Wednesday, 6 September 2017
Statements by Senators
Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements
I too, following on from Senator Macdonald, want to talk about regional Queensland. Specifically, in the last couple of weeks, I've had the opportunity to travel to the federal seat of Dawson and the federal seat of Hinkler with federal Labor leader Bill Shorten. It was a really interesting visit because we were able to focus on a number of issues which were illustrative, I think, of the position that this government is in. But it was also an opportunity for us to listen to the community—to talk to community businesses and local government about opportunities and optimism for the future, highlighting the lack of government action in particular areas. We also had two well-attended town hall forums, one in the northern beaches of Mackay and one in Bundaberg.
Indeed, the trip to Dawson, where we also visited Proserpine, was the federal Labor leader's third trip since the cyclone, so there has been a really strong commitment from the federal Labor leader to ensure that those communities aren't forgotten. And it was my fourth trip to that affected area. I have been there twice now with federal Labor leader Bill Shorten, I have been there with shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen and I have also been there with Stephen Jones, the member for Whitlam. Prior to that, I went and had a beer at the Ayr RSL, where they informed me that Senator Macdonald actually lives around the corner. But I didn't get the invite to have dinner with Senator Macdonald whilst I was at the Ayr RSL!
But the concerning thing about, in particular, the trip to Proserpine was the lack of government action on the natural disaster recovery and relief arrangements. It is something that the local councils have been united on, through Proserpine, Mackay and, indeed, Rockhampton. But this government has failed to come to the party, although there was an announcement last week from the Minister for Justice, Minister Keenan. But I would point out that, when he made some additional funding announcements for the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements, he did it whilst he was in Brisbane. He didn't even have the courtesy to go to the affected communities, see the devastation from the cyclone and easily understand how important this funding is. He just visited Brisbane and put out a press release; that was the level of commitment. I know that he's had invitations from the local mayors to visit the impacted communities, but he has not been there since initially flying in on a helicopter with, I think, Senator Macdonald.
So there's a united view from the local councils in those areas that the federal government are still not doing enough to fix the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements. They've now promised a total of $48.1 million, which is still way short of the $110 million that the state government have put on the table. It is what the federal government have been found lacking on. There's no doubt that those impacted communities deserve so much better than what the federal government have been providing.
We also, both in Mackay and in Bundaberg, had the opportunity to do local roundtables with business, local government and members of the community. These were really illustrative for us in that, in areas where at the moment there is, unfortunately, high unemployment and where people are struggling to see much of an opportunity for themselves and their young ones, there is, on the ground, a sense of optimism, a sense that if they can just get a few things right there will be opportunity for growth. But the consistent feedback from these meetings was that the federal government isn't hitting the mark. There's no faith in this federal government being able to change some of the circumstances on the ground, whether that be through tourism opportunities or whether it be in training opportunities, or in its actually working with those communities to make changes so that people can benefit. At the back-to-work forums that we hosted with federal Labor leader Bill Shorten there were a range of businesses, whether they were in the local craft beer sector or whether they were in tourism. It was really encouraging to receive such broad feedback from them and from the local councils, who are often the ones who are so in touch with what is happening in those regional communities. But the overwhelming feedback was that there is a lack of action from the federal government, in particular from the sitting National Party MPs, in those places.
We held town hall forums in the northern beaches of Mackay and Bundaberg as well. Huge crowds came along to these. I think even Donald Trump would be very impressed with the crowds that turned up at these town hall forums. And there were consistent themes. We know that the NBN is a mess, particularly in regional Queensland. This came through strongly in Mackay and it came through very strongly in Bundaberg. The last time NBN Co had to put out their records, in the whole of Australia it was Bundaberg that had made the most complaints about the NBN. When federal Labor leader Bill Shorten raised the NBN at the packed town hall in Bundaberg, it was just met with laughter. People in Bundaberg really do ridicule the NBN because it is not delivering the services that they need.
Another consistent theme was concern about the fly-in fly-out workforce, labour hire and casualisation. What we're seeing and noticing in Queensland is an increase in casualisation. It's actually growing at a quicker rate in regional Queensland. That is changing the nature of these coastal communities from areas that traditionally have had very strong population bases. For the first time we are seeing those communities starting to shrink. The increase in casualisation and the changing circumstances around industrial relations in these communities are having a negative impact for the current day but also for the long term, because they are going to change the nature of the way these places are growing.
We also heard, through both forums, a consistent theme of inequality. This is something that the other side deny is a problem but, when you spend any time in Mackay or Bundaberg, it comes through really strongly. People see inequality around education, they see it around the NBN and they see it around economic opportunity in regional Queensland in particular. The government can bury their heads in the sand, but we know it is a problem, and it is something that federal Labor leader Bill Shorten focused on and received a strong response about in those local communities.
The other issue that is growing as a significant concern in regional Queensland is around aged care. There are growing problems throughout regional Queensland around access to aged care and, at the same time, the quality of service. This is something that we will come back to and spend a lot more time on, but we do know it is starting to strike a chord with Queenslanders.
Clearly, the overwhelming message from the town hall forums in Mackay and Bundaberg was that people see this government as out of touch. They have a lack of faith in the government. They see the chaos and dysfunction. They see that the government are failing to deal with the important issues that they talk about. The citizenship issue, and the fact that there are illegitimate ministers in play, came up frequently. We also saw concern around local MPs that aren't doing their job. We saw it in Mackay and Dawson and we saw it in Hinkler as well. There is a real concern in those local communities that they aren't getting the representation they deserve. And there's no bigger highlight of that than the national disaster relief and recovery arrangements, which the government have failed to deal with adequately.