Tuesday, 20 October 2020
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2020-2021, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021; Second Reading
I think I might continue where the former speaker left off and say that the Labor Party are absolutely hopeless at dams. The first thing that I did when I got back to New England was to do with the extension of Chaffey Dam, which was completely bogged down in environmental tape. We had to have offsets for the booroolong frog. I always thought that frogs live in water, and a bigger dam would make a happier frog, but apparently not. We couldn't get anywhere with it. They didn't have enough money, and, by their own forms of regulation, they had stopped the dam. And that's precisely what they want to do. So we moved the regulations to the side, got further money, put another 40,000 megalitres of capacity into that damn and, by our so doing, the city of Tamworth did not run out of water in the last drought. Otherwise, it would have.
This is the difference between the Labor Party and the coalition, where so many of us have actually been in business. I still have a business—I was harvesting on the weekend. I was an accountant. I had my own practice, and therefore not only did I have my own business but my job was oversight of so many others. With the Labor Party, I always think their economics is a bit like dada-surrealism. It's disorder and obscurity. It's a sort of enigmatic working of the subconscious, a dictation by thought and an absence of any control exercised by reason. I always think it's pure psychic automatism. That's what you get with the Labor Party. You can see it now: the juxtaposition of a tirade about new environmental requirements and a subsequent statement of, 'We still believe in dams.' I listened to the budget-in-reply speech. They didn't mention one. I don't know which dam they're going to build. We're having a crack at building Rookwood. They don't want to do that. Paradise Dam—they're going to reduce it by a third. It's hardly a case of them falling over themselves.
We have a great instance at the moment, where the LNP have actually done something I'm so happy about. They've taken the first steps towards the Bradfield Scheme. The only way we're going to fix the water situation in the southern part of the Murray-Darling Basin is to find a new source of water. It doesn't matter how many times you cut and dice it: you can't make water appear from nowhere. You have to find a new source and bring it in. This move by the LNP in Queensland should be at the front line of their political joust as they go into this election, and they should challenge the Labor Party on exactly what they are going to do to match it.
As I've said before, currently the Labor Party have Ross Garnaut on their committee. Well, good luck with that one! I don't think he's going to be recommending a dam. Then they have, I think, Professor Dale from James Cook University. Remember him? James Cook University is the one that kicked out Peter Ridd because he dared to dissent from their zeitgeist, so I don't think you're going to get a recommendation for a dam out of them.
To go back to the coalition, I'm very happy that Frasers transport—you see their trucks moving around—gets a 100 per cent write-off. New trucks means new truck drivers. Nolan's—new trucks, new truck drivers. There will be new prime movers for Carey's, McDonald's and even single operators like Dugald Geddes in my area. A new truck means a new operator. It means a new driver. It means an expansion in the economy. Whether scrapers or dozers or cranes, this 100 per cent write-off is going to be instrumental in driving an economy forward by finding the people—because you can only get a tax write-off if you're making a profit. The business that is making a profit is the one you want to stimulate to grow so that they employ more people.
In terms of infrastructure, what we have on both sides is a form of Keynesian stimulus—an attempt to increase aggregate demand. Yes, it works, but it's best if it works with a legacy component and the highest possible multiplier that you can get. Infrastructure is good at that, because you've got the initial stimulus of the people working on it and you've got the legacy of what's left after it. One of the great things that drives economies forward are roads. Cities don't build roads; roads build cities. Roads are instrumental in the growth of the economy. Dams are absolutely fundamental. Water is wealth, and a dam is a bank. If you don't have proper water infrastructure, the capacity of an economy to grow has a ceiling on it. If you are involved in industry—and I have been—the first questions people ask about is the price of power, access to labour and access to water. If you don't have access to water, you just can't do it, because it's a fundamental input into business.
I want to talk about some local infrastructure that I think is vitally important in my area. Dungowan Dam—the federal government has now placed a quarter of a billion dollars towards Dungowan Dam. That's a huge, huge win. Once more, it underpins the economic growth of the blue-collar workforce, which is very strong in the city of Tamworth. Taminda, Glen Artney, the intermodal—these are all parts of the expansion of the blue-collar workforce in Tamworth, and they're a key part of my constituency and probably one of the reasons I have maybe a different perspective on the way I approach politics to others. It's because it is a blue-collar workforce, and we're well-supported by them. We have also started towards Mole River dam in the north, and it's vitally important that that goes ahead. A major piece of infrastructure, which the Commonwealth has put a million dollars towards for its feasibility study, is the Oven Mountain pumped hydro. This would be a $1.2 billion or $1.3 billion project. I support pumped hydro because, to be quite frank, I have concerns about wind and solar, which are not dispatchable power. To shore it up into dispatchable power, you must be honest and find the mechanism that turns it into dispatchable power, and pump hydro does that.
On the other side, of course, once you add pump hydro to a windmill, the cost of that power is beyond that of coal. Apparently this is one of the things that both sides can't talk about. It is the truth that established coal infrastructure is a cheaper form of power. It is overwhelmingly still our power. We should be developing the most efficient form of coal-fired power delivery in the world because we still stand behind the fact that our nation's biggest export is fossil fuels. It just is. It's denying the simple economics of how our nation works to say, 'We won't live with gas and we won't live with coal, but we somehow will magically live with all the services that we want at this current point.' You've got to pay for them; therefore, you have to understand the basic economics of how your nation works.
