Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (16:44): It was a great pleasure to listen to the Governor-General when he opened this parliament in July this year. I have been reflecting upon his speech, and of course he was talking about what happened on 18 May: the return of a Morrison government, the return of the Liberal-led coalition government. The Governor-General said in the speech:
They voted for a government that understands Australians are focused on raising their families, running their businesses, working hard, volunteering, and caring for their family and friends.
I hear those words from the Governor-General and I know that’s what this government is focused on and I thank him for those words. May 18 was a stand-out day not only for the coalition but also for Australia. The number of people who perhaps doubted that we might win the election, and win the election in our own right, were many. But, I must say, since that time it is amazing the number of people who have come up to me and said, ‘Thank goodness you won.’ A sense of relief washed over the nation on 18 May when people realised that they’d maybe had a near-death experience of an opposition that was promising to ramp up taxes. Of course we are facing economic headwinds at the moment, and there has been enough things said about it in the main chamber. We are facing economic headwinds, and had we faced that huge hike in taxation, which they had intended to place upon the nation, we would be in a far less viable position today.
This election is the first election where I represent new parts of South Australia to Grey. Previously, I represented 92 per cent of South Australia. I now represent 92.4 per cent. We sadly lost a seat out of South Australia, and that is a bit of a long-term marker on our population growth. We have been growing, but not as fast as the other states. When you lose a seat to one of 11, it means quite significant boundary changes. So I welcome the communities of Clare, Balaklava, Mallala, Two Wells, Roseworthy, Port Wakefield and all those others in between. You bring to me new industries that I have to strife to understand as quickly as I can, one being irrigated horticulture down on the Adelaide plains. I point out that Two Wells is around about 32 kilometres from the CBD of Adelaide, so the electorate of Grey now stretches from 32 kilometres from the CBD of Adelaide to the Northern Territory, to Queensland, to New South Wales and to Western Australia. It is an enormously diverse seat. It is an incredible privilege to represent it. It is a quite taxing regime for me to try and get my head around all the separate industries that lie within it so I have a good working knowledge. I’ll be working hard to fully understand—or understand as best I can—the irrigated horticulture industry. I have had the opportunity to visit a few businesses down there already, including Perfection Fresh tomatoes, a wonderful, huge facility not so far out of Adelaide, and I have been to visit Days Eggs and the Clare Valley. I’ve had some wineries to represent before, but not as big and as successful as the wineries that sit within the Clare and Gilbert valleys—the Clare Valley in particular. There are wonderful labels there, some household names, and some people who are very big exporters and employers. It’s a great industry. I had the great privilege of attending Peter Barry’s Jim Barry Wines 60th anniversary not so long ago—a celebration dinner. I look forward to increasing that knowledge of the industry and the people within it.
The Governor-General’s address gives me an opportunity to talk about the wonderful things that are happening in Grey as a result of government policies and what we are intending to do in the near future. I cannot talk about Grey and not talk about drought. I’m pleased to report that it does not affect all of the Grey area or all of the population—most of the area, it must be said, but not the population in the productive areas. The southern areas are actually experiencing quite good seasonal conditions and in fact had some very good seasonal conditions last year. But we have had 19, I think, drought community grants go out in Grey, so that’s 19 affected council areas. I have 27 councils in the electorate of Grey. Nineteen have been granted $1 million each to bring on community works and to engage locals to undertake that work. There was the sparky I talked to in Wudinna, who had two apprentices. He said, ‘I can afford to keep them on now as a result of the work I’ve got to do in the community coming from the drought community grants.’ That’s a really good outcome.
Of course, we’ve put $3.9 billion into the drought future fund. At the moment we’re dealing with changes to farm household assistance in the House, which will allow people to benefit from farm household assistance when they meet the other qualifications for four out of 10 years. That’s a significant advance on where we’ve been previously. So there is increasing support as well for farmer-specific programs.
One of the things we committed to in the lead-up to the election was to make sure that the South Australian section of the South Australian Dog Fence was brought up to standard. We have about 2,150 kilometres of the dog fence in South Australia. If you like, it’s what separates the cattle country and the dogs of the north from the sheep industry. The sheep industry in South Australia cannot survive without an adequate dog fence, and 1,600 kilometres of it are over 100 years old. I was very pleased, firstly, to host the agriculture minister, David Littleproud, over in Jamestown for the show last year to get the ball rolling. One way or another, leading up to the election we made the commitment of $10 million from the Commonwealth. The state government matched that commitment of $10 million and the growers are putting up $5 million. That $25 million will replace 1,600 kilometres of the dog fence, which will serve South Australia for the next 80 years at least. We’re really looking forward to that.
