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While the Queensland Government is busy tilting at windmills and pouring money into “green” energy, it is failing to take advantage of a gold mine in royalties right under its nose. Mount Morgan’s gold mine could pull Queensland and Australia out of debt for a third time as the State looks for a post-COVID economic recovery.

Labor’s Minister for Mines and Energy yesterday found the time to spruik the 15 ongoing jobs to come from a billion dollar wind farm investment, but he couldn’t find the time for a meeting about Mount Morgan. I have been urgently seeking State Government support for fixing the environmental hangover from previous mines while kickstarting a new era for Mount Morgan and Queensland.

Private enterprise is already prepared to stump up $50 million for the first stage of fixing environmental issues caused by past mining practices and we desperately need the State Government to match that commitment. In the process of restarting production of gold in one of the most historic mines in Australia, the current lease-holders can fix a looming environmental disaster. The Government’s approach to handling the toxic waste to date has only served to concentrate it and kick the can down the road. It really is incumbent on the government to finally fix the problem caused by the very mining practices that dragged Queensland out of debt in the past. As yet, the Minister for Mining in Queensland has not agreed to a meeting to discuss the proposal.

Re-opening the mine site for processing gold would create direct and indirect jobs in the town but it would also be a tremendous boost to tourism in the region and across Queensland. There is a big difference between visiting an historic gold mine and visiting an historic gold mine that is still in operation. Mount Morgan has so much to offer tourists already but not many people are aware of the history and the important role the town has played in creating the country we see today. It’s fair to say Mount Morgan could become a key destination for tourism in Queensland but it can’t happen if the State Government doesn’t realise the potential.

The economic benefits for the State could be substantial and that was exactly what is needed in a post-COVID economy. COVID-19 has dealt a devastating blow to our economy and if we are going to get back on track we need to focus on the things that will KickStart Queensland with new and expanding industry and job creation wherever possible. The Queensland Government stands to gain an enormous amount from royalties they will receive from every ounce of gold coming out of the mine and there is a lot of gold left in Mount Morgan.

When Queensland’s sudden border closure locks out miners and puts Queensland mines in danger of having to close, you’ve got to wonder if it simply wasn’t thought through or if it was a deliberate swipe at the mining industry. If key workers can’t go to work (or be replaced at short notice), no one can go to work. We know Labor is planning for the closure of coal mines so it’s a valid question to ask. It’s not like the Labor Party is against NSW FIFO workers coming into Queensland to work. After all, it was Labor that issued the approval for Bowen Basin coal mines to employ a 100% FIFO workforce in the first place.

Closing Queensland’s border to key mineworkers at such short notice could have a devastating impact on the State’s economy. And yet tonight’s closure of Queensland’s border looks set to strand FIFO mine workers from interstate. If so, this would be a massive blow to Queensland’s mining industry, which has been widely touted as Queensland’s best hope for a fast economic recovery Post-COVID.

We need urgent clarity from the Queensland Government on this issue. The mining industry is heavily reliant on FIFO workers and if hundreds of these workers are to be barred from entering Queensland it is going to make it very difficult for some of them to operate. Mining, along with agriculture, is crucial to Queensland’s economy, and the government should be doing everything possible to protect it. Arbitrary actions like this border closure that imposes blanket restrictions with almost no notice, could seriously jeopardise the industry’s viability.

The Australian Minerals Council, who represents the nation’s largest mining enterprises, also criticised the move. According to the AMC, the suddenness of the border closure notice had given Queensland miners no time to work out how they will staff their mines properly without the large number of FIFO workers they normally employ.

The Queensland mining sector had one of the best Covid-19 safety frameworks in the country. Their record for keeping mine workers, their families and local communities safe has been exemplary. That’s why I’m calling on the Premier to immediately issue an exemption for FIFO mine workers or risk doing enormous damage to the sector – a sector that has contributed huge amounts of money in royalties to the Queensland Treasury over recent years.

