Tuesday, 10 September 2019
As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I want to discuss tonight nine heroes and a marvellous team—a very large team—in North Queensland. But first I want to mention a second team: the Queensland girls soccer team that won the national championship last week. Let's get back to the nine heroes and the team of 28,000 people in North Queensland.
Last week, I was in Townsville listening to farmers at a rally they had called because they've had enough. They were farmers from not just North Queensland but right along the east coast of Queensland. I was also supporting Peter Ridd, the academic who has stood his ground and has been ordered to be reinstated after being wrongfully dismissed for standing up and speaking on behalf of science. He's now working with the farmers, making sure that they have a fair go.
In listening to the farmers there, I also met up with a few people who held a rally after the farmers' rally. They were advocating for a North Queensland separation—a new state of North Queensland. They are separatists. Their big beef was that they lacked funding in North Queensland. They see money being spent by Canberra elsewhere in the state, especially in South-East Queensland. They see the state Labor government in Queensland funding most of its dreams, and the Greens' dreams, in and near Brisbane. Queensland has become Brisbane-centric, and yet we see the regions as being the producers.
In Townsville in May, I listened to a group of mayors from north-west Queensland. They are getting serious and wanting to push their region's case, so please listen to these figures, this data. North Queensland is an area of 306,000 square kilometres. It's the size of Victoria and Tasmania combined. It has a resident population of 29,000 people. That's the team of champions I'm talking about, and here's why: their contribution to the national economy per person is $176,000. The rest of the state in Queensland is $66,000. So they're punching three times what the rest of Queensland is, and that's very high compared to the rest of Australia—again, three times. They have council-controlled roads of 11,000 kilometres compared to state-controlled roads of just 4,000 kilometres, they have a gross regional product of $5.1 billion and they have around 900,000 tourists to outback Queensland each year. So North Queensland are contributing enormously, but they're being shafted when it comes to funding.
With fewer than a thousand workers and only 11,000 rateable properties, the nine councils in north-west Queensland have to manage $2.63 billion in assets and almost 11,000 kilometres of road, water and sewage treatment plants across 17 different communities, as well as a number of childcare centres, regional airports and community services, all while having an annual operating expenditure of only $177 million. That is unfair treatment.
As a senator for Queensland, though, I cannot support the separation of North Queensland. I'm a senator for Queensland for the people of Queensland. The north-west mayors are not arguing for a separation; the north-west mayors are arguing for a fair go. What I said to the separatists in Townsville last week was that getting a separate state would simply hide the problem, because the real problem—as Richard Court, the former Premier of Western Australia, pointed out during his premiership—is that we are destroying competitive federalism in this country. In 1994, when Richard Court wrote his book, more than 50 per cent of state funding was controlled by the federal government. In 2017, when I listened to the people in south-western Queensland in Balonne, 73 per cent of the shire's funding came from the federal government. The real solution is to get back to our Constitution. To put the federal government back in its box, restore the Constitution.
What North Queensland and north-west Queensland need are real solutions. They name them. I don't have the time to go through them now. We need to fix the root cause, get money allocated fairly, get power back to the states and fund the councils. One Nation will continue to listen to, speak up for, support and push for the people of north-west Queensland and North Queensland.