4CA Cairns

October 21, 2020


SUBJECTS: National Integrity Commission; Morrison fails to prepare for North Queensland cyclones and floods; no funds spent from Emergency Response Fund; Deb Frecklington’s $33bn Bruce Highway promise shot down at Senate Estimates; LNP candidate falsely claiming to have funding agreement with Federal Government.
MURRAY JONES, HOST: Corruption is something that we're looking to deal with, and there had been some movements on the federal level as well. Before we come to a bit more of a discussion about the funding for the Bruce Highway, Senator Murray Watt joins me. Let's talk a little bit more about this corruption, because it's kind of been the flavour of the week, Murray, hasn't it?
MURRAY WATT, QUEENSLAND LABOR SENATOR: Certainly has, Murray. I think most people around Australia are sort of shaking their head at some of the things we're seeing in politics at the moment. We've obviously got the New South Wales Corruption Commission investigation into a former Liberal MP who seems to have been up to his neck in all sorts of bad things, corruption-wise. And of course, this week we've been learning more about the purchase of land by the Federal Government to help build the Western Sydney Airport, obviously in Western Sydney.
And what's happened there is that a block of land that was only valued at $3 million, was bought by the Federal Government for $30 million and certainly over the course of this week, it looks like something very dodgy has gone on there. The problem we've got at the moment is that, at a national level, we don't have a corruption body like we do at the state level. So there's no real organisation who can do proper investigations of these kinds of things and make sure that, whether it be federal politicians, their staff or public servants, they are not up to no good. Labor's been calling for a federal corruption commission, for probably about three or four years now. And in fact, Scott Morrison finally got pressured into committing to do one back in December 2018. But it looks like this is just another one of those ‘Scott Morrison Specials’ where he gets out there and makes an announcement and never follows through, because we've never seen anything more of it since he announced it would happen nearly two years ago.
JONES: Well, certainly when it comes to corruption, certainly you have my support there, doesn't matter what flavour, at the end of the day, when you're ripping off the electorate, that's an issue. Look, before we get to the Bruce Highway issue, I just want to quickly mention, too, I noticed the forecast for the weekend for Brisbane, for the AFL grand final. Rain! We've got some thunderstorms coming through, there's even talk it may be delayed. Let's talk a little bit more about La Nina and some of the impacts that some wild weather is likely to have, and the resilience fund.
WATT: Yeah, well, last week we actually saw the Bureau of Meteorology come out with its summer weather outlook. And what it's telling us is that we're actually facing a higher risk than usual of cyclones and floods in North Queensland, and pretty much right down the east coast of Australia this summer. Obviously, last summer the really big weather pressure that the country faced was bushfires, particularly in southern parts of the country. But what it's looking like now is that the major disaster risk we face this summer is actually going to be in your part of the world, in North Queensland. You know, I mean, obviously, North Queensland often gets cyclones in summers, but it was pretty disturbing to see that the forecast this year, that we're actually facing a higher risk of cyclones and floods than usual.
One of the problems, and again this has come out through Senate Estimates this week, is that the Federal Government is sitting on a $4 billion Emergency Response Fund that they announced in last year's Budget - 18 months ago. And again, not a single cent has been spent from that fund. Part of the fund can be used to help with disaster recovery - so payments to people to help them get back on their feet. But also $50 million a year is available from that fund to spend on what's called disaster mitigation measures - so things that can reduce the impact of disasters. Things like cyclone shelters, evacuation centres, you know, roof upgrades and things like that, that can protect people in cyclones. So, again, we see another announcement from the Morrison Government. This one was made in last year's Budget, 18 months ago. Here we are with cyclones bearing down our neck in a couple of months' time, and there'll be funds that are unused, that could have been used to keep people in Cairns and North Queensland safe.
JONES: Maybe it's wrapped up with some of that NAIF funding, but we won't go down that track this morning.
WATT: Everywhere you look, there's examples of this, where they go out and promise lots of money and it never ends up being spent.