 

Both major parties, the LNP and the Labor Party, waived through new laws in Queensland Parliament this week that will digitise the personal details, including identification photos and signatures, and make the information available to a variety of government and non-government organisations. And the process will be undertaken by a foreign-owned company.

Most Queenslanders would be very concerned about that, which is probably why the facts were buried in the legislation’s explanatory notes and glossed over by LNP and Labor speakers. It was, however, exposed by State Member for Mirani, Stephen Andrew:

 

Speech on the Transport Legislation (Road Safety, Technology and Other Matters Amendment Bill)

14 July 2020

I want to confine my comments today to another area of the bill, the implementation and operation of a digital licence app in Queensland.

The fact is that I do not think the government is being at all transparent in relation to this new app scheme or its real purpose. The app is described in the explanatory notes as little more than a matter of public utility for the general convenience and welfare of Queenslanders. The notes further reassure us that the current bill’s power to keep and use information will be exercised in limited circumstances only and states on page 21 that information shared under part 5 of the bill will not include a digital photo or digitised signature. A careful reading of the relevant sections of the bill, however, show just the opposite will be the case.

The issue of what information is shared with outside parties will be dealt with by the provisions of the Photo Identification Card Act 2008, which the current bill amends. Under the provisions of the newly amended Photo Identification Card Act, the chief executive will be authorised to retain and release information obtained through the digital licence app.

Moreover, under the amended Photo Identification Card Act’s definition, information is inclusive of a digital photo and digitised signature. The explanatory notes reassurances on this point are highly misleading. This lack of transparency can hardly be accidental since the Commonwealth government recently revealed that the Queensland government has already undertaken to share the new digital licence app’s photos and information.

In answer to a question in senate estimates last month, the Department of Home Affairs confirmed Queensland had fully committed to the uploading of digital licence app data to the National Driver Licence Facial Recognition Solution, NDLFRS. The current driver’s licence system lacks the high-definition facial imaging required for the Commonwealth’s new NDLFRS system.

The new digital licence app, however, solves this problem. This is the real purpose of the new app. The app’s high definition facial imaging data will be shared with the Commonwealth government and the biometric templates created from these images stored indefinitely.

Ultimately the plan is to allow law enforcement, intelligence agencies and even NGOs to share and access Australian citizens’ identity information in real time. I am also concerned with a comment in the explanatory notes that says the new app will initially include digital driver’s licences, photo identification cards and recreational licences.

That word ‘initially’ bothers me a lot. Exactly what other information is the government planning to include under this system? Health information? Tax and Insurance information? DNA data? The list of possibilities is endless and none of them very good.

Another question I have is: Why is the app being designed in partnership with a foreign-owned global military-industrial company with close ties to the US military, NASA and military grade hardware companies like Raytheon?

Thales is a company that not only boasts close ties with the US Army, US Navy, US Pacific Command and NATO, but one which describes itself as a leading provider of combat management systems and electronic warfare. According to its website, the Norwegian owned Thales leads the world in surveillance, detection and intelligence systems. Its motto is ‘Whatever it takes’—as long as it is not taking our privacy. That is not a very comforting resume for a non-state party being given unparalleled access and control to the sensitive biometric data of all Queenslanders.

That brings up the other situation in a digital world of being hacked and the situation of being open to be hacked. We put a lot of effort and time into our digital processes and there is always that situation. This bill relates to a whole area of governance that is rife with known and unknown risks to the citizen and about which there is a distinct lack of transparency or legislated control provisions. In a speech to the UN last year, the British Prime Minister warned about the dangers we face with new technologies of surveillance and control. He concluded his speech by saying that digital authoritarianism has become an emerging reality and unless we ensure that new technology reflects human rights and democratic freedoms, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will mean nothing.

In Queensland we urgently need increased oversight and regulation by independent statutory commissioners, particularly around the areas of consent, retention, sharing and use of people’s biometric information. Until that happens, all bills like this should be rejected.

