SUBJECTS: Government’s proposed Defence land acquisition, Dams
THURSDAY, 19 JANUARY 2017
SUBJECTS: Government’s proposed Defence land acquisition, Dams
BILL BYRNE, QUEENSLAND MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY QUEENSLAND MINISTER FOR RURAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Good afternoon everyone. It’s great to be here this afternoon. The community is well aware of the issues surrounding the military expansion to the north of Shoalwater Bay training area and I think people are starting to get a sense of what my position is on that. I am really pleased to be joined today by two of our Federal Labor colleagues from Canberra and in the background myself and Brittany Lauga have been advocating strongly in favour of their visit to speak to producers and the community more broadly in Marlborough and the very genuine concerns they have and the dramatic effects it will have on that community and industry in Central Queensland more broadly. I think this is all part of what we are trying to do and that is raise the profile of this problem. Clearly having Federal Labor politicians here is all part of that and Murray and Joel have been kind enough to make time in their busy schedules at this time of year to come and see the issue, talk to people face to face and get a sense of what we are dealing with. It has been rather an interesting journey the last couple of days to watch the Coalition Government’s position on some of this. Extraordinary is probably an understatement for the comments that have been made but I can reflect on that later when we go on to some questions.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: I thank Minister Bill Byrne and his other state colleagues and Senator Murray Watt, Labor Senator from Queensland for ensuring I am aware of the gravity of the situation here with land holders. This is a very disappointing situation. First of all, I should say the Government needs to be held to account, that is of course the Turnbull Government, for not declaring its intentions on this land grab prior to the election. Clearly they knew what this process would entail. They announced the funding for the training area but decided not to share their secret with landholders who are potentially effected by what the landholders themselves have described as a land grab. Second, the Government has failed to undertake any consultation with these people. Of course Defence has written to them and in some cases may have spoken with them but we need political leadership here in what is obviously a very delicate situation. Murray Watt, Bill Byrne, others and I are prepared to be the voice of the farmers on behalf of the landholders if Barnaby Joyce and Michelle Landry are not prepared to do so. I see Michelle Landry has run up the white flag on this issue and says the acquisitions will proceed regardless of what others have to say. I don’t accept that and we have organised a formal briefing from the Defence Minister Marise Payne and have been personally in contact with her. Richard Marles our Defence spokesperson has written to her formally also asking for a briefing. We want them to share with us a few things. One, we want to see the validity of the expansion. As a former Defence Minister myself, I understand these issues very well and understand the critical importance of training areas and the opportunities available to expand them particularly if that is given to strengthen relationships with our near partners. But the Government hasn’t explained the need in detail nor has it explained why this is the only option available to us in terms of the expansion. I think landholders here at the very least deserve some explanation and certainly some consultation, so we will talk to them today. I thank Murray Watt and Bill Byrne for organising that meeting for me. Obviously some of them have already been in direct contact with me and have expressed their very, very deep concern and regret that the Government has made no attempt to listen to their concerns and Barnaby Joyce really does need to get himself up here and out to farmers and landholders and those potentially affected so he can better understand and appreciate their concerns. So far his silence on this issue has been deafening. If he is not prepared to be their voice in Canberra, I am certainly prepared to be that voice.
SENATOR MURRAY WATT, LABOR SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: I’m Murray Watt, Labor Senator for Queensland and I am responsible for the electorate for Capricornia. Again I want to thank Bill Byrne Brittany Lauga and Jim Pearce, the State Labor Members for keeping me as a Labor Senator very well informed about the situation on the ground up here. I have been following this issue closely over a number of weeks but thought it was important that I, the Labor Senator and Joel Fitzgibbon our Shadow Agriculture spokesperson came and met first hand with the people affected by this proposed expansion. I am very disappointed that so far this seems to be yet another example of Michelle Landry dropping the ball when it comes to representing her electorate in Central Queensland and we have seen this from her on a number of occasions now on the issues of 457 overseas worker visas, over the number of apprenticeships falling in this area for young local people and now we have seen it again in relation to this expansion of Shoalwater Bay and the proposed acquisition of properties. Michelle Landry just doesn’t seem to get what her job is and that is to actually stand up for these people in Canberra. All she seems to want to do is to go back to Capricornia and put in place whatever Malcolm Turnbull tells her to do and we are seeing this again with the expansion of Shoalwater Bay. She doesn’t seem to be in the loop about what was happening and claims to have not known anything about these compulsory acquisition which tells you a lot about how plugged in she is to what is actually happening in Canberra. If people in this area aren’t able to get a competent Federal Member of Parliament, that’s where Labor can step in and make sure people are actually getting a voice. I am very much looking at meeting with the landowners today with the State Labor Members and Joel Fitzgibbon to hear their side of the story and hear what Labor can do to assist them. I was very disappointed to see last night on the local television news that Michelle Landry is basically saying this is all too hard and that, in the end, what the Defence Force wants is what they are going to get. I think it is an important role for a Federal Member of Parliament to be asking the hard questions of Government before these kind of decisions are locked in and to make sure landowners and all the other people who will be affected by this decision get the best hearing from Government and see what changes can be made. I will hand over now to Brittany Lauga.
