Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (18:01): The previous speaker, the member for Bruce, is in a gloomy mood, I suspect! The Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2019-20 and cognate bills are about the government getting the finance to meet its commitments, and it is those commitments, particularly in my electorate of Grey, that I want to speak to today. Having been the member for Grey for almost 12 years now, I believe that the commitment that we have from the current government to my electorate is virtually unsurpassed, and I’m very, very pleased. This is largely swinging off the back of the $100 billion that we’ve committed to major infrastructure over the 10-year period, which has enabled us to lift that level of expenditure in infrastructure right across the board.
In Grey, the Joy Baluch AM Bridge at Port Augusta is being duplicated. This is a $160 million commitment from the federal government. Another $72 million will be spent on building dual lanes and a flyover to the north of Port Wakefield, which is one of the great bottlenecks in South Australia, particularly on holiday weekends where traffic can be backed up for hours. Those tenders have actually gone public in the last week. We talk about these projects for so long, and I know the public gets frustrated, but this is happening. These are going out to tender at the moment. Those projects, like all the others, will be topped up by a 20 per cent contribution from the state. These are major programs.
In the budget period, prior to the election, we actually committed $44 million for the Horrocks Highway. I don’t know whether you’ve ever been to South Australia, Madam Deputy Speaker Claydon; if you do go, I suggest you visit the beautiful Clare Valley in the electorate of Grey. To do so, you will have to travel up the Horrocks Highway, but at the moment I’d have to say that’s not a pleasant experience. But we’re going to fix that. We’ve also allocated $50 million for similar works on the Barrier Highway, which leads to Broken Hill. Broken Hill has a unique and special affiliation with South Australia. In fact, it runs on South Australian time. Sometimes I wonder why we run on South Australian time, half an hour out of sync, but Broken Hill chooses to go with us, and that’s a good thing. A lot of people in Broken Hill have family in Adelaide, and their children will attend South Australian schools for their education. Broken Hill has even supplied the current captain of the Adelaide Crows, which we are grateful for.
There is $100 million committed in the budget to road works west of Port Augusta, including $25.6 million for the Eyre Peninsula. That funding program is to address the closure of the isolated—and, when I say ‘isolated’, I mean it’s not connected to the national network—narrow-gauge rail network that is over 100 years old and which has become, basically, not fit for purpose any more. Once upon a time, this railway delivered the goods and services into the hinterland. In fact, the railway was built before the land was cleared. It enabled goods and services, water and supplies to be taken up the railway line as the settlers cleared the scrub off and started farming the lands.
Things have changed. In those days, if farmers were delivering grain to port or back to the railhead, it may have been a two- or five-tonne trailer pulled by horses. In the sixties, of course, we went to bulk handling, and a truck was eight tonne. Now a truck can pull into your paddock and take out 80 tonnes in one hit. Things have changed. Fertiliser is no longer delivered on the train. Perishable goods are no longer delivered on the train. The world has moved on, and we have to move on with it. The last user of the railway couldn’t reach a final agreement with the operators, so that will go all road transport, and we have to deal with that in a government sense. I often say that the road users pay fuel tax, which goes towards the building of roads. The railways do not. They build their own roads, as it were. And so that money is coming back onto the Eyre Peninsula now. It will be met, once again, by a 20 per cent contribution from the states, who have committed $32 million to upgrading the Todd Highway, building some passing lanes on the Lincoln Highway and possibly building a haul corridor into Port Lincoln.
And there are things changing on the Eyre Peninsula at the moment. We are expecting a barging operation port to open up for harvest this year, which will change the flow of grain anyhow, and there are two proposals to build a deep-sea port on the Eyre Peninsula. So we’re up for the game, and this government is investing in meeting that challenge.
During the electoral contest—so this is an electoral commitment—we committed a further $64 million to begin the duplication of the Augusta Highway, which runs north of Port Wakefield, which I’ve already mentioned, for 200 kilometres. Now, $64 million will not do the whole duplication of the highway, but it’s a start and it’s a very solid start. I don’t know exactly how far it’ll go and I’ve got some ideas on how to make a cheaper road, rather than a more expensive road, that will meet the same purposes, but I’ll be talking that through with the South Australian government over the next couple of years. As an electoral commitment, the main thing is that we actually get the finance and the commitment for the works in this electoral period, so we’ve got three years to make that happen and are really looking forward to it.
More than that, we are continuing the re-railing of the Adelaide-Tarcoola railway line. That’s 600 kilometres or 1,200 kilometres of single rail. It’s being made in Whyalla at the Liberty OneSteel Whyalla Steelworks. It’s being welded together in triple length in Port Augusta. There are about 40 people working on the welding facility there. We are also producing and welding rail for the building of Inland Rail in New South Wales. Already one component has gone out, and there are more orders in the system. The Australian Rail Track Corporation, as a government-owned enterprise, has always bought its steel for rail from Whyalla, and we will continue down that path. So that is producing jobs in Whyalla and helping to make sure that industry is a success going into the future.
