Thursday, 18 June 2020
I do have a high regard for Senator Gallacher and his appeal to the better angels of my nature to be collegiate, so I will respond to that appeal and see if I can return to the spirit of collegiality as I engage in this debate. But I do think there are some matters which need to be recognised at the outset.
The first thing I'd say is that the May 2020 jobless figures are quite sobering. This country now has an unemployment rate of 7.1 per cent. A further 227,700 people are now unemployed, and, in my home state of Queensland, 167,900 jobs have been lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. I can remember what it was like entering the workforce when I graduated from university into the last recession Australia had. It's not a great experience, and my sympathy is with all of those people who are struggling at the moment in Queensland.
I think we should recognise that the federal government does have a plan, and it has actually outperformed nearly every other country in the OECD in protecting Australians' lives and livelihoods. The federal government has provided $260 billion worth of support. We've provided JobKeeper. We've provided jobseeker. We've provided cash flow boosts to medium and small businesses. When I go around chambers of commerce in my home state of Queensland, I receive very, very positive feedback in relation to the federal government's initiatives. It really has made a difference, absolutely. This week our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, announced the federal government's plan to achieve GDP one per cent above trend per annum over the next five years so that we can at least get the country back to where it was and then beyond, as we build the bridge to recovery.
I know Senator Gallacher is concerned about apprentices and technical trades training; he raised that in the course of his contribution. In that respect I make three points. First, the government's economic response to the coronavirus did include a $1.3 billion package of measures supporting apprentices and trainees. I think that was a very commendable package to make sure those apprentices could stay employed by their employers. Second, the government has recently announced a $585 million skills package entitled 'Delivering Skills for Today and Tomorrow', investing in supporting Australians to gain the skills they need. Third, the government's HomeBuilder scheme, which Senator Gallacher criticised in a somewhat less-than-collegiate manner earlier in the week, has been welcomed by the construction industry in my home state of Queensland. The chief executive officer of Master Builders Queensland said, 'Industry's calls for assistance have definitely been answered.' The CEO of Coral Homes, which employs hundreds of people on the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast, said:
This will definitely make a difference to the building industry, our supply chain and all the local contractors we employ.
In my home state of Queensland, when you put that $25,000 grant for a new home together with the Queensland state government's $15,000 First Home Owners Grant, first home buyers have a $40,000 sum, under a home and land package, for constructing their first home. That's a very, very positive thing.
There's only so much that the federal government can do. Unfortunately, I'm sorry to say, in my home state of Queensland it's hard to be collegiate when I look at the Queensland state Labor government. Unlike Senator Gallacher, it doesn't appeal to the better angels of my character. Indeed, it has been a source of continuing frustration. At the moment, the Palaszczuk Labor government is a millstone around the neck of Queensland as it tries to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. It needs to take heed of Senator Gallacher's words about pragmatism and do three things: (1) build dams, (2) approve projects and (3) open the state border. I call upon the Palaszczuk Labor government to do that last one today.
Let's talk about building dams. Under Deb Frecklington, the LNP opposition has announced a visionary—and it is visionary—project, the New Bradfield Scheme. The history of how this was developed is in itself visionary; it's bold. Deb Frecklington, the state opposition leader, sat down with two great Queenslanders, Sir Leo Hielscher and Sir Frank Moore, and discussed the concept of taking elements of the long-talked-about Bradfield Scheme and making the scheme practical. Under the New Bradfield Scheme proposed by the state LNP, the biggest dam in Queensland would be constructed—the equivalent of 28 Sydney Harbours. An area the size of Tasmania would be covered by this single dam. It would produce hydroelectricity for 800,000 homes. It's a visionary project and it's consistent with Queensland's state motto: 'bold but faithful'. It's a bold project and it's faithful to the Queensland I grew up in—the go-ahead state, the low-tax state, the state where you could get things done. The Queensland of old was the state where workers could get work and apprentices could get apprenticeships.
Unfortunately, the Queensland of today under Annastacia Palaszczuk isn't interested in building dams. In fact, it's tearing down dams instead of building them. It's actually lowering the wall of the Paradise Dam in Bundaberg. It has no plans to repair, rectify or replace that dam and undo the damage that was caused during the construction of that dam under a previous Labor government, under the Beattie Labor government. Let me quote from some of my friends in the Queensland parliament who have been fighting for the community with respect to this issue. My good friend Stephen Bennett, the member for Burdekin, said:
Labor is more interested in covering up its botched building of the dam rather than in protecting the community and jobs.
David Batt, the member for Bundaberg, said:
It’s unacceptable that Labor only has a plan to tear down the dam and no plan to fix it.
How true. My friend Colin Boyce, the member for Callide, said:
… if you have water you have jobs.
How true. The state government needs to build dams, approve projects and open the border.
Let's talk about projects. Earlier during these two weeks the six LNP senators from my home state of Queensland called for approval of the Acland project. This is a project that has been waiting for approval for 13 years. It's shovel ready. Not only will it protect 150 jobs; it will create hundreds of jobs and it will provide billions of dollars of revenue to local suppliers. Dozens of local businesses have called for this project to go ahead. Today youth unemployment in Toowoomba was announced to be 24 per cent. Those young people deserve a chance. Those young people deserve a state government which builds dams, approves projects and opens borders.
Let's talk about opening borders. Earlier in these two weeks I talked about the postcodes in Queensland which have been most impacted by the closure of state borders. They include Cairns, Surfers Paradise, Southport, Nerang and Gaven. They have all been impacted by the closure of state borders. My good friend Michael Hart, the member for Burleigh, summed it up best when he put up a billboard on the Gold Coast which said: 'Planes = jobs. Open the border.' Senator Gallacher has spoken about how important the aviation industry is. I agree. But the Queensland government needs to open the border to get the planes flying again to create jobs. Open the border. Create jobs. Get the planes flying again.
With Senator Gallacher appealing to the better angels of my nature, I thought that in my appeal to Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk I should invoke the spirit of one of the great Labor senators from Queensland, the great Ron McAuliffe, who served in this place between 1971 and 1981. Ron McAuliffe was responsible for the establishment of State of Origin. The first State of Origin match was in 1980. I remember Chris 'Choppy' Close carving through the Blues and scoring a try, and Mal Meninga kicking seven goals from seven attempts—and Queensland won the day. That was the first State of Origin. Annastacia, listen to what Ron McAuliffe said to the Queensland State of Origin players in 1980, listen to his words. This is what Labor Senator Ron McAuliffe said:
The future of the game is in your hands. We have taken this bold step. If we are beaten we cannot retreat to any other position. We must win.
I say to the Premier of Queensland, Annastacia Palaszczuk, that you can't win the game unless you get the team out on the paddock. So build dams, approve projects and open the state border.