Monday, 21 November 2022
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2022-2023, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023; Second Reading
Garth Hamilton (Groom, Liberal National Party) Share this | Hansard source
What a joy it is to be following the member for Macnamara and his comments, and I acknowledge his gracious acknowledgement of the work of the previous number for Goldstein in getting that project delivered.
I would like to start my contribution with some reflections from local constituents. On Sunday I was lucky enough to have a barbecue with quite a few local business owners, small and large, from my community. It was a good opportunity to talk about the state the nation, as often happens when you find yourself in these environments, and to speak quite openly with people who have skin in the game when it comes to the state of the economy. Amongst the group there were builders, restaurant owners and healthcare providers. Whilst they all told the story of the challenges they were facing, what became clear and what crystallised in the conversation was a fear that the inflationary pressures that we are seeing are already driving us towards that much feared wage-price spiral that we all desperately want to avoid. There was talk about chefs who were paid $50,000 only two years ago now getting $90,000; of formwork prices going up by 60 per cent during the tender period, mostly from the construction guys; and of healthcare providers simply being unable to keep up with the demands on prices that people were getting in other industries. There was a clear consensus across all of these industries that we're seeing that increase in costs being passed on directly to the consumer. We're describing the intricacies of inflation happening right in front of our eyes, and it's very scary. That is the challenge that we face today. This is the context within which we're discussing the relative merits of this budget.
We are in a time of high cost-of-living pressures. Inflation is rising and interest rates are going up. Across the board, this pressure is being felt. This budget makes for a very good op-ed by the Treasurer; it's full of excellent commentary on the problems that we are faced with across the country. In fact, if we look at the whole commentary and delivery of this from the government, we see they spend a lot of time admiring the problem but not as much time addressing it. I guess when we talk about this budget being a missed opportunity, that's the context we're seeing it in. There are significant pressures being faced by Australians in almost every area in which they turn. And we need to see that plan.
So it is with some regret that I say to the people of Groom that there's very little in this budget for them, which is unfortunate. We've been an area that previous governments have been very, very happy to invest in. They know that every dollar invested in Groom gets returned. We see that not just in public investment but in private investment. During the last term of government we put in $1.2 billion for the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing, a great piece of infrastructure. It took 18 sets of traffic lights out of the delivery of produce from west of Toowoomba going towards Brisbane—a significant increase in transportability to the port there. With Inland Rail, there was $5.1 billion to be spent in the seat of Groom. It's a fantastic project that I will speak more about later. This is an area that is growing. The area of Highfields is absolutely booming. People are flocking to our region and investing. It's unfortunate that we're not seeing that. The headline summary for this project is, of course, that all the things that households, whether in Groom or across the country, are worried about are, unfortunately, still going to happen. The cost of living is going up. Energy prices are going up. Unfortunately, despite a strong campaign by the government, what we see in this budget is confirmation that real wages will not be going up. This will make things very hard.
I reflect back on the election and the commitments that Labor made on real wages, on mortgages and on energy prices. I think they made these commitments because they knew that these were concerns that Australians were facing; these were the very real challenges being felt by families, by households across the country. When elected there was an expectation that these things would be dealt with. It's difficult to see this missed opportunity. By Christmas, we can now see that the average household will be $2,000 worse off. Sadly, there's no plan to address that in this budget. Unfortunately, it's going to hurt most those who are doing it toughest. It wasn't that long ago that I was with the member for Toowoomba South in my electorate, at Southtown shops, talking to John Wilson. One of the things he was describing was how customers were coming in and asking if he stocked the same product in a smaller size. They were actively seeking ways to reduce the cost-of-living pressures that they were facing. That's in an IGA. It's a common experience throughout my electorate—people trying to find ways to reduce those pressures.
I guess this is where we get to the much-talked-about $275 reduction in electricity prices that was raised 97 times prior to the election. There was an acknowledgement by the then opposition that their ambitions towards changing the energy sector in Australia were to be balanced with the reduction in energy costs felt in the hip pockets of Australians. What's very unfortunate in this budget is that we see that not only is that not going to happen; the reverse will be happening. We will see power bills go up by more than 56 per cent over the next two years and gas bills go up by 44 per cent. This is a broken promise, unfortunately, and one that comes at a very hard time for Australians. I take this back to the opening comment: a budget can only address the challenges of the day, and what Australians are looking for is for the government to address those challenges. Unfortunately, we're going to have to wait another seven months or so, until the next budget, before we can hope to see some sort of solution from the government addressing these pressures.
