House debates

Monday, 24 June 2013

Statements on Indulgence

Regional Australia Committee

11:48 am

Photo of Tony WindsorTony Windsor (New England, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the Standing Committee on Regional Australia I wish to make a statement concerning the committee's inquiries. This is the first parliament that has had a committee totally devoted to regional Australia. It was part of the agreement that the member for Lyne and I made on the formation of government.

I know the deputy chair, the member for Bendigo, is here today, and I think all of the committee members, including the former deputy chair, Mr Sidebottom, would agreed that the committee has worked incredibly well together in a parliament that has been so divisive in its nature—a hung parliament. This committee has looked at a number of issues, and I will get to those in a minute. But I congratulate all of the members from the government, the Liberal Party and the National Party for the way in which they have conducted themselves in these very important issues for regional Australia.

I also thank the previous minister for regional Australia, Simon Crean, for the work that he did. I think Simon Crean is one of those individuals in this parliament who really has a good understanding of regional Australia. Since Mr Crean's departure, the new minister, Anthony Albanese, has reflected that understanding too. So I do thank those two ministers for the way in which they have interacted with the committee and I thank the Prime Minister as well for her oversight of the committee through its various activities.

The committee has carried out a number of inquiries. In a historical context, one of the most significant inquiries, I think, of this parliament was the inquiry that the regional Australia committee undertook into the impact of the guide to the proposed Murray-Darling Basin Plan. This was an extensive document, and the committee was on the road during January 2011, normally a time when parliamentarians have a break—and I recognise Sussan Ley, who is in the chamber, was also on that committee. However, the committee went on the road for nearly a fortnight, travelling the extent of the Murray-Darling system that it could during that period of time, and there were other investigations and inquiries with various communities up and down the system, whether they were in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria or South Australia.

The way in which the committee membership addressed this inquiry, in my view, was part of the reason that we were able to come to a consensus in this building. The committee was a microcosm of the parliament, and those committee members were prepared to look at the issue, talk to the communities and look at the ways in which some constructive work could be done in relation to an issue that has been out there for a hundred years. I congratulate members of the committee on the work they did, and I congratulate Minister Burke on his achievements as well. There is no doubt that the committee's inquiry, and its subsequent inquiries into sustainable diversion limits and the water for the environment special account, had a positive impact on the eventual bill that gained assent through the parliament. So congratulations to all those members.

The second significant inquiry was into fly-in fly-out, or FIFO, and drive-in drive-out, or DIDO workforce practices in regional Australia. The report was entitled Cancer of the bush or salvation for our cities?The government has up until July, I think, to respond to this particular inquiry, and I would urge government members and committee members to apply pressure to the government, various ministers and the Prime Minister to make sure that some of these issues are addressed. There are significant issues in relation to fly-in fly-out—very significant issues—that need to be addressed. I will not go to the extent of listing recommendations but, again, I congratulate the committee. (Extension of time granted) I thank the secretariat, particularly Glenn Worthington, the committee secretary; Siobahn Leyne, the inquiry secretary; and all of those who have been part of the process for these inquiries and in the inaugural regional Australia committee. I urge the next government, whoever it is, to have a committee that is totally devoted to regional Australia rather than having it bracketed with other committees.

11:54 am

Photo of Steve GibbonsSteve Gibbons (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Madam Deputy Speaker, on indulgence—I wish to correct a mistake I made in my valedictory speech last week. I omitted to mention David Kennedy as an important member of my staff. David, as some of you would know, was once the federal member for Bendigo and then represented Bendigo in the state parliament. I wanted to acknowledge his help. I also wanted acknowledge the help that Peter Thompson and Morna Whiting have been to me over the eight years I have stayed with them.

I also speak in support of the work of the Standing Committee on Regional Australia. I endorse the comments made by the chair, and I agree that the inquiry into the impact of the guide to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was particularly gruelling. Participating in that inquiry was certainly a character-building exercise. As the chair said, we toured extensively in northern New South Wales in January amongst the dust and the flies. We took some valuable evidence and met a lot of very dedicated people, and it reinforced to me that some of the best environmentalists in Australia happen to be farmers. I have no hesitation in saying that, simply because they understand the environment better than most—quite often their livelihood depends on it. As I said, it was a character-building exercise and well worth pursuing. We were able to make some major changes to the government's legislation, and I think the chair should take a bow for that.

There were two other inquiries. Firstly, the inquiry into certain matters relating to the proposed Murray-Darling Basin Plan was a follow-up inquiry that led to two amendments to the Water Act to provide a sustainable diversion limit adjustment mechanism. We are all pretty proud of that. Secondly, the inquiry into the Water Amendment (Long-term Average Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment) Bill 2012, which responded to a recommendation made by the committee to provide community certainty on the issue.

The other inquiry that was quite time consuming was the inquiry into fly-in fly-out work practices. That issue has presented some real problems for a lot of small communities. Having an invasion, if you like, of 2,000 or 3,000 extra workers descend on a small community for two or three weeks and then go away again puts enormous strain on the resources available in those communities, such as local government, health and those sorts of things. It was a worthy inquiry with some really good recommendations.

I, too, would like to acknowledge the work of the secretary, Glenn Worthington; Siobhan Leyne, Casey, Daniel, Katrina and Emily Costello. The committee has been served very well by these people. They are very capable, very dedicated and provided the committee with some superb advice.