Mr PERRETT (Gympie—LNP) (5.10 pm): I offer my congratulations to Mr Speaker on his election to the high office of Speaker, a position which has a proud history in the Westminster tradition.
I would like to thank the Gympie electorate and I am honoured that they have again placed their trust in me to represent our region in the 57th Parliament. I am immensely proud of the values Gympie residents hold. I will endeavour to advocate and fight for the things that matter to them.
I am also excited to be asked to serve as shadow minister for agriculture, fisheries and forestry. These industries are extremely important to Queensland’s economy and should be supported instead of undermined by ideological and anti-agricultural crusades. While the position comes with additional responsibilities, they are a natural fit for someone from Gympie. In 2018-19, agriculture, fishing and forestry represented one of Gympie’s top three industry sectors. They contributed $177.6 million to Gympie’s gross regional product and numbering 1,185, or 26.1 per cent of businesses, they are the largest business category.
During the last two parliaments, I was given opportunities and experiences which I hope will stand me and my community in good stead over the next four years. Elections always bring change and loss. Some choose retirement and some have it imposed on them by the brutal arithmetic at the ballot box. I refer to the former member for Bundaberg, David Batt, and my neighbour in Nicklin, Marty Hunt.
Being opposition leader can be onerous and lonely. I thank another electorate neighbour, the member for Nanango, and the member for Everton for their leadership and service. I would also like to congratulate our new leader, the member for Broadwater, and the deputy leader on their election.
Without family support, none of us could do this job properly. I would like to publicly thank my wife, Michele, and my daughters, Stephanie and Josie, for their support. They have put up with a lot over the years in respect of my absences and the calls on my time. Stephanie’s wedding even had to be scheduled around my election timetable.
I would not be here without a team of supporters. The LNP relies on the support and hard work of volunteers and families. We do not have paid union officials, activists and political operatives to support us; our support comes from everyday Queenslanders. I would like to thank my campaign team and supporters, including my campaign manager Mark Ostwald, SEC chairman Guy Burnett, secretary and treasurer Kathy Worth, Wayne Plant, and all the volunteers, friends, booth workers and local party members who helped me. I would also like to thank my staff for everything they do.
The election was conducted under the shadow of COVID restrictions. I will not argue the merits of those; however, I want to point out that it caused some people to miss out on executing their democratic rights. I have received numerous complaints regarding the postal vote application process. Postal voting relies on the timeliness and reliability of postal services to ensure no-one is excluded from voting. Mail services are now notoriously slow. This is exacerbated in regional and rural areas, where services are not even provided every day. When ballot papers are received, voters also need to access a service to post them back.
Several applicants have told me that they did not receive ballot papers in time, despite submitting their applications as soon as they became available. Some were able to find help to attend a polling booth on election day but many could not. Many elderly constituents also found telephone voting unsuitable as they are hard of hearing and/or suspicious of providing highly personal information over the phone. Some people received their ballot papers up to a week after the election. They found this unacceptable and very upsetting. COVID-19 cannot be the excuse. One constituent said that this was the second state election that he and his mother had not received their ballot papers until after the election. He was upset that they both had been unable to exercise their democratic right for the last two elections.
When some voters contacted the Queensland Electoral Commission asking the whereabouts of their ballot papers, they were told the ballots were posted and given a date which eventually did not match with the envelope postmark. They feel they were fobbed off with excuses. Others report that they were advised that they would not be fined. The ECQ missed the point. Not everyone votes because they fear a fine; some people are interested in who governs us. These people want to vote. Many found the response flippant and ignorant about the loss of their democratic right to vote and the democratic process. They were upset that they were excluded from having their say. There needs to be some consideration of not disenfranchising rural and regional constituents, who do not receive the level of postal services which are taken for granted by those in Brisbane.
My years in local government showed me that what matters are basic commonsense policies. A survey last year of almost 1,500 residents, or 6.6 per cent of Gympie households, found their top concerns were crime, sentencing, state debt and cost-of-living issues. The challenges for government are systemic high unemployment; providing infrastructure which supports future growth and business opportunities; supporting small business, which is the gateway to job opportunities; maintaining and upgrading state roads; and providing quality facilities for health, education, fire, emergency services and police.
In last year’s December quarter, the unemployment rate of 11.1 per cent was 4.1 per cent above the state average, a rise of 1.7 per cent from the March quarter’s 9.4 per cent. Queensland’s unemployment is higher than that of Victoria, which was locked down for most of a year.
Government decisions cannot be isolated from their impact on our budget, our economic health and real, long-term jobs. Policies have a flow-on effect to local jobs markets. When the government does not release the medical advice but cynically uses it to justify a scare campaign to get re-elected, it has a devastating impact on jobs and businesses.