And that’s what you can do when you manage the economy properly and the government has money to spend on important infrastructure. I must say that it’s been a pleasure to work as closely as I possibly can with GFG Alliance’s Liberty Onesteel and Sanjeev Gupta in Whyalla. I welcome his presence in Australia as a visionary who is prepared to have a go. That sits very well with the Australian character, to have a go. We believe that those who have a go should get a go. Certainly, Sanjeev Gupta is giving a real go to the people who live in Whyalla—there is a new spring in their step, if you like.
We have a long way to go, but in the first instance the contracts he has signed or is negotiating, and the things we continue to speak about with him, plan to lift the production of the plant from around 1.2 million tonnes a year to 1.8 million tonnes a year. There is a string of investments associated with that. But, not to shoot too low, our good friend Mr Gupta is actually doing a feasibility study on producing 10 million tonnes of steel in Whyalla a year. It’s worth reflecting that Whyalla has about 40 per cent of the Australian steel industry. In fact it has all of Australia’s structural steel industry. I would say very strongly that this country needs to make structural steel. We couldn’t imagine, with the instability that sits within the world, that we would sit on a continent that cannot produce its own steel, considering the fact that we have copious quantities of iron and copious quantities of coal, which are the main ingredients for making steel. So that’s a very good outcome and we will continue to work with Mr Gupta.
Over the gulf, Nystar in Port Pirie has been taken over by its major shareholder, Trafigura. I think this is a really good outcome; Trafigura have more resources to make sure that they can handle the debt portfolio that sat with Nystar. Of course, the new plant over there is in the stages of being commissioned at the moment. There have been a few teething problems, but that is not unusual for a new smelter. It ensures the longevity of the plant in Port Pirie, which has sat there for more than 100 years already. I think it will be there for at least the next 50 on the strength of that $600 million investment there.
Our fishing and aquaculture industries continue to be major contributors to our economy. I often say that in Port Lincoln and the electorate of Grey we have the biggest fishing fleet in the southern hemisphere. Mr Deputy Speaker Georganas, if you happen to get across to South Australia and you happen to get to Port Lincoln, let me tell you to go out to the marina and have a look at this magnificent fleet when it is in port. These are fishermen who really care for their kit and it’s a sight to behold, whether it’s the 39 prawn boats that work on the Spencer Gulf fishery, the tenders that work in the tuna industry or those that actually go out and catch the southern bluefin tuna. This is tuna that they bring in at around 11 or 12 kilograms and in six months turn into 22- or 25-kilogram tuna. We are working on an international quota, and we can only quota the tuna as we catch them; if we can double the weight of the tuna after we catch them, you can see the value in that. So these are very good industries. There are oysters, mussels, southern rock lobster and abalone. It’s a great place to visit, Mr Deputy Speaker Georganas; I suggest you do it. If you like, I can line up for you to swim with the sharks, as I did for the minister at the time, Minister Greg Hunt.
In Grey, one of the things my constituents always tell me is ‘You have to do up this road’, ‘Got to do up that road’, ‘Our roads are in a mess’. I have to say I think our road network has been improving over the years, but it takes time. At the moment, this Commonwealth government has committed $480 million—from the $100 billion infrastructure package—into Grey for new major road infrastructure. Bear in mind, Mr Deputy Speaker, these figures are, by and large, matched by a 20 per cent contribution from the state of South Australia. So we’re putting up $160 million for the duplication of the Joy Baluch AM Bridge at Port Augusta. Currently it is a bottleneck and a high safety risk, with all of the emergency services in Port Augusta living on one side of the gulf, and many people living on the other side. From time to time, there is an interruption of the bridge. It is a 35-kilometre alternative trip around the top of the gulf. This is a great safety valve. The traffic loads are continuing to rise as the minerals, the resources of the north, are being developed and bankrolling South Australia. So that’s a great investment.
Down at Port Wakefield, it’s one of the main road intersections in South Australia, where traffic peels off for the Yorke Peninsula and then the rest of it keeps going north and west to Port Augusta then maybe Darwin or maybe Perth, depending on which way they are going. We are spending $72 million—there will be a state contribution as well—for a flyover, an overpass, in Port Wakefield and dual lanes through the town and around the town. Currently, dual lanes come all the way up to the town and then stop, meaning that it is a major bottleneck. It will be fixed.
We are putting $45 million into the Horrocks Highway. This is the road that leads up to Clare, to the wonderful tourism assets of the Clare Valley. So that is a very good outcome. I am looking forward to work starting on that in the first quarter of next year, as I am to the work starting on the bridge and in Port Wakefield.
On Eyre Peninsula, the Eyre Highway, we have committed $100 million. Of that $100 million, $25.6 will be allocated to lower Eyre Peninsula to deal with the closure of the more-than-100-year-old narrow-gauge railway, which had reached its use-by date. Of course, there will be extra grain traffic coming onto some of the roads, and we will be seeking some money there to make sure we get wide shouldering, levelling out of roads, fixing up intersections, more passing lanes and, particularly coming into Port Lincoln, a slow-down lane as you come down the hill into the port. Those things are happening.
