Senate debates

Tuesday, 9 May 2023


Regional Queensland

8:45 pm

Photo of Gerard RennickGerard Rennick (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It was good to get back on the road throughout this parliamentary break and go and see some regional towns in Queensland. It has been a long time since I've been out there, and in the last month I travelled across to the Darling Downs. The first week I went to Warwick, Stanthorpe, Goondiwindi, Dalby and Gatton, then came back to the office for a week and then had another two weeks on the road where I went out to Roma, Charleville, Quilpie, Blackall, Barcaldine, Emerald, Claremont, Charters Towers, Ayr, Townsville, Bowen, Mackay, Gladstone and Rockhampton and finished up in Hervey Bay and Gayndah. Many of the problems people face out in the regions are very similar, despite the geographical distances between many of the towns and the different landscapes, scenery and industries that these towns may rely on.

I will summarise some of those problems now. One is a shortage of labour. I know we have very high immigration in this country but, unfortunately, too many people just move into the big cities of Sydney and Melbourne, and they don't really travel out to the bush where there are so many employment opportunities. I was fortunate enough to stop off at the Central Queensland University in both Rockhampton and Gladstone—at the school of manufacturing and the school of mining. There are so many opportunities in those particular areas and in TAFE that are in the mining industry, the agriculture industry and the process management area, if only we could get more people into TAFE and fewer people into university. I think it is time we had a good look at the tertiary education sector in this country and started to focus more on TAFE courses and apprenticeships rather than degrees, because that's where the work is out in the regions.

The other thing is that, as usual, there are difficulties with health. Many towns need GPs, and we have the same old issue of closing maternity wards. I know Quilpie is looking for GPs, as are many other towns. Gladstone, a big town of between 60,000 and 70,000 people, has had its maternity ward closed down. I've often touched on this issue in the past. We've had over 30 maternity wards close in the regions over the last three decades under the state Labor government, but to think that a town the size of Gladstone—and it's not just its size. It's an extremely prosperous town. It's basically the manufacturing powerhouse of Queensland, with so many smelters and refineries there. It's going to be the future hub for more development in the region, hydrogen being one of them, and it beggars belief that we cannot get services, particularly obstetricians, in a town like Gladstone. When I went to Goondiwindi, for example, they have three obstetricians and three anaesthetists. You really have to ask yourself why the Queensland government can't sort all that out in terms of keeping the maternity ward open out there.

The other thing that really concerned me was that when I was in Mackay there was talk about building a hydro dam upstream at Eungella. That has a World Heritage platypus site. The idea that you are going to build a dam that can provide five gigawatts of power—and that's going to be pumped hydro, which means you lose another 20 per cent when you pump the water uphill, so you're going to have to basically be able to provide six gigawatts of power from the likes of renewable energy. Take wind turbines, for example: they have a 40 per cent capacity, so you would have to provide 15 gigawatts of wind power to basically make sure that you could have enough power if you were going to use the pumped hydro scheme every day to pump the water uphill. To put that into context, Queensland, on average, uses between nine and 10 gigawatts of power every day. So we're looking at building an enormous number of wind turbines—a massive area reclaimed in flooding for these dams. Really, anyone who tries to tell you that renewables are going to be good for the environment is kidding themselves.

If you ever get up to Queensland, make sure you go out and explore the Great Dividing Range. We often think about the Great Barrier Reef, but the Great Dividing Range in Queensland is a really beautiful part of the world, and it doesn't get enough credit.

I also spoke to some sugarcane farmers. They expressed their normal concerns about the control of pricing by Wilmar. That's always an ongoing issue. We really have to ask ourselves why we ever let our sugar mills get wrapped up in the hands of foreign owners only to have our sugarcane farmers be held to the mercy of foreign conglomerates.