Gympie is experiencing high growth. It is not surprising. It is a strategically located, high-growth commercial and residential corridor with more than three million consumers within two hours travelling time of Brisbane. Gympie has one of the most diverse regional economies. It is more attractive than regions which experience fluctuating peaks and troughs in industries like tourism and mining. The government cannot ignore the data. Growth is putting pressure on local infrastructure and services. Local real estate agents report a tight property market and rentals are being snapped up as soon as they hit the market. My office receives calls from distressed renters who find it hard to find somewhere to live.
We need to unleash the potential of the private sector to value-add, borrow, invest, grow and generate jobs. Policies which do not equate to improved employment outcomes and chances to find jobs and access employers waste taxpayers’ dollars. It is just not smart. That is why the LNP kickstarted the Bruce Highway upgrades and locals eagerly await the completion of the Gympie bypass.
The Cooloola Coast needs a properly designated police station. The current police beat does not provide the same level of service as a police station. When the police beat was opened in 2006, the local population was 999. Today there are 6,500 people on the Cooloola Coast. This swells by thousands during the peak tourist season and on weekends. The coast needs the same level of service provided to other areas with a much lower population.
In the Mary Valley, the Imbil Police Station needs upgrading and additional police personnel. Two police officers are stationed there; however, for long periods of time only one is operating there. The Imbil Rural Watch’s strong connections and liaison with the police and community do not replace a police presence. According to the 2016 Census, the Mary Valley population has grown to almost 6,500, even more if you count visitors and tourists. People are moving in, significant investment is going on and crowds of tourists are visiting. More than 500 properties have returned to private ownership because of the strategies to attract people to the Mary Valley. They have been bought back from the state government after the failed Traveston Dam project.
It is busy all the time, not just on weekends. On weekdays it is crawling with people. The population swells during holiday and peak tourist season and through attractions and events such as the Borumba Dam, Gympie Music Muster and the Mitchell Creek Rock ‘N’ Blues Fest.
Popularity is also pressuring state controlled roads such as Rainbow Beach and Tin Can Bay roads and the Mary Valley Highway. The government needs to tell us the time frames and plans, including for overtaking lanes, to upgrade these roads. The minister advised me that the Mary Valley Highway safety upgrade report, which was due last year, will be completed in June. I trust that it will be publicly released when it is available.
The Cooloola coast is a popular spot—a premier destination. Most people travelling to Fraser Island access it through Rainbow Beach. They must travel on Tin Can Bay and Rainbow Beach roads, which are below standard for such a major tourist destination. The Coondoo Creek bridge upgrade was welcomed, but traffic is often held up. There are limited passing opportunities on Tin Can Bay and Rainbow Beach roads. Drivers become frustrated and take risks which have shown up in increasing traffic accidents and deaths. If the government wants to advance Queensland tourism it must put its money where its mouth is. Passing lanes will make the road safer for everyone.
The need for a new fire and rescue station in Gympie cannot be ignored. Land was bought for the station in 2014—almost seven years ago. In 2016 then minister Byrne said that construction would start in 2022, with completion in 2023. We need to be told if this is still on track.
The government needs to keep its eye on the ball with service delivery at the Gympie Hospital. I have received numerous complaints from local doctors about service delivery. The Sunshine Coast hospital is more than 100 kilometres away. Gympie needs local services. Our hospital is on a constrained site at the top of a steep hill and parking is poor. The closure of the private hospital is putting pressure on Gympie Hospital. If Gympie Hospital cannot meet its community service delivery obligations then planning for a new hospital needs to start.
The review of the health needs of the Cooloola coast was due in February last year. It will provide some guidelines on what health and medical facilities are needed. Currently patients have to travel significant distances for many basic healthcare treatments that are available in towns with populations of only 2,000.
I inherited Glenwood from the Maryborough electorate in the redistribution. More than 6,000 people live there and in the surrounding towns. The Bruce Highway going through the region is notorious for accidents. It is up to a 40-minute wait for an ambulance to come from Gympie or Maryborough. Locals tell me that their previous requests for an ambulance station were ignored by Maryborough’s Labor member.
I receive regular feedback about concerns in relation to class sizes in Gympie public schools. Gympie has only two state high schools offering years 7 to 12. The Tin Can Bay and Mary Valley schools only go to year 10 and students must commute into Gympie to complete years 11 and 12. Local high schools are under pressure. Enrolments are increasing at James Nash State High School and Gympie State High School which currently educate more than 2,300 students. Three private schools already ease the burden on local state schools. We need to be proactive and start planning before current facilities and services are unreasonably stretched.
