Queensland Gulf Country

Queensland is actually still a frontier state. We have so much growth in front of us as we look to the future, unlike some other states, whose best days are behind them, I fear. This was really pushed home to me when I spent a week up in the Gulf Country with Noeline Ikin, who was our candidate for the 2013 election for the seat of Kennedy. Noeline and I joined Senator Matt Canavan and Minister Barnaby Joyce in Normanton, where we officiated at the opening of new offices for Gulf Savanah Development Inc.—or GSD, as everyone up in Normanton seems to call it—with local mayors Fred Pascoe and Ernie Camp. After we safely packed off Barnaby to his next destination, which I understand was Darwin, we started on a journey across the cape, from Normanton and Karumba on one side, ending up in Bellenden Ker with Robyn Quick, who is our Liberal-National Party candidate for the state seat of Mulgrave at the coming state election.

For me as a new senator, and someone who cheerfully admits that he has much to learn, this was my first trip as a Queenslander to the Gulf Country. And it will not be my last, as I will be returning in the near future, being April, as an unnamed mayor—first name Fred, last name Pascoe—has promised to take me barra fishing, which helps sweeten my commitment to return.

Senator Ronaldson: I'll come!

Senator McGRATH: And Senator Ronaldson has offered to come also! I think that would be good for you, Senator Ronaldson. I think you would enjoy it a lot; you would learn a lot—and so would the locals, hopefully.

It is important that as senators we visit all parts of our state and understand the issues so we can act as a megaphone for those who cannot be heard down here in Canberra. Undertaking field visits to the Harris family operations and the Stanbroke operations, I was overwhelmed by their vision to drought-proof their properties. By catching the wet and growing grain, there is hope that drought-ridden cattle will be a memory rather than a threat. Their hope is to protect animal welfare, to grow jobs and to build the North. And I was at Delta Downs, with Fred Pascoe, Alfred Pascoe and Paul Edwards. This is the most successful Indigenous-run cattle station in the country. It is owned by the Kurtijar people and run by the Morr Morr Pastoral Board. We travelled over only a small part of their property. And when I say 'small', I mean we travelled over quite a large amount of their property; it is a million acres. Now, I come from a cane-farming family on the Sunshine Coast, and I thought we had a big farm. We had 250 acres, which is not even the size of one of their paddocks. Seeing what Alfred and Paul are doing to their property in terms of not only improving the cattle and improving the pasture but also rehabilitating some of the wetlands was really something that I will take away, and I will look back to see how the property develops over the coming years. Their property was hit particularly hard not just by the drought, which is ongoing in Queensland, but by Labor's ban on live cattle exports—a ban that devastated the North. A lot of families up in the North are still doing it tough because of the drought and because of the ban and the impact upon their income. I will talk about live cattle exports some other time.

At Karumba we were fortunate enough to stay at Ash's, which is owned by Yvonne Tunney and has the best chips in the world—and I am very happy to mention that, because I did not just have seconds while I was there; I had thirds. We also met Justin and Wombat from the Raptis fishing operations and went to the barra farm. I recommend that if you ever go to Karumba you should go to the barra farm and try to feed the fish. And, if you do, don't scream like a six-year-old girl, like Senator McGrath did—

Senator Canavan interjecting—

Senator McGRATH: and Senator Canavan certainly did not scream like a six-year-old girl—with these giant fish trying to bite your fingers off. But it was really good to meet with Deputy Mayor Awesome—that is what he is known as, but he is otherwise known as Alan Gurney—and also with Greg Ward and Robert Pender. The coalition's views on the carbon tax were reaffirmed, because these people were telling us that the impact of the carbon tax on refrigerant costs had been cut dramatically. And that was a really good thing to hear.

In Normanton, looking around the Bynoe service with Senator Canavan and Noeline Ikin and with Fred and Sharon Robinson, we were blown away by the commitment to Indigenous employment and training, town development and housing. And we would like to say that we totally support the Carpentaria Academy. Everything they do is about real jobs and providing local people with a means to get off welfare. And I probably have to declare a conflict of interest here: I am arranging to buy one of their paintings to hang up here in my Canberra office.

Leaving Normanton after meeting with Mayor Pascoe and local councillors and his senior executives, we met with the Croydon mayor, Trevor Pickering, and councillors and senior executives, where telecommunications, or lack thereof, was on the agenda, and that night in Georgetown met with the Etheridge Council, with Mayor Will Attwood and the council. My old friend Michael Kitzelmann, our former candidate for Bundamba, hosted us to a barbecue in the park. And there is a theme here, because there was a good discussion on drought-proofing—not just in terms of drought-proofing grazing properties but in terms of ensuring that the towns in this part of Australia have a regular supply of water. What southerners sometimes fail to realise is that 75 per cent of Queensland is still drought declared. When you look at the map, it is actually a very scary thing to see.

In Mareeba we were fortunate enough to catch up with Liz Schmidt, who was our candidate for Dalrymple, and David Kempton, who was our fantastic LNP member for Cook. We attended a freight forum, and a very interesting exercise undertaken by David and Liz looked at what local roads needed to be improved. Everyone had to put a star on which roads they thought needed improvement. Both David and Liz will be coming to the state LNP and also to the federal government in terms of what we can do to improve roads in Far North Queensland. I should mention that we caught up with Mayor Tom Gilmore, who is the uncrowned king of Mareeba. We were very fortunate that night, thanks to Steve Schroj and Lindsay Rural, to attend a fruit and vegie dinner at the local soccer club.

It is about dams. The next morning, with Trent Twomey and Mark Matthews from Advance Cairns, we were taken to the proposed site for the Nulinga dam. There is a possibility that Cairns could run out of water in decades to come unless a dam is built in Far North Queensland. I am happy to say that I am very supportive. I go on the record to support the Nulinga dam.

Another project that I am very happy to support is the Igloo. For those people listening in their offices or at home, I would encourage you to google the Rocky Creek Igloo. It is one of two surviving igloos from the massive hospital that was on the Atherton Tablelands. At this hospital during the Second World War, over 60,000 Australian soldiers were treated. The building, which has been battered by a few cyclones, was the entertainment theatre. The local Rotary and some local volunteers, like Jo Barnes, Trevor Sorenson and John Montgomery, are planning on restoring this building. Senator Ronaldson has been there already. I spoke to him earlier tonight about it. The locals have a plan. It is only going to cost $1.5 million. Minister, we do not want it all right away, but we will be coming to you with a proposal in terms of what we can do to raise money in the community and how we can work with the government to see if there is any money in this very tight period of financial discipline to say that we can restore this amazing part of World War II history. I encourage people to go there, especially people whose relatives fought in the Second World War or served at the Atherton Tablelands as part of the medical staff.

We finished in Bellenden Ker, which, for people who do not know, is a beautiful part of Far North Queensland just near Babinda. We had a meeting in a hall with local cane farmers organised by Robyn Quick, who was our candidate for Mulgrave. We talked about issues to do with sugar marketing. I will not talk about sugar marketing tonight because that is a topic that can go for hours and hours. I am concerned about—

Senator McEwen interjecting—

Senator McGRATH: Some other night you will have the benefit of my dulcet tones. I am concerned about the impact a proposed conservation order will have on the Chillagoe limestone and marble quarries. This proposal is as potty as it is stupid and must be opposed because it will stop all line production effectively for the sugar industry in Queensland and it will impact on local cane farmers. So I call upon the federal government and Minister Greg Hunt to reject this urgently.

When talking about water, it is important that we achieve the right balance between the fishing industry and agriculture, not to mention ensuring the viability of local towns. It is important that farming operations and councils have the ability to be drought-proof— (Time expired)