Mr ENTSCH (Leichhardt) (11.42 am)-What an outstanding contribution from a fine regional and rural member.
Madam Deputy Speaker Bird, when I made the decision some three years ago to stand down from this place, I never believed for one moment that I would be standing here again before you today-
Mr Bruce Scott-We did!
Mr ENTSCH-delivering another speech. Interestingly enough, I cannot now call it my maiden speech! Nevertheless, it has been quite an amazing journey and I am very, very privileged to have been given a second opportunity to represent my electorate in this place. As I have said previously, when I made the decision to quit politics I did so because of a commitment to my son, who at the time was becoming a teenager. As I am sure many members would appreciate, it was not possible for me as a dad to give him the time necessary while continuing to serve in this job. It was a difficult decision but it was the right decision, and I have enjoyed the now four years that my son has lived with me-something that I would never have walked away from. He is 17 years old now and he has finished his secondary education, so that frees me up.
Initially, I was happy on the farm, but I have to say that, as I watched many of the achievements that I had been able to secure for the region over the extended period of time since 1996 that we were in government being eroded, there was a rising level of despair. Eventually, when approached, I made the decision to recontest the seat.
Some of the things that upset me were relatively small in the overall scheme of things, but one of the things that pushed me over the line was the state government’s decision to push forward with the wild rivers legislation, because of the impact that was going to have not only on the Indigenous population of Cape York but also on the broader community.
That of course has continued to happen, but I am hopeful that we might be able to at least fire a shot across the bows, because what we see there is an unelected group called the Wilderness Society driving the government agenda. We have to get back to the point where governments actually govern for the people and do not allow themselves to be pushed aside for unelected interest groups to, basically, control their decisions.
But there are other things as well. The prohibition on alcohol in Cape York was introduced by the government, but they did so without any support mechanisms. One of the few mechanisms that we had in Far North Queensland was the Aboriginal and Islander Alcohol Relief Service. That was defunded by this government after many, many years of operation. Rose Colless and her team set that up and operated it for many decades. It was a very successful place where Aboriginal and Islander people with alcohol problems or substance abuse problems could voluntarily go, pay for the service and have a chance at rehabilitation.
We now have a situation where the closest service is based in Townsville and I have been encouraging Aboriginal people from Cape York to travel as far south as the Gold Coast. It is just a joke. Not only that, 30-odd Indigenous people were put out of work. Some of them had been working for 25 years for this organisation and suddenly they were back on the unemployment queue.
Another issue was the contract for the naval vessels that had been awarded to NQEA. That was a great opportunity for Cairns and for NQEA. That decision was not supported by the state government and was not supported by the local federal member, and the contract was transferred to Victoria. In spite of the fact that NQEA had had two amazingly successful contracts in the past, one with the Fremantle class patrol boats which they built and the second with hydrographic ships, they missed out. The contract went to Victoria, and we have seen the dog’s breakfast that has been created by the component that was built down there. It is an absolute waste of money, and of course they are having major problems because of the quality of workmanship. That had a profound impact on Cairns. We lost over 300 jobs as a direct consequence of that.
Of course, there was more. The Dr Edward Koch Foundation had carried out outstanding suicide prevention work in Cairns for many, many years. Suddenly they lost their funding. The money had gone to a middleman, if you like, a carpetbagger in the southern part of the state. The services provided by the Dr Edward Koch Foundation have been lost. We are still trying to recover that.
We are talking about areas where there is a huge incidence of suicide, particularly in our Indigenous communities, and this support mechanism is absolutely critical. The memorandum of understanding, the working arrangements, that the Dr Edward Koch Foundation had with the police, with Indigenous communities and with many other organisations meant that they were very widely accepted and were very much needed and appreciated by these communities.
But, rather than keep that going, the government has put the money into a middleman who creams off their bit and feeds out bits and pieces to regional areas. I think that is something that we need to look at very closely.
Probably one of the most ridiculous and unbelievable decisions that was made caused the loss of our Cairns Youth Mentoring Scheme, where $50,000 or $60,000 a year had a profound impact on young people’s lives. It recognised that there are a lot of single mums out there with boys who do not have a good male influence or who have limited male influence and they need to have some sort of male mentoring arrangement. I established the organisation back in 1998. It was run by the community for a minimal amount of money with wonderful mentors.
Both the mentors and the kids got a huge benefit out of it. The government decided that they could not afford to pay that $50,000. It was just unbelievable. So the Cairns community went begging and these kids have no alternative, nowhere else to go.
During the last time I was in the parliament, we established the Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility-MTSRF-in Cairns. It was a $40 million investment in our community. Unfortunately, with the change of government, bureaucracy took control. They not only broke it up and tried to send part of it to Townsville; they took the rainforest component and tried to impose it on Darwin, in spite of the fact that the Darwin community said, ‘We do not have any rainforest up here and we would much rather not have to deal with it.’ Work is ongoing to try to recover that but it has had a huge impact. We have lost a lot of jobs.
