsville. How quickly the Prime Minister has forgotten his trip to Proserpine, where he saw firsthand the devastation in the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie. I would have thought the member for Dawson would also understand the critical reasons for the Bureau of Meteorology to remain in Townsville, as his electorate was devastated by Cyclone Debbie. For the member for Dawson's sake, I will outline the great work and importance of the Bureau of Meteorology office in Townsville. It is because of their on-the-ground work and capacity to quickly provide information to local council disaster recovery management teams, state government, Defence and, of course, the community that there were no lives lost. Governments, businesses, organisations and communities were able to quickly prepare and be ready, and for that we can thank the initial on-the-ground work by the BOM staff, who were able to provide life-saving information as quickly as humanly possible. North Queensland is the heartland of tropical cyclones, and having the Bureau of Meteorology's office located in Townsville, which can act as a central point in North Queensland, is not negotiable; it is vital. No assurances have been given, and these whispers are getting louder.

Then, of course, we have the $22 billion cut to education. Education is the cornerstone of the future development of this nation. Education is the only way out of poverty and disadvantage for people wanting to contribute and achieve a good life. Our principals, schools, teachers and parents desperately need Labor's needs based funding, but sadly the Turnbull government would rather give a $65.4 billion tax cut to big business. Parents, principals and teachers know schools will be worse off because of the Liberals' $22 billion cut to education, which is the equivalent of cutting $2.4 million from every school in Australia over the next decade, or sacking 22,000 great teachers.

It will not be the schools in Wentworth, inner Sydney or Melbourne that miss out. No, it will be the schools in regional, rural and remote Queensland that will be left out. Of course, they are the schools that need funding the most. There is enough pressure on our schools as it is without this government cutting over $22 billion. Principals are already struggling to make ends meet. For example, the principal of the Aitkenvale State School is even doing a lot of the hard work and irrigation upgrades himself on weekends, pinching every penny he can to invest back in his teachers and students. Education should be bipartisan. This should not be an argument that we are having. But, sadly, it is. I cannot support $22 billion cuts to education, and I will not support anything other than Labor's full rollout of needs based funding.

Then we have the cuts to health. Australia used to be a place where we valued our health system. Everyone had a fair go when it came to access to quality healthcare services. But it is clear that the Turnbull government is hell-bent on destroying our healthcare system. This budget confirmed what the Australian public already knew: you cannot trust the coalition with health. The Turnbull government's budget locks in $2.2 billion cuts to GP, specialist and allied health services. This is further proof that the Prime Minister has simply paid lip service to caring about health. He has kept these cuts in place for three years.

Just today reports have come to light that the Turnbull government intends to abolish the private health insurance rebate. Consumers will be charged more for extras and states will be forced to find more money for public hospitals under radical funding changes being considered by top government officials. Documents reveal that the nation's most senior health bureaucrats are part of a secret task force developing a proposal for a Commonwealth hospital benefit, a new funding formula for public and private hospitals that would have widespread ramifications for patients and the medical industry.

I currently have my mother-in-law dying of cancer in the palliative care ward in the Townsville hospital. I can tell you that they need every cent they can get because that hospital has had to take that palliative care centre and turn it into an overflow unit for medical and surgical procedures—and that is simply unacceptable.

Before the Turnbull government tries to sweep this under the rug, tender documents show that the Department of Health has paid $55,000 to establish a task force on hospital funding. The task force have met three times, as recently as March 2017. This government is just hell-bent on destroying our public health system. We saw the task force created by the coalition government to privatise Medicare, and now we are seeing a new task force to destroy public hospitals. It is obvious when it comes to public health and public education that you just cannot trust the Turnbull government.

The disgraceful lifting of the GP index freeze is hardly worth noting. I recently met with a healthcare reference group that I have formed in my electorate of Herbert, made up of local medical leaders, including GPs, from across Townsville. I asked them openly and honestly about the Turnbull government's lifting of the GP index freeze. The replies were very disheartening, indeed. GPs told me that lifting the GP freeze gives patients a maximum of 12c for the next two years and then they will get $2.

Sadly for the people of Townsville and North Queensland I am sorry to say to say that the Turnbull budget does very little to nothing for us. This is a shameful budget. It is not only that there is nothing delivered north of Brisbane; we were not even afforded a mention in the budget speech. The Turnbull government has just ignored Townsville and the north. Had it delivered any of the things that I mentioned, I would have welcomed the announcement. But instead of rejoicing in North Queensland we have a huge fight on our hands, and I will be a loud and strong advocate in this place.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended fro m 18:59 to 19 : 44


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