Senator Ian Macdonald North Queensland based LNP Senator and Federal Coalition Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Northern and Remote Australia and the Defence Force and Defence Support
Interviewer: So why are you out here
Ian: Well its part of an ongoing program I have of trying to hear what the people of my electorate (which as a Senator is the whole of Queensland but as a northern based Senator of course I concentrate on the north and the north-west) are saying. I regularly come out this way to see whats happening, to pick up information from people out here and to see if theres some way that an incoming coalition government could help in the north west.
Interviewer: As a Senator what is it that you do
Ian: Well of course we are in the upper house, each state has 12 senators and Im one of Queenslands 12, I am one of only 2 based in the north and we, as well as attending parliament, we do a lot of committee work, we come to places like Mount Isa to try and help people particularly in places where we dont think they are well represented in the Federal Parliament and certainly the electorate of Kennedy fits that category. So I do a lot of work like a local member in various parts of Kennedy from my office in Townsville bearing in mind of course that the electorate of Kennedy comprises not only Mount Isa and Cloncurry but Charters Towers and Ingham and Innisfail and the Tablelands and I spend a fair bit of time in those areas as well.
Interviewer: So whats a tour like this time, where are you going to
Ian: Well weve been talking to a number of people in the Mount Isa area itself including the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor and MITEZ and the Chamber of Commerce but as well as that other people and just learning, again talking about some of the difficulties fly in fly out obviously a big problem, talking with the Mayor and others about the Fringe Benefits Tax and the Zone Tax Allowance, both things that I might say are on my radar as the Federal Opposition Spokesman on Northern and Remote Australia. Thats something thats always very much of interest to me so a range of issues that are important to this area and ways that we think we can ensure that people in Mount Isa have a good life with all the services they need and perhaps more importantly that the region between Mount Isa and Townsville continues to have an economic future.
Interviewer: Do you find though , you were here about 12 months ago, do you find that you are still talking about the same issues 12 months later.
Ian: Probably are a new element has come in to the conversations that I have been having in the north-west which is the same as I have everywhere in the last 12 months and that is people are very worried about the Carbon Tax not just the impact on their electricity bill but in places like this the impact on mining which keeps this area alive and of course the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, I mean it is discouraging already and will continue in the next few years to discourage investment in our mines and you dont have any investment in the mines you dont have jobs and if you dont have jobs, you dont have Mount Isa. So those perhaps are the two different things that have come across my radar since I was last here.
Interviewer: Malcolm Turnbull you have probably heard has said that the Liberals have spent too much time talking about the Carbon Tax in Parliament what are your thoughts on that
Ian: Well it is the big issue of Australia at the moment. You cannot keep Australia competitive in the world when you impost taxes on our country that other countries that we trade with and compete with dont have those sort of imposts and quite frankly to my way of thinking the Carbon Tax is the most important issue confronting Australia at the moment and thats why were determined to get rid of it and will do as our first act in government should we be elected.
Interviewer: Is that a good sign though to have a bit of squabbling within the Party
Ian: Look everyone has a view but I and Im quite sure the majority of Australians believe that the Carbon Tax and the impost it creates on our cost of living and our competitiveness is really front of mind for everyone
Interviewer: Being from youre based in Townsville what is it like to hear about the fly in fly out situation because Im sure a lot of people from Townsville fly in to this area and fly out and its good for Townsville but you know how to you balance the two when youre hearing from the Mayor here that we dont like it so much
Ian: Well look as I say Im a Senator for Queensland, Queensland is my electorate so people from Brisbane, from Townsville, from Cairns fly in fly out and you know theres certainly pluses for their economies from fly in fly out but Ive long had a concern about places like Cloncurry, Mount Isa where there is established settlements, there is good services, there is good communities why mining companies are not more encouraged to source their employment from there. Now its a very complex question and no doubt youve heard this from experts before me but I mean the availability of housing is one of the issues, incentives to people to live in what is areas remote from the big hospitals and the big theatres and whatever else you need or turns you on I mean there needs to be some recompense for that. So its a complex issue. Im delighted to hear the local council is facilitating some or talking about facilitating some new housing developments that might address the housing shortage and you cant have more people not flying in flying out, if youve got nowhere to house them, so its all a bit chicken and eggish.