JONES: Let's talk about the Department of Infrastructure. I understand that you were actually quizzing them just in the last couple of nights with respect to the $33 billion Bruce Highway commitment that Deb Frecklington's put forward. According to what you've basically discovered, you've said there's no commitment from the Federal Government to meet its share of the funding announced by Frecklington. There's been no representations made by the Queensland Opposition on this funding to the Federal Government department, and no evaluation has been done by the department on this announcement. I did put those issues to the LNP candidate for Cairns, Sam Marino, about half an hour ago, and this was his response...*tech issues* That's not quite the one that I was looking for, so we might have to come back to that one. I do apologise for that, for some reason that particular drop hasn't worked. But what Sam Marino has said to me this morning is that there is an agreement and I guess he probably suggested it was maybe a gentlemen's agreement between the Government and, of course, the LNP here in Queensland. What's your response to that position?
WATT: Look, I heard Mr Marino on your program earlier this morning, Murray, and I was pretty amazed by what he had to say. He was claiming that the State Opposition in Queensland does have an agreement with the Federal Government to chip in 80 per cent of the cost of four-laning the Bruce Highway from Brisbane to Cairns.
Now, that was pretty big news to me. For starters, we're talking there about $26-$27 billion that it would require from the Federal Government to actually deliver Deb Frecklington's promise to the Queensland public.
But what we found out in Senate Estimate this week is that the federal Department of Infrastructure, which would have to fund this, all they know about it is what they saw in the media. There's absolutely no agreement between the Federal Government and the Queensland Opposition. Don't take my word for it, anyone can go have a look at what they said to Senate Estimates the other night. There is no agreement. There's nothing in the Budget this year or any other year to provide $27 billion for the Bruce Highway. They've never evaluated the proposal. They've never had any discussions with the Queensland Opposition. So I don't know where Mr Marino gets off claiming that there's some sort of an agreement, because if there is, the department that would have to chip in the money and have to do the work to evaluate it, doesn't know anything about it.
JONES: And look, just for the record, I do apologise that drop that I had prepared did not work earlier, but I think I've just got it to sort itself out. Let's just have a replay of what Sam Marino did have to say on the subject…
SAM MARINO, LNP CANDIDATE FOR CAIRNS: At the end of the day, that’s smoke and mirrors. National highway is funded 80 per cent by the Federal Government. And so we've got a plan in place, we are working with the Federal Government and that is happening. So that announcement out from the Senate is not correct. We are talking to and we've got agreement with the Federal Government and they fund 80 per cent of all the Bruce Highway upgrades.
JONES: And that's exactly what he did say this morning, but obviously, you've got some concerns after speaking directly to the department, from what you've said a few minutes ago?
WATT: Yeah, well, you'd think that if there was an agreement between the Federal Government and the State Opposition, which is what Mr Marino is telling people in Cairns, that the department that has to find $27 billion might know something about it. You know, that's not loose change, that is a huge financial commitment. And I think, you know, beyond Mr Marino really just lying to people in Cairns about this promise, what it means is that Deb Frecklington doesn't have the money to deliver what is probably her biggest commitment in this state election campaign. She's been going around the state, from Cairns down to Brisbane, saying that she's going to four-lane the Bruce Highway, and that the Federal Government is going to put in 80 per cent of the cost. When you actually ask the Federal Government, they don't know anything about it. They haven't got the money. They haven't done the work. It can't be delivered.
And this really goes to the core of the problem for Deb Frecklington in this election campaign. Where is she going to get the money to pay for her commitments? She's out there making commitments every single day. She's saying that other people are going to pay for them and they don't know anything about it. Really, all that means is that the only option she's got is to cut public services just like she did when she was part of Campbell Newman's Government. I mean, she's also out there also saying that if she's elected, she'll bring the Queensland Budget back to surplus within four years. That just is not feasible in the current environment when governments are having to spend lots of money to keep the economy going.
So between promising a surplus while at the same time building a four-lane Bruce Highway that she hasn't got the money for, let alone all the other commitments she's making. The only thing she can do to pay for these things is to cut hospital spending, schools spending, police spending, roads spending, which is exactly what Campbell Newman did. And she was a key part of that Government. So we've seen it all before and people have got a big choice ahead of them when it comes to the Queensland election.
JONES: It's going to be an interesting couple of days, no doubt about that, heading up to the end of October. And we’ve got the US to consider as well. Senator Murray Watt, always great to talk to you. Thank you so much for your time this morning.
WATT: You too, Murray. Good to talk, mate.