RRAT report on Inland Rail

 In Parliament, rural, Senate Speeches

Senator RENNICK (Queensland) (17:27, 11 August 2021): I rise to speak to the report of the Rural and Regional Affairs References Committee on the Inland Rail. It’s about a part of Queensland that, like Senator Chisholm, I’m very passionate about, not least because I grew up there.

I’d like to add my support to what Senator Chisholm said about a Gladstone route. Ideally, that would go along parallel to the Leichhardt Highway, from Goondiwindi up through Miles, Wandoan, Taroom, Theodore and then eventually on to Gladstone. That would open up possibilities, because there are a lot of coal beds along that route, and there’s also the Nathan Dam. It’s a massive dam that could capture a lot of water to be diverted southwards into the Murray-Darling as well as to provide the people on the Dawson River with a lot more water security. If we could get a rail line up through there, we could open up new coal deposits. Also, if we didn’t want more coalmines, we could look at putting a nuclear power station in Barakula State Forest, which is just north of Chinchilla. It’s the biggest state forest in the Southern Hemisphere. If you had a big water source there, the Nathan Dam, you could open up a lot of possibilities.

It’s really important that we create wealth through that region, because that region has been hard done by. It is where a lot of maternity wards have been closed by none other than the Queensland Labor government. They’re trying to shut down the Theodore maternity ward, and I’m pleased to acknowledge the good efforts of Colin Boyce, who has been fighting very hard to keep it open. Colin is running for election in the electorate of Flynn. He’s replacing Ken O’Dowd on the LNP side. Miles has also had its maternity ward closed down. Just down the road, 48 kilometres away, my home town, Chinchilla, has also had its maternity ward closed down. So it would be great if we were to open up railway lines, build more dams and generate more royalties from coalmines. We could use that money to put back the maternity wards that state Labor have closed down. While we’re at it, we could probably buy back a few of the poker machines that were allowed into Queensland under Wayne Goss as well. We really don’t need any or more of those things in Queensland; they’ve done nothing but destroy families. I know that Labor always talk a big game when it comes to looking after women. I think it’s about time they reversed their policies of the last 30 years and actually shut down the poker machines and reopened some maternity wards, which is what used to happen under the prior Liberal National Party government. I know my good friends here, Senator Reynolds and Senator Cash, are from the great state of WA, and they don’t need poker machines, so I fail to see why the rest of the states in this country need poker machines.

I just want to touch on the inland route going through to Toowoomba, which I was never in favour of. I was always in favour of the original route, which was going to go down through Warwick—in what they call dog-burr country—rather than running across the beautiful black-soil plains of the Western Downs, but unfortunately that route got moved. For those of you who understand the Constitution, you will know that it’s the state government that owns the railway lines, not the federal government. Unfortunately, we’ve been kind of kneecapped, and we’ve copped a lot of the blame for the alignment of the route. But, in typical Queensland Labor style, they’re actually doing a reverse privatisation, where they’re trying to flog off the railway land that they own to the federal government to get money. That’s why they don’t want to go down the Warwick route, which would require new land and buybacks that way. What they’re doing is a reverse privatisation. We know the state Premier’s got a lot of experience in that, because she privatised Queensland Rail, which is a great model; I love privatisation! Let’s sell assets to generate income, spend it on one big inner-city project and destroy all our future revenue so we’ve got nothing to pay for future recurring expenses—

Senator Patrick interjecting—

Senator RENNICK: Well, Senator Patrick, if you want to know the history of the Queensland government, it was the state Labor government that sold Golden Casket, which used to fund hospitals. They sold Queensland Rail. I think Senator Watt was in the government when they sold Queensland Rail. I think he’s even on record admitting that was a big mistake. Don’t worry, Senator Watt; I won’t let you forget it anytime soon. What else did they sell? They sold the wind, solar and gas generators. They sold the Port of Brisbane for six times earnings. Why would you sell the Port of Brisbane for six times earnings? It was 99-year lease. They sold the forestry plantations for five times earnings, and not all that was leasehold; some of that was freehold. They literally gave away the assets, which was madness.

Back to the Inland Rail, if we want to forward in Queensland and get it back on track, we need to build. Ultimately, if you went to a desert island, would you (a) go to a foreign bank and take out a loan or (b) build? If we want to get back on track in this country, we have to start building. We have to do what Lachlan Macquarie did in 1810, when he got here. For the first 17 years of the colony, we relied on foreign currency. We had a drought in 1805, and all of the foreign currency got repatriated. They started bartering and trading in rum. Of course, we all know what happens when you drink too much rum; it all ends up in a bit of a rum rebellion and all sorts of nasty things. Lachlan Macquarie was the first governor to see Australia as a country, not just a colony. He knew that every country needs its own currency, because that way you can issue sovereign credit against sovereign wealth. We have to look at an infrastructure bank. I’m just about to run off to meet the Treasurer—hopefully he doesn’t stand me up again—to talk about getting an infrastructure bank going in this country, because we can match sovereign credit against sovereign wealth.

A lot of people will tell you that you can’t print money. Guess what? We’re printing money now. We’re printing $5 billion a week, but we’re spending it. That will cause inflation, because, if you’re printing and spending, you’re going to increase demand. But guess what? If you print and build, you’ll increase the supply of essential services. You’ll provide more water. You can supply more power from power stations. You can provide better transport routes. Not only does that raise revenue for governments, which then means you’ve got fewer taxes going forward; it increases the supply of central services and it pushes down the cost of doing business. So it will make Australia much more competitive in trying to compete with other countries. If we want to bring back manufacturing in this country, we need to start building. That is the only way forward, and this inland rail is the perfect example. I’m agnostic. I’d basically go both ways: one to Gladstone, one to Brisbane. I’d prefer it to go via Warwick—just north of Warwick there—because Warwick is a great little town. I think it got shafted when they moved it up to going around the north part of Toowoomba, which just doesn’t make sense. It’s a big dogleg that adds 70 kilometres to the route. That is a great way to open up and, basically, tap into the all the wealth in this country. I’m speaking from the heart here: there’s no better place do to that than in the Western Downs and the Maranoa, which is God’s own country. I’ll leave it there. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

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