Last Saturday week I went to a celebration of my 20th anniversary of being elected to this parliament. We had a wonderful fundraiser, there, for a cancer charity called COUCH and we raised a very significant amount of money.
But as I reflected on the 20 years since I became a member in 1996, I remembered that the Peninsula Development Road sealing finished at Lakeland. From Lakeland to Cooktown it was unsealed. The Mulgrave River bridge flooded regularly, closing the Bruce Highway. Mobile phone coverage was almost non-existent. As you moved further out of Cairns to the outer islands of Torres Strait and Cape York there was no dental school, there was no medical school, there was no veterinary school, there was no Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine at the James Cook University and there was no mains power north of the Daintree.
Over those years all of those issues have been, pretty much, addressed. We have great coverage for mobile phones now and it is improving all the time. The Peninsula Development Road is in the process of being sealed. The road to Cooktown is sealed. The Mulgrave River bridge has been built and there is no flooding over that bridge. We have the dental school, we have the medical school, we have the veterinary school, we have the Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine at the James Cook University and we have a lot of other things.
What we do not have is power north of the Daintree. It is the only community in Australia where a state government legislated to prohibit the establishment of mains power for a community of close to 1,000 people. It is quite amazing. Their argument is that it is in the interest of conservation. That interest in conservation means it sees hundreds of diesel generators thumping away, burning diesel day in and day out to provide basic power needs. There is a huge cost not only to the environment but also to those citizens living there.
In 2007, when I retired for a short time from this place, I did state that one of my greatest regrets was not being able to influence the state government to put power in north of the Daintree. In 2010 we saw the Newman LNP government take one step forward in that they rescinded the legislation that prohibited power north of the Daintree for a 12-year Daintree electricity policy that was in place.
Unfortunately, they did not take the next step in making it happen. The policy at the time was described as a 'despicable, discriminatory policy' that devastated Daintree Rainforest's sole economy. Much more than any other influence, it has been 'singularly responsible for the failed operation of 56 per cent of businesses within the designated area over the last 10 years'. This is referring to not having the power.
Here in 2016 we are still trying to get this to happen. There is a family who purchased a local cafe and spent more than $80,000 in renovations and new equipment at the start of the 2015 season. Four months later they had to close the business because the takings did not even cover the cost of fuel running the generator.
Coconut Beach Resort was the only 4½-star offering in the Daintree. It is now derelict. We also lost other big businesses up there: the Fan Palm, Dragonfly and Jambu cafes were all forced to close because of the power issue. Cow Bay Hotel has been in receivership twice in three years with successive owners. One of the main reasons is the high cost of running generators.
You have to congratulate those businesses up there that actually have some resilience in their business and have continued: Betty Hinton with Floravilla Ice Cream; Rod Lapaer with Rainforest Hideaway; Neil and Prue Hewett with Coopers Creek Wilderness; Pam and Ron Birkett with their Daintree Discovery Centre, a business which has won multiple awards; Justin and Kristie White with Lync Haven; and Carmen Fabro with Cockatoo Hill Resort. Russell and Theresa O'Doherty have been great advocates. Russell is the chair of the Daintree Rainforest Power Committee and he recently wrote a letter to the Queensland Premier asking for support. Unfortunately that was not forthcoming.
I am continuing to work with this community. It is about time they got power. Desperately trying to make this happen, I have recently engaged with Ergon Energy. I know that there is a role here for the federal government, but the first step has to be the state government coming on board. We have to encourage them to do that sooner rather than later. (Time expired)