Then, of course, we had the Coral Sea marine park, as proposed by an organisation called Pew, an American based group. This is another case where an outside organisation is controlling decision making in government.
Not only did they decide to turn the whole of the Coral Sea into a marine park; they also decided they wanted it to be totally shut down for all forms of fishing-recreational, sporting and commercial. Sustainable commercial fishing has of course been an important part of the Cairns character.
When you look at these collectively, suddenly you can understand why we ended up with over 14 per cent unemployment in an area that was absolutely vibrant only four years ago. You can see why we are, economically speaking, on our knees and begging for support. We are looking for some way of making things happen. Many of these government decisions-both state and federal-have caused large areas of diversification in our region to shut down. And then when this happens they come back and criticise the community and say, ‘The problem with the community is that it needs diversification.’
We also had white boats. We used to service these large privately owned white vessels but unfortunately,
through lack of government support and as a result of the state of the economy, the last major slipway has gone into receivership, so we have lost that as well. Then there was the stimulus package-and we have all talked about the resulting debacle over the home insulation scheme. Not only did we lose a life in my region through electrocution but sadly many legitimate businesses have gone to the wall because of the unfulfilled government promises.
Business geared up and supplied the services as requested at the time and then, when the government made the decision to shut the scheme down because of mismanagement, those businesses were left holding huge amounts of stock that could not even be given away. Many of these businesses have folded, some of them with the promise that there is going to be some sort of compensation-but that has unfortunately not eventuated.
The school hall debacle situation also affected us. A $240,000 school hall was delivered to one of my small community schools on the same day it was announced that it was going to be shut down. That sort of thing does not instil a great deal of confidence in a community that is trying to find opportunities to start moving forward and that is doing all sorts of things in order to return our region to prosperity-and all this is of course on top of the fact that there has been a significant decline in tourism in the Cairns region, a region known for its tourism industry.
They are all the negative things that have been causing a great deal of grief in our community-and this is a community which has been known for its resilience. It is known for never depending on government handouts to survive. If we need something to happen, somebody in private enterprise has always put their hands in their pockets to make it happen. But work is needed in Port Douglas now-and in all the years I have been a member, going back to 1996, it has never been the case that they came to ask us for some support; the business community always went ahead and made it happen. But all these government decisions have impacted on our community.
It is time for government to have a look at this and say, ‘There is a special circumstance here and we need to begin to make special concessions to offer support so that we can get the local economy back up and running again.’
There are a number of things that can be done in the regional development area and I am encouraged about that. We lost our area consultative committee; that was another government decision, of course. But a new regional development organisation has been set up by Minister Crean, and I am hoping that we may have an opportunity through that to put up some of our projects and get them up and running. While we have been suffering for a long time, we have not been sitting down and doing nothing.
We have been looking at opportunities and I have been working with the community to look at ways we can start diversifying our economy but also taking advantage of the infrastructure and industry that we have, which of course is primarily in tourism. I have been working now with the community for some time to establish a sports and cultural precinct in Cairns. There was a commitment for some $240 million for a performing arts centre. I have argued very strongly that, while we certainly need a performing arts centre, the money could be spent on a broader infrastructure project that would include the international sporting facilities up there and would become the tropical campus for the Australian Institute of Sport.
There is work being done on that at the moment. We are putting together a group of business leaders and sporting leaders with the intention of putting forward a plan that we could submit to Minister Crean’s department for consideration.
We are looking at a waterfront project for Port Douglas; again, the business community is taking leadership on that. Hopefully, we can get that up and running as well. We are also looking at a marine gateway project for Weipa; again, the business community up there is looking at that and seeing what we can do to make it happen.
In the Torres Strait there is a rather interesting situation. There has been a commitment for building infrastructure on islands like Saibai, but these islands are actually being washed away at the moment because of the deterioration of their seawalls. It is aged infrastructure-some of it is over 40 years old.
The commitment by the current government is to put a health centre there-but, unfortunately, if you are going to build something in these areas you have to make sure you have a solid foundation. Rather than putting in $400,000 to measure the tides, I would humbly suggest it would be better to invest $20 million in rebuilding the seawalls so that we can then put down the foundations to make sure the buildings survive.
If we do not do that then we are going to have to forcefully remove at least half a dozen communities in those Torres Strait areas and relocate them to other areas because we have failed to assist in providing them with the appropriate infrastructure required to maintain the integrity of their communities. So this is another project that I would dearly like the minister to consider as a way of helping to rebuild these communities and provide additional opportunities so we can re-establish ourselves in these areas.
There is a lot of potential in the region. We have some wonderful people up there who do an outstanding job in providing these opportunities. I would very much like to think that we can work with the government in making these things happen.
During the election campaign there were many small issues I was working on that had affected our communities. They are still works in progress. We had major issues with, for example, the medical colleges and the medical registration board. Unfortunately, through that process, we have lost one of the most wonderful cardiac specialists who has ever been in our region. That is a work in progress. We are still trying to recover the Marine and Tropical Science Research Facility. As part of the campaign the opposition committed to funding the first stage of the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine.
