MR ENTSCH: (Leichhardt) (13:23): I have been working with the community north of the Daintree River since I was elected in 1996 in an effort to bring them into the 20th and now 21st century.
This is a very vibrant community of around 500 to 600 people.
Interestingly, some years ago the state government legislated to prohibit them having mains power extended into their community.
It’s quite bizarre.
They live in the heart of the Daintree rainforest.
There are hundreds of generators burning millions of litres of diesel every year, and the state government legislated to prohibit the extension of mains power into their community.
It was done as a mechanism to control development in the area.
Rather than putting in a development plan, they had a blunt instrument to make life as difficult as they could for the residents.
Some years ago a development plan was put in, and we were successful during the time of the Newman government to have them rescind that legislation to allow for the extension of power.
I’ve taken Minister Frydenberg up there and introduced him to the community, and he made a commitment that we would do everything we can to get mains-equivalent power extended into that area.
I understand that this is an area where the rainforest literally meets the reef.
It’s cocooned in two World Heritage areas.
It was actually included on the World Heritage List because of the care that was taken by the local residents who live in the area.
Unfortunately, over time, they’ve constantly been seen as intruders to the area, when in actual fact it was because of their commitment to the area that they were able to conserve it enough to justify the World Heritage status.
The minister, on his last visit, invited ARENA.
He said, ‘We’re going to do something about it,’ and he got ARENA and a business called Sunverge involved.
They did a report on the feasibility of putting in a microgrid.
It would include solar power and a whole lot of other things.
They handed down that report only a couple of months ago, and there were five recommendations.
The first recommendation was that there be a microgrid, so they could get rid of all the diesel generators.
It was very much accepted by the broader community but, unfortunately, there is a small protest group—it was established back in the 1980s when they put a road along the coast—that tried to stop it.
One of those involved in the protest group is former Mayor Mike Berwick, and there’s another fellow by the name of Hugh Spencer.
After the protest group lost the battle in relation to the road, they established themselves in Cape Tribulation.
They set up a place called the Bat House.
t’s very interesting.
Through Bat House, Hugh Spencer established a rainforest research station—the Australian Tropical Research Foundation or AUSTROP, as it’s called—and they’ve been doing everything they can to prevent any expansion of power or anything else that’s likely to make life more comfortable for them.
It worries me that this organisation actually gets charity status, tax deductibility status, and, after the handing down of the report—which was widely accepted by the majority of the community and is currently being worked on by ARENA—even the state government has committed to working with ARENA.
The foundation put out a response to the Daintree power Sunverge-ARENA report, and in that response they’ve been absolutely scathing of the report.
But the criticism is totally dishonest; it is totally inaccurate.
It just shows that there is no understanding whatsoever.
So I question the legitimacy of this organisation.
We need to be looking very, very closely at their registered tax deductibility status and their membership, because I think there’s a serious conflict of interest there.
I will certainly be moving to make sure that we get some sort of transparency of this organisation and bring them to account.