Outback Queensland Tourism and Shark Attacks

We are blessed in so many ways in my home state of Queensland. It's a great big state, a vast expanse of a state. It has a cornucopia of marvels across it. We are the Sunshine state. We are where tourists go. I don't believe there is a better state in this great nation—indeed, in this world—for people to spend their holidays. So I was very lucky to be in Roma at the beginning of this month, where we had the Outback Queensland Tourism Awards and the Outback Queensland Tourism annual general meeting. I attended there as a senator for Queensland but also representing Minister Birmingham, the federal minister for tourism. I met some fabulous tourism operators We had a really nice dinner on the tarmac of the Roma Airport, hosted by the Maranoa Regional Council.

I would like to read out to you, Mr President, and to those listening at home, the winners of the Outback Queensland Tourism Awards: Major Tourist Attraction, Qantas Founders Museum; Tourist Attraction, Cobbold Gorge; Festival and Events, the Big Red Bash out at Birdsville; Festival and Events (special commendation), Mount Isa Rodeo; Cultural Tourism, Outback Pioneers; Visitor Information and Services, Julia Creek Visitors Information Centre; Tour and Transport Operators, Outback Aussie Tours; Caravan and Holiday Parks, Adels Grove; Hosted Accommodation, Cobbold Village; Best Outback Pub, Goldfield Hotel; Contribution Volunteer/Group, Gail Wipaki; Young Achiever, Becky Kuhl; New Tourism Business, the Waltzing Matilda Centre. Incidentally the federal government put $10,000 of taxpayers' money into the rebuild of the Waltzing Matilda Centre at Winton. Further winners of the awards were: Local Government, Quilpie Shire Council; Outback Mates Award, Greg Donovan; Vince Evert Award, Rod Low Mow.

The contribution that these operators make to Queensland's economy cannot be understated. When tourists come to Queensland, where they go to the beaches or they go out west, they spend their money. Last year we had 2.7 million visitors come to Queensland, spending $5.7 billion. That's 2.7 million visitors spending $5.7 billion! This is massive, especially when 43c in every dollar are spent in regional Queensland. And that's why it alarms me, and it alarms a lot of people in Queensland, when we see what the state Labor government are doing in terms of how they are handling an issue that has the capacity to do serious damage to the tourist industry in Queensland. I don't know what it is with the Queensland state Labor government. I don't know whether it's wilful ignorance or whether it's just good old-fashioned Labor incompetence, but the Queensland Labor government's inaction over the recent shark attacks in North Queensland is truly disturbing.

In September, there were two shark attacks in the Whitsundays. Thankfully, these two attacks were not fatal, but they were very scary for the families concerned. I'm sure the sympathies of everyone in this chamber go out to those families. These attacks made news not just in Australia but around the world. Stories about the attacks could be found on the BBC, CNN and even Al Jazeera. Photos of Queensland beaches were put side by side with descriptions of these shark attacks. And at the beginning of this month, very sadly, we had a fatal shark attack in the Whitsundays. Our sympathies also go out to the family of that promising young medical professional.

We've got to look at the facts here. Commercial shark fishermen in the area, who I dare say have far more experience in this area than the clueless Labor government, are on the record stating that the shark population has grown enormously and is at plague proportions. It's the same if you talk to recreational fishermen, who spend their time on the water. They all say there is a massive shark problem.

So what are state Labor doing about this problem? Well, they've stalled for a time. They've talked about the issue, but they haven't taken any action. The Queensland Labor government's fisheries minister said, 'There has been no apparent increase in shark numbers,' even though accounts from people who spend their lives on the water—the commercial fishers and the recreational fishers—beg to differ. It's the same old pattern from Queensland Labor. They think that taking no action is better than taking any action whatsoever. They decided to have a talkfest and came up with a five-point plan. The five-point plan to deal with shark attacks is that the Labor government are going to commission a report; that's their first point. Congratulations! Then they're going to make sure that no-one can swim at Cid Harbour in the Whitsundays; that's their second point. Two points say the same thing: they'll develop an educational campaign. That's points 3 and 4. Well done! Then the final point is that they'll continue to meet with stakeholders to develop and progress responses. That's point 5. So all those who are going to go down to the beach, put their togs on, grab their beach towels and go for a swim should be reassured by the fact that the sharks are going to be dealt with by the state Labor government commissioning a report into those sharks.

Whenever the state Liberal National Party have suggested sensible courses of action, they've been shouted down by Labor and the crazy greenies up there. Labor and the greenies have opposed proposals for a sustainable shark cull to bring the shark population back under control, even though sharks are at plague levels. And this is the madness of the situation: we're not going to manage the shark population, but in Queensland we manage the kangaroo population; there are culls of kangaroos. We manage the rabbit population. Where I live on the Darling Downs, there's the rabbit board, which deals with the rabbits. We poison rabbits. Rabbits are evil. Rabbits won't give you a bite, but, if you go in the water, a shark is certainly going to give you a bit of a bite—and yet the state Labor government are not going to deal with this issue. They've opposed taking every single form of meaningful action.

I condemn state Labor for their inaction. I condemn them for the damage they are going to do to our tourist industry. We cannot afford to have shark attacks in Queensland, because it's going to scare away the tourists. Because this state Labor government continue to do nothing, no-one will want to enjoy our brilliant beaches and no-one's going to come here. The 2.7 million tourists who spent over $5 million last year are not going to come to Queensland and they're not going to support our economy. I urge my Queensland Labor Senate colleagues to speak to their state friends and have some action taken. Otherwise, get out of the way and let the Queensland Liberal National Party save our tourism industry and our state from being run into the ground. The only good shark is one that is served with chips and a light dusting of salt.