During last year’s election I secured LNP support for many local community groups, sporting organisations, men’s sheds, cadets and school committees. Cooloola Coast Medical Transport provides a door-to-door service carrying patients to out-of-town medical appointments. The Gympie & District Show Society undertakes a massive task in putting on Queensland’s third largest show. These groups put in hours to make our community better and to plug holes in missing government services.
It is a privilege to be on the shadow ministerial team. Agriculture, fishing and forestry are major employers in rural and regional areas. With unemployment higher than in other states, it is imperative to allow those industries to borrow, invest and grow. Business owners and workers make significant personal and financial commitments. They need certainty for current and future investment and not to be held back by government policies and inaction. The minister can no longer keep kicking into the long grass major issues impacting the future of these industries. The proposed drought reforms need to be brought forward. They were delayed based on COVID. Changes will happen on 1 July, only seven weeks away. I am unsure if the promised consultation has ever happened.
The Premier promised a timber advisory panel 18 months ago. It has been conveniently overlooked for political purposes. The timber industry is currently facing the potential closure of mills and supply issues of native whole log exports. The failed farm forestry plan promised by Beattie in 1989 never materialised. Foresters need a solution.
There is considerable angst in the commercial fishing industry around legislative and regulatory changes. The government dodged delivering a regulatory impact statement on these changes. I have received numerous representations questioning their fairness and outlining the cold-hearted way people are being forced to exit the industry.
Labour shortages are not confined to horticulture. Shortages cut across the farming, fishing and forestry sectors. There is a growing gap between farm labour supply and filling the demand. So far the government has delivered very little in solutions other than grandstanding, finger pointing and some media spin. The shortage of thousands of workers will mean economic loss for growers and price rises for consumers.
Agriculture alone is worth $18 billion and employs more than 60,000 people across 26,000 farm businesses. It accounts for 315,000 people employed across the whole food supply chain. Addressing these issues cannot be avoided. They cannot be put on the backburner if the government is genuine about growing the economy. Labor’s usual solutions are to increase regulation, licensing, legislation and bureaucratic intrusion into our lives. We need to promote better government not more government.
Gympie has experienced the appalling waste of taxpayers’ money. Residents still recall how a Labor government casually wasted half a billion dollars—$500 million—on the failed Traveston Dam. We have had a five-year saga of two ministers refusing to simply sign a lease for an empty building which TAFE did not want. It was left to deteriorate while a tenant was ready to come in.
Last year a stretch of the Bruce Highway was dug up and repaired only six months after the completion of a $17 million job. They said they did not know the condition of the underlying pavement. They were not forging a path over the Blue Mountains in the 1800s. There would have to be a metre of archives going back 50 years of a mishmash of repairs. It would be one of the most dug up, patched and re-patched stretches of highway. Just ask the thousands of truckies who travel through there each week. Tune in to channel 40 and you will soon hear what they say about the continual delays due to stop and go signs. The transport minister, who is usually quick to blame someone else, was suspiciously quiet.
The same minister turned the upgrade of the Coondoo Creek bridge into a political football. When the LNP committed to a $10 million upgrade before the 2017 election, Labor let the Gympie electorate believe it was on their radar. It was not in their 2018 budget. The minister spent 2018 continually blaming Canberra for a state bridge on a state road. By August a year later Canberra had generously committed $5 million. The minister still said nothing. The upgrade was only finished late last year because Canberra showed them up.
Responsibility stops in Brisbane, not Canberra. Instead of blaming everyone else, the government should accept responsibility and do its job. Do not blame Canberra. Do not blame COVID. Do not blame a government from six years ago. No more rebadging, reannouncements and recycling— it is disrespectful to Queenslanders. Gympie needs practical, commonsense policies which use taxpayers’ money carefully and prudently. The government needs to provide real job prospects, practical support for families and the Gympie community, greater investment in local infrastructure projects, maintenance and improvement of existing facilities, and support and incentives for local business and industries.
Before I finish, I join my colleague the member for Chatsworth in acknowledging the role the member for Stretton, Duncan Pegg, has played in this parliament. I built a strong friendship with Duncan as co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Cricket. We have sat in the Gabba and travelled interstate together to watch those sporting events. I acknowledge his role in promoting cricket and his encyclopedic knowledge of cricket not only in this country but across the world. He will be missed in this parliament. I take this opportunity to wish him well. I know things are not good. I want to acknowledge my friendship with him that has developed since 2015.
I am once again honoured to represent the people of Gympie in the 57th Parliament.