ALMOST a million Australians are unemployed but the Queensland government can’t rouse itself to fast-track approving the only potential large-scale job creation in Australia: new Queensland mines. Official June figures, released today, show the highest jobless percentage (7.4 per cent) since recorded statistics began In 1998. The 992,000 people now unemployed was an increase of 69,000 on figures for May.

Now is the time to KickStart the Queensland economy by taking advantage of our best performing industries. Any government that refuses to fast-track large-scale jobs, in the worst recession in a century, is just suicidal. By refusing to extend coal-mining in Queensland, the Labor government is effectively throwing extra hundreds of miners onto the dole.

Several Central and North Queensland coal mines are not at peak production.  And still, whenever they have to sign the last authorisation for more coal mines, paralysis sets in. Their hands shake, and they just can’t bring themselves to do it.

The State Department has confirmed there are six coal mine applications, most listed for several years, scheduled to employ as many as 10,000 people. That kind of large scale job creation is exactly what we need and we are very fortunate, in Queensland, to have the means to do it. This is urgent. The government has to authorise these new mines. And it has to do it soon.

 

THE Great Barrier Reef narrative desperately needs a reality check to give taxpayers and tourist workers a fair deal. Dodgy science and fake news on the reef were costing taxpayers and tourism operators billions of dollars for the sake of perpetuating an ideological myth.

The reef has been used as a weapon in the extremists’ war against capitalism, democracy and the Australian way of life. They say truth is the first casualty of war and that certainly seems to be the case as highly dubious evidence has been used to attack farmers, industry, and everything socialists hate. That narrative – that mining and farmers have killed the reef – is translating to fewer visitors from interstate and overseas.

I met with leading reef expert, Dr Peter Ridd, in Mackay to discuss what was needed for the future of the reef and North Queensland. Dr Ridd identified two key things we needed to change regarding the reef.

“We need to get the science evidence checked and we need to start telling the people in the south-east corner (of Queensland) that not everything that you’ve heard about the state of the reef is true,” he said. “We’re spending a whole lot of money supposedly on the basis that the reef is badly damaged when all the evidence would seem to indicate that it’s not. I’m just asking for a little bit of money just to check some of that science and also to get the message out to the people in the south-east that in fact the reef is in really good shape. There’s all these people down there who think it’s completely damaged when it’s not. It’s in way better condition (than that), probably in excellent condition.”

Both Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk have rejected my call to withdraw the billions of taxpayer dollars being used to fight an ideological war against farmers. Both major parties at both levels of government are throwing money at the reef and in the war against farmers because they think it will win votes in the capital cities. But those billions of dollars won’t make any real difference to the reef. They will just send farmers and regional Queensland broke.

At a time when we need to get our economy going again, the last thing we want to see is taxpayer money being used to kill off our most productive industries in mining and agriculture.

 

PANDEMIC lockdowns and economic turmoil have reinforced the need for a strong “Buy Local” message. The best thing we can do to boost local jobs and cut down on waste is to buy as much as we can as locally as we can. We have a lot of great producers in our own local area – from fresh fruit and veges to bread, milk, and meat – we even have a local honey producer. It just doesn’t make sense to buy these products from down south or from interstate when they are available right here in our own backyard.

Central and North Queenslanders need to be particularly mindful of local jobs, given the impact of pandemic lockdowns on many businesses. If there’s one thing we are always going to spend money on, it is groceries. If we are spending the money, we might as well spend it where it will benefit our community most.

I met with local growers, Brian and Alan Camilleri, last week, who started a delivery run to rural areas from Sarina out to Nebo and south to St Lawrence and beyond. Local markets have always been a great way to source cheap and fresh local produce but it is harder for those who live in rural areas. Having a delivery service means you can source fresh food from local growers, butchers and bakers and have it delivered almost to your doorstop. If local families take advantage of that kind of service, they are not only putting great food on the table, they are keeping locals in jobs. It also avoids waste, extra transport costs and the impact on produce that those extra road miles can have.