We’ve allocated $50 million for the Barrier Highway, and I’m very pleased to acknowledge $64 million will be for the beginning of duplication work on the Augusta Highway, which sits to the north of Port Wakefield, which I have spoken about before. It carries around 4,000 to 5,000 vehicle movements a day—and that number is increasing. We will start work on duplicating that highway. The $64 million won’t take us the 200 kilometres all the way to Port Augusta; I understand that. But we’ll start down the bottom and we will see how far we go. Then the member for Grey will be rattling on the Treasurer’s door and making sure we get the rest of the money to finish off the job. Because I’m a great one, Mr Deputy Speaker, for getting started on the job! I often quote Yogi Berra, a US baseball player who became a commentator. He is famous for such quotes as, ‘It ain’t over till its over,’ and, ‘It’s just like deja vu all over again.’ My favourite quote from Yogi Berra is, ‘When you come to a fork in the road, take it.’ I think that’s a philosophy for life—when it comes to the point of decision, for goodness sake, let’s make a decision. So I’m in favour of the $64 million going into the duplication of Augusta Highway, because we’ve made a decision that we’re going to get on with the job and make it start. Let’s bring that on.
I thank the brave and resilient citizens of Kimba—my home town—and of Hawker and Quorn, who are currently participating in a ballot to decide where the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility might go. I’m looking forward to it going ahead in my electorate. I’ve always been a supporter of it. I tried to nominate my own farm but ran foul of some regulations; in fact, I think I’d have to give up my seat if that ever actually happened. Both communities may reject it, and if they don’t want it then so they should reject it. But I’ve always said it’s a great opportunity for a small country town somewhere in Australia: 45 jobs and a $31 million package to help them to adapt, to build community infrastructure to deal with the changes. That’s a good opportunity and I thank them for their tolerance. I’ve already voted and I’m looking forward to the rest of the citizens getting on and doing it.
In Grey we have the NBN 99 per cent enabled. That’s a pretty good outcome. If you live in Grey you can get on the NBN.
The NDIS rollout is going well. Sure, there are some teething issues. We always knew there would be a shortage of qualified staff because this is ramping up so fast. But I thank the minister for his diligence in this area. We are sorting out the issues as we go. It’s generally going pretty well.
I gave a speech on energy in the House yesterday. I had Minister Taylor in the electorate recently and we visited two of the proposed pumped hydro sites, one at Goat Hill, near Port Augusta, and the other one down at Baroota, near Port Pirie. There’s another one in the Middleback Range, which is the property of GFG Alliance. It’s a disused mine site. All of those are great possibilities for firming up the abundant supply of renewable energy in South Australia.
We’ve had the Mobile Black Spot Program. Thirty-nine projects either have been completed or have funding coming down the pipeline in round 4—39 in Grey. I say on mobile phone black spots that it won’t matter how many we get; there’ll always be gaps. It’s that kind of technology. But we really are filling in the gaps. Thirty-nine is a very good performance considering that it is only this side of politics that has ever put any money into mobile phone reception in Australia. It’s a good outcome, and I thank the coalition government for bringing back the programs from the Howard government that were dismissed. I might point out while I’m on that—because a little bit of history never hurts—that when the Labor Party came to power there was a $2 billion telecommunications regional and rural fund. The idea was that it was going to produce an income ad infinitum, forever, to deal with communication issues in rural and regional Australia. Of course that got hoovered up in about the first eight months, never to be seen again.
In the lead-up to the May election I managed to get a commitment of $12 million for the rebuilding of the accident and emergency entrance at the Whyalla hospital. There are all these things that we can do, Mr Deputy Speaker. There’s huge expenditure going on in regional Australia.
I missed out on headspace. We are delivering three new headspace centres. We already have one in Port Augusta, delivered under the previous government. Now we have one up and operating in Whyalla and one opening in Port Lincoln soon. And we have a ‘flying headspace’ out of Port Augusta, which the Royal Flying Doctor Service will be operating for us. In fact, it’s happening at the moment; it’s already working. I was talking to one of the nurses the last time I was up in Marree. These are fabulous outcomes. This is a government investing in mental health for young people in some of the most difficult to access areas of Australia. I hope to get some more headspace centres in future. I have said publicly that I really think we need one in Port Pirie as well, and I will keep working with the Minister for Health to try to bring about that outcome.
But all of these things can only be paid for if you run the economy and budget well and you’re not borrowing money all the time. It was a great outcome this year to see, when the final figures in the budget were announced, a very, very tiny deficit. It was far less than one per cent, for all intents and purposes a balanced budget. In the next 12 months, the next budget, we will be looking at a surplus, and I am absolutely confident the Treasurer will deliver it.