Rockhampton Press Conference

November 03, 2020



SUBJECTS: LNP preferences electing another Greens MP in Queensland; Queensland election; One Nation collapse; NAIF funding failures.

MURRAY WATT, QUEENSLAND LABOR SENATOR: Alright, well thanks a lot for coming along today, terrific to be back in Rockhampton again. And it's even better to be joining my fantastic State Labor colleagues, Barry O'Rourke and Brittany Lauga, who've been returned, it seems we're still waiting for final results, but it seems clear that both Brittany and Barry have not just held on in these seats in Central Queensland but have actually increased their margins. That's a fantastic endorsement for the work that they've done over the last three years, and it's a fantastic endorsement as well for Annastacia Palaszczuk and the whole Queensland Labor team.

I think many of us were dismayed by the constant attacks from Scott Morrison, from Deb Frecklington and many others in the Federal Government against Annastacia Palaszczuk and her team, in the weeks leading up to the (election) and I think Central Queenslanders, and Queenslanders as a whole, have shown that they didn't appreciate the constant intrusion from Scott Morrison and his team about how Queensland was managing our borders.

When you think about it, Scott Morrison, in this election was the Bob Brown of this election. He was the bloke from down south who came up to Queensland and told us how we should manage COVID, and Queenslanders have put him in his place. And he should think twice about coming back up to Queensland and lecturing us about how we run our state and how we keep our people and our economy safe into the future. So full credit to Barry, Brittney and all the local team for their results here in Rocky.

A couple of other things I just want to touch on today. While we talking about the election, I might as well keep going with that. I think there are some really important developments for all parties from the weekend's results. Obviously, for Federal Labor, we're very encouraged to see continued growth in the Labor vote here. And we certainly hope to capitalise on that in the future as well. But I think one of the really interesting things that hasn't been widely reported yet is the LNP's decision to preference the Greens in the seat of South Brisbane, and in fact, across every single seat in the state of Queensland. We have never before had an election in Queensland where the LNP has decided to preference the Greens in every single seat. And in doing that, they've actually managed to elect another Greens MP to the Queensland Parliament.

So all the times we hear from people like Matt Canavan, people like Michelle Landry, people like George Christensen that they hate the Greens, that the Greens are going to destroy Central Queensland, their preferences have elected another Greens MP to join the Queensland Parliament. So that's the reason why we're during this press conference here, right outside Matt Canavan's office today, is because it wasn't that long ago that Matt Canavan had a photo of Bob Brown in this very window of his office. And that just shows you that they were prepared to cuddle up to the Greens, give them their preferences in every seat in Queensland, and in doing so, they've actually elected a Greens MP to the Queensland Parliament. So Matt Canavan and Michelle Landry have got a lot of explaining to do to people here in Central Queensland about why, for all the talk they go on with about the Greens, why they and their party have managed to elect another Greens Member to the state parliament. If the LNP hadn't directed preferences to the Greens in South Brisbane, the Greens wouldn't have won that seat. The last time around the Labor Party got about 60 per cent of the LNP preferences in the electorate of South Brisbane because the LNP was preferencing Labor, this time with the LNP preferencing the Greens in South Brisbane, the Greens got about 70 percent of the LNP preferences. And that's what's made the difference. And that's what's got the Greens elected.

The other thing I might just touch on more broadly with federal politics, one of the reasons I'm in Rockhampton today is to catch up with Brittany and Barry about what the future holds. Now that they've been re-elected, how can we, as a team, continue to put pressure on the Federal Government to make sure that they actually deliver to Central Queensland, what they promise.

And there's no better example of the Federal Government failing to meet its promises in Central Queensland and the north generally, than the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility - the NAIF - better known as the No Actual Infrastructure Fund. Now, I've been coming to Rockhampton doing press conferences about the NAIF for years. And every time it's the same thing that I'm saying, you must be getting a bit sick of me saying it, because over and over again they fail to actually get the money out the door. We had Senate Estimates last week in Canberra, and what came out of that was the $5 billion NAIF, which was announced five years ago by this Government, they've actually only released about five percent of its funding after five years. Five cents in every dollar that they've committed has actually spent. 

In Queensland it's even worse. After five years, the Federal Government has only been able to spend $10 million on projects here in Queensland. They've actually spent three times that on their admin costs. They've spent $30 million running this organisation. they've only actually spent $10 million on projects in Queensland. So it's a classic example of Scott Morrison and his Government always wanting to be out there making announcements and being ready for photo ops, but never actually following up. It's about time they started doing that. It's about time they started delivering on their promises to Central Queensland. And I'm looking forward to working with Brittany and Barry to make sure that happens. Happy to take questions or if you'd like to hear from the locals first. 

JOURNALIST: Senator, can you tell us what this means for north as well as Central Queensland, places like Townsville?

WATT: Sure, well the NAIF has been a spectacular failure right across northern Australia, including Central Queensland and North Queensland. As I say, despite having been announced five years ago,  this $5 billion fund has only spent $10 million on projects here in Queensland. There is not a single project north of Townsville that has received a single dollar from the NAIF in five years. Now, northern Australia, from the Federal Government's point stops here, in Rockhampton, and goes all the way north. There's been one project announced in Central Queensland, that hasn't received any money yet. There's been two projects that have actually received funding in Townsville, but only $10 million in total, and there's not a single project north of Townsville that has received any money. So unfortunately, for all the promises Scott Morrison and his Government have made about the NAIF, they haven't delivered. And that's what we've seen over and over again from this Government.