BRITTANY LAUGA, LABOR MEMBER FOR KEPPEL: Thanks Senator and it is great to be here today with our Shadow Agriculture Minister and also Senator Murray Watt and also our State Agriculture Minister Bill Byrne. This is an issue that concerns a lot of people in my electorate of Keppel but also in Central Queensland more broadly. When I was at the markets on Sunday at Bell Park, this was the number one issue that people were talking to me about. It’s the number one issue for people who have friends and family in Marlborough but it is also the number one issue for people in broader central Queensland region. Local people are concerned about the possible impact on the loss of jobs on our local meat works and the other flow on, cumulative impacts in term of jobs with rural services and agri-business. We are talking about, at a conservative estimate, 50,000 head of cattle being removed out of the supply chain here in central Queensland. That is substantial in terms of the amount of work that would take out of the local meat works and that means the loss of local jobs, so certainly this is one of my greatest concerns. I have been speaking with landholders up at Marlborough and I have also been speaking with workers at the two meat works in my electorate and everyone is very concerned about these acquisitions. The LNP and Michelle Landry spruiked a billion Defence spend at the last Federal election but they didn’t come clean about what this billion dollar spending would entail and I would actually highly doubt that many of the people in Central Queensland would have supported the LNP in the last Federal election if they would have actually known the full extent of these proposed compulsory acquisitions.
JOURNALIST: You say you represent the people who don’t want their land acquired, what about those in the community that do want to sell?
FITZGIBBON: Well I represent those who want a fair review with the Government on this issue. There’s been no attempt of Government…no sorry Matt Canavan attended one town hall meeting but provided no answers what so ever. Beyond that there has been no attempt by the Government to engage with people who do want to sell or indeed with those who don’t want to sell. There has been no consideration given to the supply chain or the impact of these acquisitions on the meat processing industry. This is very broad and that’s why I was surprised to see Michelle Landry running up the flag because the Government claims to be doing a socioeconomic impact study through KPMG. By the way, I had a look on their website and am struggling to find any sign that it is in preparation, but it is just wrong for the Government to spending, quite a significant amount of money I suspect, on an economic impact study but declare the outcome before the study has even begun. That’s why I’m here, to listen to all stakeholders whatever their position, something Barnaby Joyce should have been doing many months ago and this is something Barnaby Joyce should have declared prior to the last election.
JOURNALIST: There are also lots of job tied to the building of the proposed extension and then the ongoing upkeep of that and I have heard local business that some are quite excited about that opportunity to them. Is there any response to them?
FITZGIBBON: As a former Defence Minister I am very cognisant of the economic flow on to investment in Defence generally including Defence Force facilities, but the Government again has given no consideration to sharing any of that information with members of the local community, whether they are in support or against this proposition. All we are asking today is to be given some of that information. Not just us as politicians but of course local residents and we will certainly be asking the hard questions when Parliament resumes next month.
JOURNALIST: Do you have any comment on the Government’s response to the outbreak of white spot in prawns in Queensland?
FITZGIBBON: These issues of biosecurity are of critical importance and if there is any area that requires advanced bipartisanship from the major parties, it is biosecurity. I have seen no reason to be critical of any Government action in respect to this issue, but of course it is something I am watching very closely and will certainly be quick to alert everyone to the fact if I think the Government has dropped the ball on this issue.
JOURNALIST: This is also our Defence Department expanding and a matter of National defence and what the Coalition is saying is that expansion is vital to National defence, so would Labor support an expansion of the Defence land at Shoalwater Bay if it means these landholders will be put out?
FITZGIBBON: Again as a former Defence Minister I understand these issues only too well. What we haven’t actually seen is any real evidence this is something this is Defence is seeking whether this is a Government project or something sought by Defence itself. Now the information we share about Defence operations of course is limited but it is a threshold question. Is this a proposition that has been put by Defence because they believe it is critical for their training and therefore our national defence? Or is this a proposition that has been put by the Government because some arrangement they have struck with the Singaporean Government on other subjects? These are the issues and questions I think that need to be answered by the Government. They are reasonable questions and there may be good answers, but I think all of us, including landholders are entitled to know the answers to those questions.
JOURNALIST: What was your message to the LNP regarding dams, can you talk about that?
BYRNE: I see Barnaby Joyce has come out seeking advice from us about and decisions from us about (inaudible) feasibility studies going forward. I have been advised that has been on their desk since December last year and is typical of everything Barnaby Joyce has said about dams and water infrastructure in Queensland. He has been deliberately mischievous and has misrepresented the situation. He knows full well the Rookwood Weir is a priority put forward by the Queensland Government. He knows full well that I have been on the public record saying that I believe in climate change- and he probably doesn’t. I believe if we are to secure agriculture in the future we need to do more in the way of storage and water availability. He also knows Rookwood Weir particularly is not primarily an agriculture investment. It is primarily about industrial and urban water growth in Central Queensland. Agriculture is a second tier advantage that goes with it. All of that is being tested as Barnaby knows and has paid for through $2 million consultancy that is going to be setting up and doing a business case study thoroughly and appropriately. There is one thing that Queenslanders and Australians have had enough of and that is this pork barrelling approach to strategic infrastructure investment. We in opposition made a commitment to ensure these sort of rorts for regions stuff that the LNP are renowned for is righty (inaudible). Part of that is the independent process that it goes through Building Queensland and Building Queensland business case will reveal the merits or otherwise of this proposal. Personally I have no problem what so ever on an on stream storage in the Fitzroy Basin particularly if it stacks up on economic terms and business case and the environmental impacts are appropriately identified and mitigated.
JOURNALIST: When is the business case due?
BYRNE: Well the best advice I have received from Building Queensland when I met with them late last year and talked through all the issues, we are hopeful that midyear that the business case will be there and that there will certainly be an indication and events and hope budgetary consideration for the next and subsequent budgets for Queensland. This nonsense being put out there by Barnaby about the Queensland Government’s position, it’s our proposal and we put it to him as a priority project for potential funding and he also funded the business case and then to say, ‘I’m spending $2 million of Federal money on a business case that I am funding but I don’t want the result of that, I just want to get on and do this investment because I managed to announce it during the election campaign, an announcement that hasn’t been scrutinised in the Federal Parliament’. Now that’s pretty typical of Barnaby and the emotive nonsense that he brings to the serious business of agriculture in Queensland.