State member for Mount Isa, Rob Katter has today pleaded with the ALP Government to listen to the voice of regional and rural Australia, in his first speech in the 55th Queensland Parliament late on Thursday night (26 March 2015)
“The government deserves the right to govern and I think Queenslanders expect it to be supported, provided it recognises the issues rural and regional Queensland is suffering and is prepared to take affirmative action to arrest that,” Mr Katter said in his speech in which he outlined KAP priorities for the government.
“The hung parliament has delivered to our small party an opportunity to have a powerful role in the Parliament and we are heavily obligated to follow the imperative of obligation to rural and regional Queensland.”
Mr Katter cited the recent announcement of the copper smelter extensions in Mount Isa, which would also benefit people involved in the Townsville copper refinery.
“That is a big boost for us and it is a strong and positive sign for my electorate. However, it is balanced against the recent commentary on uranium mining, which is something I have a problem with.
“We will be strong in our objection to anything that contrasts or compromises the integrity of our rural and regional areas, which are facing the most dire challenges at the moment.”
Investing in regional roads was Mr Katter’s first priority and one he said would be the salvation of rural towns.
“We need to bear in mind that most of the local councils in my region are the biggest employers in town, so if the council is not employing, there is barely any employment in the town at all.
“In the past couple of years, those rural towns have already been brought to their knees but road funding is their saviour. Road funding improves competitiveness in the regions, because better roads improve the transportation of freight and cattle throughout the country, while giving people jobs and stimulating the economy.
The second priority Mr Katter listed was an ethanol mandate, saying it would deliver thousands of jobs and cost the taxpayers of Queensland nothing.
“It is a disgrace that we do not have an ethanol mandate when 62 other countries do, and we need it more than ever.
“A 10 per cent mandate will reduce tailpipe emissions from vehicles by 30 per cent, creating a floor price in the sorghum and sugarcane industries, reduce carbon emissions and create at least some fuel security. As things are, within 10 years we are bound to have zero security. We produce only 10 per cent of our fuel and that 10 per cent will be gone in another 10 years, so a mandate will provide at least some fuel security.
“Importantly, it will create Queensland jobs from nothing and tax revenue where taxes are paid at the point of production.
“People are screaming for jobs, the sugar industry is on its knees and sorghum farmers are crying out for help. Frankly, if we cannot deliver it in this parliament, none of us are fit to be here.”
If the government was looking for cost-effective solutions to create industry and opportunities, it should look at water allocations in the Flinders and Gilbert systems, Mr Katter said, saying it was “low hanging fruit” for the government.
“We keep talking about developing Northern Australia. In that area we do not have to clear any trees; we have natural open black soil plains along the Flinders River and other major river systems.
“About 4,000 megalitres a year runs down into the ocean from the Flinders River and at the moment, barely a drop is taken out for farming.
“Recent reports from the CSIRO indicate that some 300,000 megalitres can be extracted and it must be made available. That can be done at minimal cost, with no infrastructure to be built, no dams needed.
“Farmers should be able to take water. Small farmers and cattle graziers are struggling or are on the brink of bankruptcy, but we can let them have a go at irrigation, which can lead to bigger things and will cost us nothing.
“Towns such as Hughenden, Richmond and Julia Creek could become like Emerald or St George. Ten or 20 jobs on one extra farm would mean so much to a little town and may stop it from going backwards.”
Jobs came up again with the plea to the government to build a $2.5b railway line for the Galilee Basin.
“This needs to happen because we need jobs. If the barrier is a railway line, then build it.”
Mr Katter used his final point to challenge the government to build productive infrastructure, not populist infrastructure, and not be afraid to use debt to fund vital infrastructure.
“Debt is okay if it is offset against good industry-developing infrastructure,” he said.
Using the Hann Highway as an example, he said it would save eight hours on the Melbourne to Cairns road trip, being shorter than the Bruce Highway by 595 kilometres as well as flood-proof.
“The $400m plus output of bananas produced in the Cairns area could get to the major markets of Sydney and Melbourne eight hours earlier. It would be an enormous competitive advantage to take that route.
“It would take a number of trucks off the Bruce Highway and therefore save on maintenance costs there.
“The Hann Highway would cost $89 million, and if local councils did the work it would be cheaper.
“That would be good infrastructure spend and that is the signal the people of Queensland want right now.
“They do not want any bells and whistles; they do not want any more tunnels.
“They are sick and tired of governments trying to buy their vote, and they do not want soft infrastructure. They want to know there is a government building hard infrastructure that will build industry.”
Mr Katter finished his speech by saying the hung parliament would be good for Queensland.
“We put some good bills into the last parliament but they were shut down purely because we (KAP) put them forward.
“They were cost effective. We introduced the fair milk mark bill and the ethanol bill, and they got shut down for political reasons.
“I welcome that things are tighter now and ideas will be assessed on their merits.
“I think it ensures the longevity of legislation we pass in this House beyond the term of this parliament.”