I'm going to reflect on what the previous speaker talked about in far greater detail; I want to touch on it. Unfortunately, this budget has an element of a paper shuffling exercise to it, particularly when it comes to renaming programs that the former government had put in place. I speak particularly about the Building Better Regions Fund. In my area, this was a fund that had a very strong track record of delivering for communities. I could reflect upon the renovation work done for the Soldiers Memorial Hall in Toowoomba that's coming very close to completion now. This was a great public asset, a beautiful building right in the heart of town, that had fallen into disrepair. It was largely unsafe and unsuitable for use, but, thanks to this fund, the Toowoomba Regional Council were able to apply to the Building Better Regions Fund to fix up this historic hall and were awarded $2 million towards the $4 million renovation program. This is a great example of a regional town, a regional asset, being bettered by the use of this fund.
In the most recent round—round 5—I was also proud to announce funding for stage 1 of the Darling Downs Health Museum, to be built at the Baillie Henderson Hospital grounds. The museum would be housed in the heritage listed medical superintendent's house at the site and feature important items from our region's medical history, preserving them for future generations. We have a long and proud history of being a strong health hub in our region. It's a history we would like to see continued. Sadly, the Treasurer scrapped the program midway through round 6, and that means that community groups in my electorate, who'd worked hard to put in their applications, have been unceremoniously dumped from consideration. Projects that were very deserving of funding are now on ice until Labor gets its replacement program, which is called Growing Regions, up and running next financial year. Building Better Regions is now Growing Regions; I'm not sure what the improvement on that is. This is politics for the sake of politics, and it's left, quite frankly, a nasty taste in the mouth of those community groups who are back to the drawing board who had done all that work. I look forward to helping them through the next stage.
There are two very important points I want to speak about that I had hoped to see from this budget: firstly, the Railway Parklands project; and, secondly, Inland Rail. I will start with Inland Rail. This is a fantastic project for our region. The Inland Rail project isn't just running some train line past Toowoomba. What Inland Rail does is establish us as a transport and logistics hub for South-East Queensland. As produce is brought up south along that line and distributed into South-East Queensland, we grow; we benefit. As South-East Queensland grows, we will grow off the back of that. This is regionalisation in action. This is a project that takes work that would otherwise be done in Brisbane and brings it out to Toowoomba, and it really gives us a new economic edge: jobs, growth, prosperity. But it's more. It's 900 jobs during construction—absolutely a key part of Toowoomba's future.
Sadly, from the budget we're very unclear on when this will be delivered. I place this budget within the context of the broader review that the government are bringing in. In my area, this is the eighth review on the inland rail project—eight reviews. I'm adamant that we need to see this project delivered. We need time lines on when that funding will come through so that we can have some certainty on the delivery of this. It has been a long time waiting. Since I've come in, in my nearly two years, I've been a very strong advocate for seeing the rubber hit the road on that project. I'm hoping that in the next budget we'll see a commitment of when that money will be coming forward.
The second project is the Railway Parklands project. I think this is one that is absolutely a missed opportunity, because this project is not just a beautification project. This is a project that addresses one of the key issues we're seeing around the country, which is housing availability and affordability. What this project does—and it was chosen for this very reason; I supported it and I fought for it for this reason—is that it brings medium-density housing into the heart of Toowoomba's CBD. This is so important, because it is how we're going to get that foot traffic through the CBD to support our city traders, and it's how we're going to grow and be able to invite in the young professionals we need. I refer back to members who spoke previously about the challenges we face in regional communities in attracting particularly GPs out to our area. The housing options that we have available are so crucial for us to be able to do that. A project like Railway Parklands is absolutely spot on, addressing the issues of the day.
Sadly, again we don't have any detail whatsoever on when funding for this project may come through, and I think this is an absolute missed opportunity. This is a regional centre that has the opportunity to grow. We've got great projects that have come through our area. What we need now is the housing availability so that we can build and grow off the back of those opportunities.
I will talk to one bright spot, and that is the trailblazer program, a $50 million investment made under the previous government and honoured by the current government, for the Innovative Launch, Automation, Novel Materials, Communications, and Hypersonics hub, otherwise known as iLaNCH, at Uni SQ. This is a fantastic project. It's bringing into a regional town a whole new world of space engineering, a whole new industry—something you wouldn't have expected to see in a regional setting like that 10 or 20 years ago. This investment is crucial for us to continue our growth and continue the offering that we have not only to the young professionals who are out there seeking to develop themselves in this space but also to young children who are coming through and looking for a new pathway. So, that is one bright spot that I will speak to on what is otherwise, unfortunately and sadly, a very disappointing budget, particularly for the people of Groom.