Our promise was not matched by the government, but I will certainly be encouraging the government to do that through James Cook University.
We want the Cairns Youth Mentoring Scheme back up and running again. As I said earlier, we want the performing arts centre but we would like to see a sporting precinct as well. Another project we had committed to was COUCH, which was for an oncology unit or wellbeing centre; again, the government had not committed to that but we will be encouraging them to do so.
There are issues in relation to the southern access road in Cairns that need to be addressed and I will continue to campaign on those as well.
Supported accommodation is desperately needed there, but during the campaign we were fighting to try and stop inappropriate public housing being put into areas, squandering public money, when in fact it would have been better done by putting in supported accommodation. It is my intention to continue to fight for that and eventually to return the integrity of those communities, sell those inappropriate buildings and do what we can to put that back into supported accommodation.
Turtles and dugongs were also a major issue up there, and I would hope that the government will eventually have the courage to put in a full moratorium, to stop all taking of these creatures until we know the numbers that we have there so we can appropriately manage the area. I recognise Colin Riddell for the outstanding work that he has done in raising this issue, and also James Epong, a traditional owner, who has already put in place a moratorium in the area in which he is actively involved and which his traditional group represents.
In closing, I will say that I would not be here if I had not had some wonderful people in my campaign. I recognise Trent Twomey, my campaign manager, and Dennis Quick. I have Danae Jones here, who was assisting me with my media. But there was a whole raft of other people who did an outstanding job in assisting me during the course of this campaign-far too many to be able to note in the very short period of time I have left. Nevertheless, I thank all of those people who were involved very much for their outstanding contribution.
I look forward to serving my community as I move into my next opportunity in this place. As I said on the
night, we have suffered very much over the last three years in our community from a dreadful case of laryngitis, but I can assure you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and my constituents, that Cairns has now, well and truly, like others, found its voice. (Extension of time granted)
I appreciate the extension of time. It is something that I have never experienced in all these years!
I will just turn to one area here that is particularly bothering me. I mentioned it earlier, in relation to wild rivers. I noticed that in the national papers on the weekend they had full-page ads from the state government promoting the value of the wild rivers.
That was clearly done to support the Wilderness Society, and a lot of information that they provided was quite frankly quite deceptive and mischievous. I say this because there are 10 elected councillors
in the Cape York area representing each of their regions. Each and every one of those-they are Indigenous councillors-has indicated their strong opposition to it. The ads have selectively picked people who have actually got some sort of benefit, either from the Wilderness Society or the state government-in effect, in most cases, buying their support.
What worries me is the fact that they have embarked on this national campaign, and I would hate to think what it costs to have full-page ads in all the national weekend papers. But I guess they have been able to successfully fund this program through the recent sale of Queensland Rail. I find that very, very disappointing.
As I said, we are really trying to make things happen in our region and I think we have a great opportunity to do that with a high level of cooperation. We are desperately trying to re-establish programs. For example, there was a very positive one we announced called the farm gate distribution network. We always talk about remote communities and the disadvantages they have, particularly regarding access to fresh food at an affordable price.
It was a very small program that actually I had committed to as part of our campaign. I hope that we can have it re-established.
It was a farm gate to distribution network, where there was an arrangement made with the local farmers
to produce food specifically for the remote communities and it was sold directly into a network that went into these communities. The process at the moment is that the produce is sold to agents and goes down to either Sydney or Brisbane and then is relocated back into North Queensland, so that at times it can be a couple of weeks old by the time it gets to the plate in the remote communities. And of course there is an additional cost for freight.
This initiative meant that there was a chance for us to be able to put food on the tables in the remote communities at the same price, or cheaper, than it could be bought in Woolworths or Coles-in most cases that food would be a lot cheaper. It also provided a great opportunity for our farmers in the region insomuch as they had direct contracts with the communities, which meant that they were able to get a lot more-they were not paying middle men and what have you. So it was a great initiative; it was not very expensive and was one that we desperately need.
Another issue that will certainly help us relates to aviation charges. At the moment there is a review of aviation charges for our airports. Cairns has a particular disadvantage in being a regional international airport but, unlike Townsville and Darwin which are very heavily subsidised by the military, it has to rely purely on the costs of aircraft coming into the area. There has been an increase in aircraft accessing the airport in recent years and that has caused a major problem. I am hoping that that will be factored in and that there can be a special case made to make sure that we are able to remain competitive as we start to recover-maybe some sort of sliding rate.
I am urging government to consider that because that will be a very important part of our economic recovery. We cannot afford to continue to have the cost of landing in Cairns as a disincentive for people flying into that area.
I understand that the review result will be coming out towards the end of this year, and I hope that there will be due consideration given to our special circumstance. I think additional funding should be coming into the area to help us build a new industry in sports tourism and to give us the support to allow our communities to recover to what we had in the past.