We have other issues. Inland Rail is going to be vitally important. Did you know that the pipes for the Inland Rail are made in Tamworth by Humes? Therefore, the economic stimulus of that project goes way beyond the rail corridor. One of the proudest moments was when I got the money for the Inland Rail. I remember conversations with then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and finance minister Mathias Cormann, because it was a key component of the coalition agreement. For years before the leaders on our side spoke about it, tilted towards it and promised it, but they just never got it. That was the point. We had to drive a deal, and we got it. Now they're building it. I and my colleagues in the National Party will take that as one of our greatest achievements. I'm happy about that.
I have some concerns about where our debt is. I understand the Labor Party's attack saying, 'Liberal debt,' but the problem though is that the Labor Party want more debt. They want universal child care, an extension of JobKeeper, an extension of JobSeeker and more money for public housing. These are all noble causes, but you have to borrow further for it, and we're at $1.7 trillion. There's this myth that you never have to repay money. People don't give it to you and say: 'Don't worry about this, Charlie Chaplin. We never want it back.' They actually do want it back, and you have to have the capacity to pay it back. Any mother who has run a budget and any person who has seen a credit card understands the concerns I have with debt.
There are some suggestions of quantitative easing. Let's just go through that. It has been a fascination of mine. Did you know that at the start of the hyperinflation period in Germany there were 170 marks to the dollar? At the end it was—and wait for this—87 trillion marks to the dollar. You might just think that that's a peculiarity of the time, but, no, Argentina had similar circumstances, but not to that extent. Even back in Roman times, in antiquity, near the collapse of the Roman Empire the denarius was about one-fiftieth of its value at the start. You have to be careful. Your fiat currency is sacred. It's merely paper. There has to be strength in the economy behind that. You can't glibly say that it's not important.
In this appropriation debate I want to state that you have to understand the fundamentals of your economy. Fossil fuels are your biggest export. Then it's iron ore. Then there is daylight, daylight, daylight and more daylight, then education and then agriculture. If you lose your big ones and think that it's politically incorrect to talk about your big ones, then you're not going to have an economy and you're going to have very little to manage. Everything around here is imported—the clothes you wear, these glasses, the phone, the electronics and the lights. Find me something nowadays that's not imported. Therefore, if you're living with everything that is imported—and they're not sending it to you out of charity—you have to be putting something on the boat and sending it in the other direction, otherwise you just don't get it. What do we put on a boat and send in the other direction? Gas, coal, iron ore, rare earths, bauxite, beef, horticultural products and cotton. Yet, according to the previous member, so many of these things have become politically incorrect, which means that you are naive to the economics of how your own economy works.
In closing, I'd like to go through a couple of the things that I think are really important. I'd like to see, in the future, some further vision. We only have two sealed roads across our nation. I reckon that's pretty poor after about 250 years. We should be sealing the third one. We've started. We got $100 million years ago to start the Laverton-Boulia Road. We should be finishing that off and getting it sealed because that opens up the gold precincts around Laverton and gives us more access to money. The Toowoomba-to-Gladstone rail corridor should be built so it attaches to the inland rail. We should be building new power stations, new coal-fired power stations—the most efficient in the world. We should be changing tack and looking at nuclear. We just seem to have bogged down in the 1980s. We should be brave enough to say, 'We've moved on.' If they've got pebble-bed reactors from new energy in the United States that basically are unable to melt down because of the mechanism from which they're constructed, we should be looking at it.
What I am supportive of in our budget is the new money for mobile phone black spots. That is incredibly important in regional areas. There's the move towards decentralisation, with $41 million towards that, but we should be nominating the sections of the departments that are going to go, and the inspiration for that should always be at the federal level and having the bravery to say, 'This section of this department is going to go to this regional town,' like we did with APVMA to Armidale, AFMA to Coffs Harbour, part of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority down to Wodonga and part of the GRDC to Toowoomba. So many of these things are vitally important. With Stronger Communities, we get $150,000 per electorate. It works so well. There are so many small organisations that benefit, such as Men's Sheds; even fixing the roofs on local community churches—things that would never get done without the money that we have from that $150,000 allocation from Stronger Communities. It is so important.
This budget is obviously a Keynesian stimulus budget. I hope it does that job. Ultimately, we're going to have to have an honest discussion about how we bring the debt into a position where we can start to repay it or at least hold it where it is, and that's whether we're in government or whether the other side is in government. It's going to be your problem if it's not ours, and we should have a discussion about it.
I'll close with this. The bushfires were caused by fuel load. I know; I was fighting them. Yes, of course, you have issues pertinent to the climate, but to say that somehow our actions in Australia caused the bushfires is ridiculous and a bit of an insult. The bushfires were caused by an excessive fuel load, by lack of access with regard to fighting fires and a lack of capacity to get access to such things as water. They're the things that caused the bushfires. I know because we had one at our place.