JOURNALIST: The thing about the NAIF fund is that it's not grants, it's loans, so I guess projects that are allocated funding would have to be able to pay it back. Have you spoken to other people who are trying to get funding from this fund, what's their success or feedback?  

WATT: I've had a lot of feedback from people who've been dealing with the NAIF over the last five years, and have found it incredibly bureaucratic, and they've been unable to get action and loans processed in the way they've been hoping for. We've been calling for massive changes to be made to the NAIF for about three years now. Federal Labor's been calling for them to go for smaller loans, to actually invest in people's ability to put together business cases. A lot of the projects that want funding in northern Australia, aren't necessarily hundreds of millions of dollars. There's smaller projects, in the millions of dollars, which still create jobs, so they're still worth getting behind. But the way the NAIF has been structured has made it almost impossible for money to get out the door. We've been asking for changes to be made, and finally, the Government has announced them in the last month or so, but seriously, five years on, you'd think that they have a bit more to show for it. I mean, if you look at the way they're spending money at the moment, at the current rate, it will take the Government 116 years to spend it's $5 billion fund, Like, the NAIF was in Senate Estimates last week telling us it's a "patient lender". Well, hello, how patient have we got to be, we've got to wait 116 years to start seeing some money and some jobs here in Central Queensland? No, thanks!

JOURNALIST: In terms of projects, have you spoken to Brittany and Barry about what kind of projects they would like to see, have you spoken to Michelle Landry? Great Keppel Island is one that really needs funding and would easily pay it back?  

WATT: I've regularly spoken to Brittany and Barry about how we can get the NAIF working, and I've passed on suggestions to the Federal Government as well. Whether it be Great Keppel or other tourism-based projects, whether it be manufacturing projects. One of the great commitments the state government made right here in the state election was to really rebuild manufacturing here in Central Queensland. There's other infrastructure projects as well. There's no shortage of projects that are looking for funding from the NAIF. The problem is getting the money out the door.

BRITTANY LAUGA, STATE MP FOR KEPPEL: Thanks Murray, it's great to have you back here in Rockhampton today with Barry and I, my parliamentary colleague. And congratulations as well to Barry as well on being returned as the state member for Rockhampton. Murray is right. Senator Canavan, Michelle Landry, Ken O'Dowd, George Christensen, they all were saying time and time again about how they support coal and how they support coal mines in Central Queensland and regional Queensland. They paraded Bob Brown around on a big cardboard cutout for a long time after the federal election, and yet they did a deal with the Greens in Queensland that has seen the Greens double the number of members that they have in the Queensland Parliament. That is only going to cause chaos for regional Queensland, in particular, for regional coal mining communities in particular. And that is directly as a result of the deal that the LNP has done with the Greens. Senator Canavan talks about wanting to open more coal mines. The Greens talk about wanting to close them and increase royalties. That to me says that Senator Canavan, it's like he sits at the pub and wears a Broncos jersey, barracks for the Broncos and then goes home and secretly wears a Manly jersey. I mean, this is not okay. The way that Senator Canavan parades around Central Queensland purporting to be a coal supporter and yet has done a very dangerous deal with the Greens, that now will see another Greens Member of Parliament in the Queensland Parliament.

Just to add a few points on the NAIF, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility could be delivering funding for Great Keppel Island. I know that Altum and Tower have made applications to the NAIF for infrastructure funding and for years we have seen nothing. That's in contrast to the $30 million that we've got on the table to deliver infrastructure. Altum says that they need more, the NAIF is sitting there with money in the bucket ready to spend and yet they haven't been able to get a single cent for Great Keppel Island.

JOURNALIST: So Altum applied for funding for NAIF funding, what is the response that they got? 

LAUGA: That's a great question for the NAIF and for Senator Canavan and Michelle Landry. Altum and Tower have applied to the NAIF, they have been in talks with NAIF, and to date we've seen no money spent on Great Keppel Island whatsoever from the NAIF. 

BARRY O'ROURKE, STATE MP FOR ROCKHAMPTON: Well it's absolutely evident that Matt Canavan and the LNP are prepared to do the deals with the Greens. We've seen another member of the Greens elected, and this is as a direct result of the LNP. The other thing is that the LNP goes around spruiking that they are the friends of the miners. If that was the case, they would actually be passing legislation to get rid of the casualisation of the mining workforce. It's something that has to be done. All that the LNP seems to worry about is the bosses, the owners. They give the tax cuts to them, but nothing for the workers. It is the Labor Government that has approved some $21 billion in resource projects, and while the LNP say they support the coal industry, they actually don't show it.

WATT: Can I just say one last thing about the state election? The other really notable thing about the Queensland election result in Central Queensland is the complete collapse in support for One Nation. Now this has been coming for a long time, I think people have started working out that Pauline Hanson isn't the person she says she is. She spent the entire Queensland election campaign demanding that Queensland borders be opened. She actually went on TV and told older people and sick people to "lock themselves away". And I think she's paid the price for betraying her supporters. Her supporters have had a gutful of her saying the borders should be opened, putting their health at risk and I think working people have had a gutful of her going down to Canberra and voting with the LNP, so she's paid a big price for betraying her own supporters.