State Development and Regional Industries Committee, Report
Mr PERRETT (Gympie—LNP) (3.15 pm): I rise to speak to the State Development and Regional
Industries Committee 2020-21 estimates report. During the estimates hearing the minister ducked for cover from scrutiny. He cannot answer because he does not know what is going on. People want answers about staffing levels, reduced funding for research and development, the invisible drought policy, mismanagement of the implementation of the vessel monitoring system, what is going on with the native timber advisory panel and export of whole timber logs, the population decline in rural areas and so much more.
DAF’s budget is a disgrace. Its only headline item is a cut. The Queensland budget has record spending, record debt and eye-watering borrowings and still DAF is going backwards—backwards in staff, backwards in funding and backwards in services. DAF’s budget has been cut by $44 million compared to actual expenditure in 2019-20. DAF is losing staff and services are not expanding. There are now 30,000 more Brisbane bureaucrats in the government’s Public Service led jobs recovery than there were in 2015 yet DAF has budgeted for nine fewer staff than it employed in 2019-20, a drop from 2,124 to 2,115.
The minister has overseen cuts to front counter services and closed DAF offices. Extension
services have all but disappeared. The decrease in research and development funding is inexcusable.
The government relentlessly attacked agriculture. It has undermined the sector through unfair vegetation laws, blocked new dams, mismanaged biosecurity and closed agricultural education colleges. Under this minister a Labor Party donor delivered a politically motivated report to close the Longreach and Emerald agricultural colleges.
Currently, 67.4 per cent of Queensland is in drought—two-thirds of the state. Parts of Western Queensland are entering their eighth consecutive year of drought. There has been eight years of drought for some, two-thirds of the state is in drought and Labor still has no drought policy. In 2018 the government promised to reform drought support programs and conduct a review. That promise was broken in a politically cynical move; reforms were delayed until after last year’s election.
During estimates the minister refused to rule out cutting freight and fodder subsidies for new drought declared farmers from 1 July this year. Everyone knows what that means. It was confirmation that freight and fodder subsidies will be cut. Farmers are under extreme pressure because the much awaited above average rainfall season has not materialised. Access to water is critical and water availability is running low. That is why we need new dams.
At the same time farmers are being squeezed by labour shortages. Shortages mean crops are
left to rot in the ground. When it is available it pushes up the cost. If farmers do not get labour, they will not plant crops. Shortages are already being factored into planning. Decisions are being made now.
Farmers cannot wait for government to play games. They cannot be fobbed off with green
announcements about trial programs which only fail. The government needs to find a solution instead of passing the buck. Canberra has done everything it needs to do. There is no problem with COVID in the Pacific islands and the Pacific islands partnership could help meet the requirements. The minister should know that state government caps are stopping workers coming in.
In 2019 the fisheries department commenced the implementation of vessel monitoring. It
commenced the saga of frustration and angst for the commercial fishing industry because of Option Audio’s poor quality and service, a saga investigated by the Queensland Ombudsman. Last September the Ombudsman found that the department was sloppy and that it had failed. It failed in its responsibility to ensure the vessel tracking units were fit and proper. It was sloppy because the department had not demonstrated it had sufficiently considered the safety risks linked to the implementation of vessel tracking. That is called mismanagement. Neither the minister nor the department have apologised. They have refused to apologise or compensate fishers for the adverse impacts of their mismanagement.
The minister also refused to provide a clear commitment on the Premier’s promise in November
2019 to appoint the native timber advisory panel. That is 15 months ago. The minister has also
effectively washed his hands of responsibility regarding regulation and enforcement of proper process around the export of whole timber logs in Queensland. Deliberately curbing scrutiny undermines and mocks the estimates process. It treats how we spend Queensland taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars with contempt, treats Queenslanders with contempt and treats the agriculture, fishing and forestry industries with contempt.