NORTH Queenslanders will be very sceptical when asked to provide input on naming a bridge over the Pioneer River. The Department of Transport and Main Roads had started a “Community Consultation Process for the naming of structures on the Mackay Ring Road project”. When the Queensland Government consults the people before naming four bridges on the Mackay Ring Road, the public has two questions:

  1. Is Bridgey McBridgeface  a valid suggestion
  2. Has the outcome already been decided?

The public could be forgiven for being sceptical about how far their suggestions will go and doubting the ideas will make it any further than the wastepaper basket. It was the Queensland Labor government that insisted the name of the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital name had to be changed at a cost of $500,000, arguing that it would attract more funding. Except after the name change, millionaire philanthropists Judith and Trevor St Baker vowed to avoid funding the hospital in the future and hospital donations went down by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The real scandal was the rigged poll Labor ran around the name change, where just 74 IP addresses voted Yes in the poll nearly 18,000 times. Just 24 IP addresses voted more than 10,500 times.  A large number of the IP addresses were identified as being used by Queensland government entities including Ministerial Services and Queensland Health.

The Crime and Corruption Commission later released a damning statement on the public poll but decided not to launch a full corruption investigation due to the cost and problematic data.

The Queensland government will have to provide greater guarantees around transparency before the public will take them seriously. I welcome the locals having a say in what the bridges are called but I don’t welcome the Brisbane Bureaucrats having not just a say but the final say – especially if they make the decision before the public is even asked.

Submissions can be made at www.tmr.qld.gov.au/MackayRingRoad and Mr Andrew encouraged locals to have their say through www.KickStartQueensland.com.au

NORTH and Central Queenslanders with kids who love sport should ensure they don’t miss out on funding opportunities through the Queensland government. A new round is now open for Fair Play vouchers, which offers $150 vouchers for sports-related costs.

Anyone who holds a Health Care Card or Pensioner Concession Card and has a child aged five to 17 should check their eligibility for the vouchers. A lot of parents who have lost work due to COVID-19 may not realise that if they are currently receiving JobSeeker payments, they are eligible for a Health Care Card and the Fair Play voucher. As restrictions lift across Queensland, our attention turns to sport and the financial situation for many families will be strained by this added cost. It is important that every family in Central and North Queensland that is eligible for the vouchers applies now.

The vouchers can be used to pay costs associated with sport and active recreation memberships, registrations, and participation fees.

For more information, visit: www.qld.gov.au/fairplayvouchers

THE Liberal National Party is shedding crocodile tears over a vehicle registration hike that is less than the ones they voted for and the same as the policy they put forward when criticising them. The Queensland Labor government last week increased registration fees by 1.8 per cent, sparking outbursts from the LNP in the media about slugging pandemic-hit families with extra costs.

The fact is the LNP, in 2017, not only voted for the budget that set even larger hikes in motion but announced their policy would be to lift registration fees in line with the consumer price index. Personally, I think fees should be reduced and I will argue and vote for a reduction. But the LNP is criticising Labor’s hike of 1.8 % when the consumer price index is 1.8%. According to the LNP’s own plan for government, they would be introducing the very same rego hike they are complaining about now.

It’s clear the LNP was all about politics and their vote in the 2017 State budget was proof of that. In one of the most bizarre votes you will ever see in parliament, the LNP voted against the budget because they thought the cross bench would vote for it and the budget would be passed.  But the One Nation and Katter Party representatives voted against the budget, which would have meant the budget failed to pass parliament. In a messy couple of minutes, the LNP changed their vote from a “no” to a “yes” so the budget could be passed. The truth is they wanted the budget to pass but also wanted to play a political game where they could say they opposed the budget, including items like the increase to registration fees.

You either support something or you don’t and your vote should reflect that, as it did for the One Nation representative at the time (Steve Dixon). The major parties are all about playing political games and have forgotten the people they are supposed to represent. One of the great things about representing One Nation in the Queensland parliament is that I have licence to represent the views and opinions of the people of North and Central Queensland. There is no pressure to play politics and that’s the way democracy is supposed to work.