Interviewer: But is it inevitable we are going to have fly in fly out
Ian: It is inevitable we will have fly in fly out but its the extent of it that is I think is an issue and as a government should we be elected it is something that will be seriously looking at in consultation with communities like Cloncurry and Mount Isa on what can reasonably be done to look after your town, to ensure the continuation of what is one of Australias biggest and best inland communities, that is important and its important that these communities continue because they make a real contribution to the whole of Australia and our general economy. So I think you know we have to work our way through it and certainly thats something the Coalition is giving a lot of thought to and well be saying something about that before the election
Interviewer: And of course you are going to Cloncurry, you are on your way what will you be doing there
Ian: Im very interested in the plans for the abattoir there again Ive been very concerned with the beef cattle industry in the north-west and in fact right across the top of Australia since that quite ridiculous decision to, without warning, stop the live cattle trade to Indonesia. Whatever your views on that it just destroyed the lives and livelihoods of many people up this way and its something I will never forgive Ms Gillard for doing and people whove had a home and a livelihood here for decades are not being tossed off by their banks because of that. So Im very interested in the abattoir which could be, if it eventuates, another source of destination for the cattle that are grown out this way. Im also very keen to see the proposals for rail upgrades and perhaps an extension of the activities in the mineral province. Again this will be dependent upon getting investment into the mining industries and with the Mining Tax thats even harder, but these are the sorts of issues Im hoping to talk to the Cloncurry Council about.
Interviewer: Uranium its been a hot topic here on the ABC and the Mayor saying that we are just not ready for it because the port and the rail is just not the construction is just not there.
Ian: There are a lot of technical and practical problems to be overcome but as far as the broader issue of uranium mining I dont see and have never seen anything wrong with it. I mean weve always had it in Australia, a lot of countries have uranium and its sold all over the world and it seem crazy that Australia should again cut off its own nose to spite its face by not developing some of the mineral wealth that we do have. Its not as if we dont do it nobody else will, it just never made sense to me but there are practical issues of course like how you get it out and how you transport it around and they have to be addressed.
Interviewer: We have a question from our newsreader in Longreach shes saying the Liberals dont have a problem with selling Cubbie Station to Japanese and Chinese investors. The Nationals say it shouldnt happen because of the consortium of foreign investors. Do you think its a bit of a Coalition split on this one.
Ian: Well absolutely not the Coalitions position is very, very clear and thats a position of the Liberal and National Parties and that is that we welcome foreign investment, always have done. And you know, name me any mining venture, and in fact any major farming venture in recent times, that hasnt had foreign investment be it European be it British, be it American, be it Japanese, Chinese or Korean. Theres nothing unusual about that. It is a matter for the national interest of Australia and the Foreign Investment Review Board, that is supposed to be looking at that. The Government is in charge of the FIRB, I assume that the FIRB has fully assessed what is in Australias national interest and theyre the appropriate people to do it. We do as a Coalition have a policy out on the table which emphasises that it has to be in the national interest and that the FIRB should be perhaps more directly focussed on foreign investment but generally speaking it is a matter for them, these rules have been in place for a long, long period of time. I just hope, and Im sure they have done their job in assessing what is in Australias national interest. I happen to also see in the paper that Mr Seeney, the State Minister a member of the Liberal National Party as I am and as Senator Joyce is, thinks that it is an appropriate decision so who am I to argue with the FIRB and Mr Seeney.
Interviewer: But arent we virtually losing the farm and the property to foreign investment do you think thats too much
Ian: Well I think if you have a look around the north-west you wouldnt be surprised at how much foreign ownership there is of mines and pastoral properties up here and always has been and one of the real problems though and this is something that the Coalition has promised to address is that nobody really knows how much of our land and our assets are foreign owned. Thats never been taken in data and the Coalition has said that as a first step to having an intelligent debate about this, youve got to actually know what youre talking about and that requires you to have a look at it. But look I come from the coast in the sugar industry, I live in Ayr in the sugar areas but you know foreign money has always run the mills be it original English and Scottish and in recent times Chinese and Japanese, I mean you know the local growers in Tully recently made a decision that they would sell out to what I recall was Chinese interests in the Tully mill but certainly Asian interests so those are things that are not new, its been happening. One thing I always say about investment in Australian land, you can never take it away, it will always remain in Australia.
Interviewer: Well thanks for coming in and I hope you get a chance to walk up to the pub and have a beer with the locals
Ian: Im looking forward to that.
Interviewer: Well thank you and Ill let you get on your way to Cloncurry.