We’ve got some trouble in the north of the state. It’s pretty badly in drought at the moment, it must be said, but the ability to run sheep in South Australia has been enabled for over 100 years by the Dog Fence. It’s the longest fence in the world—5½ thousand kilometres. In South Australia we have 2,200 kilometres of that Dog Fence. Sixteen hundred kilometres of it is 100 years old and in a corresponding state, it must be said. It’s leaking dogs. We’ve had a period of drought. There’s been a high number of dogs to the north of the fence. There’s been a high number of kangaroos, which have virtually been in plague proportion, completely out of kilter with the environment as it was intended, which have been leaning on the fence. When camels and other things hit the fence, the wire has become so brittle now that it breaks and the dogs come through.
I was talking to a station owner pastoralist up near Marree when I was up there only a few weeks ago. He estimates he’s lost 1,700 sheep in the last 12 months. Sheep at the moment are probably worth between $200 to $300 a head. That is an enormous loss. That is just one operator. The dogs are coming further and further south. We’ve seen them up to 350 to 400 kilometres south of the fence. They are on the bottom side and they are breeding. Once we get the fence fixed up, we can set about eradicating the dogs inside the fence again. This is an investment for generations. It will actually provide hundreds of millions of dollars of income to South Australia over the next 60, 70, 80, 90 years. I am looking forward to that getting on.
I was speaking earlier in the main chamber about mental health issues. Since we’ve come to government we have three new headspace units in the electorate of Grey. We had one in Port Augusta; we now have a headspace in Whyalla; we are committed to one in Port Lincoln; and we have another one operating which is called the ‘flying headspace’ running out of Port Augusta with the Royal Flying Doctor, servicing the communities of Maree and Oodnadatta. That is up and running. I’m very pleased with that, and we’ll see where that can perhaps go in the future.
Mobile phones are the No. 1 cause of complaints I get from my constituents. I am at pains to tell them that the technology is such that it will never get behind every rock and every tree and up every valley. But as we continue to invest through the government’s Mobile Black Spot Program—something that the other side of politics had never invested any money in—in Grey we either have built, have under construction or have the commitment for 39 new mobile phone towers. We’ve got two new rounds of funding coming up, $60 million each. I intend to see and make sure that some more of those mobile phone towers go into the electorate of Grey. Not only do they provide that safety provision; it’s certainly a great advantage to the tourism industry, because there are a lot of people now who, when they lose their mobile phone connections, get lost because their maps don’t work any more. It is an unfamiliar thing for a lot of people now to go where there is no mobile phone reception. There is also the fact that agriculture is increasingly relying on connectivity to drive our wonderfully technologically advanced agricultural industries.
For the local councils, we’ve lifted the Roads to Recovery funding by 25 per cent. It’s worth remarking that local councils are a creation of state governments, which provide lots of regulations for local councils to comply with but very little funding. The federal government is one of their major funders. Through the Roads to Recovery program obviously the FAGs grants stay in place. For the South Australian councils that had leaned very hard on myself and the member for Barker, there is a continuation of the special local road funding component, which is a recognition from the federal government that has existed for the best part of 16 years now. The current formula is actually a disadvantage to South Australia because of the way the numbers were drawn up in the original process. I’m very pleased that that is going. Roads to Recovery has paid for the sealing of roads like the Port Clinton to Ardrossan road, the Bulumbah to Kinnard road and the Kyancutta to Mount Wedge road, which I had the great privilege of snipping the ribbon on a few months ago.
Since the coalition came to office in 2013 the Building Better Regions Fund has put more than $40 million back into the electorate of Grey. We have some new rounds coming up. They are great programs—building new wharves, a fish unloader in Ceduna, waste water plants, sporting facilities. There has been a lot of investment in sporting facilities, either new ones or revamping old ones. There is flood mitigation, tourism development and telecommunications. We got a substantial amount of money under the Building Better Regions Fund to link Elliston, a coastal town on the Eyre Peninsula, to the main phone network, because there had been a radio connection before, which was totally overloaded and getting to the point where mobile phones and fixed phones were dropping out on a regular basis. To be able to get that town rewired, because we have a government that has a program that is interested in building the infrastructure of rural Australia, has been a great advantage to us, and I am thankful for it.
I will just touch on drought now. Certainly the drought of eastern Australia has been affecting South Australia. I must say, it’s patchy. Even last year there were parts of my electorate that had the best season they’d ever had. There were others that were constantly drifting for the whole 12 months. I took the former minister, Senator Bridget McKenzie, to the Cowell, Arno Bay and Cleve area last year. She said she’d never seen anything like it. We were looking at roads that were drifted over half a metre deep, and farmers that couldn’t afford to shift the sand off the roads; technically it’s their job to get it off the road and put it back in their paddock. She was able to extend the Drought Communities Program through to my electorate and through to South Australia, it must be said. Consequently, after three different rounds now, I have 19 district councils that have received a million dollars to undertake works within their council region. All the works are good for the community, but the very good thing about it is that predominantly they focus on using local tradesmen and local workers, because droughts don’t just affect farmers; they affect the towns, the communities and the people that work within them.
We’ve had a very wide range of programs. One I like to wax on about a little is in my home town of Kimba, where they used a lot of the money to build a plastic water run to make the water run much more efficiently—it probably shifted from about 10 per cent efficiency to 100 per cent efficiency—to put water in the town dams so we could water the town ovals. It has a 50-year guarantee on the plastic. That will reward the community for 50 years. It will save money for water for 50 years. Peterborough airstrip got a million dollars, as did Uni Hub up at Upper Spencer Gulf. We’re really kicking goals. I’m very thankful to the government for the attention they show.