Thanks very much Deputy Mayor Allan Pedersen. Mayor Tom Gilmore, Councillors, Ladies and Gentlemen and perhaps most importantly the Council staff who put all of this together.
Well, in the last couple of weeks the Federal Government’s invested a lot of money in North Queensland and Northern Australia. As a result, I’ve had the honour to open many new facilities, for example, at two schools and a refurbished entertainment centre. All great events with lots of balloons, but it’s been a long time since I’ve opened as a sewerage plant. It’s not quite as glamorous as the other openings I’ve been involved with but perhaps more useful!
But it’s great to be here for this, probably the most important of the openings, not the most glamorous. But I do appreciate you all coming along for various reasons on a Saturday morning to see a sewerage plant open.
The Commonwealth Government is very pleased to be part of this wonderful new facility for the Mareeba Shire. I remember what, four or five years ago, Tom, you approached me and said, could you give us a letter of support for the Commonwealth’s Stronger Regions program because you needed to get some money for a sewerage plant. I said I’m not quite sure that’s what the Commonwealth funds, but you guys had obviously put a lot of work into it, and so I was happy to support the project, and here we are, many years later, officially opening it now. Which I do now on behalf of the Minister, Senator Fiona Nash.
I do want to, Tom, pay tribute to you, your Councillors and your staff for the work you’ve put into this essential infrastructure. I understand without pinching your thunder, that you’ve also had this very skilfully designed with the original project costed at around $30million but that cost being halved because you had it properly designed and that’s a wonderful credit to you and your Councillors and particularly your staff who’ve done this.
Of the total cost of around $16million, the Commonwealth has put in around $6million, the State has put in around $1.5million, and I do want to acknowledge Darren here today representing the State Government, and in addition to that, the bulk of the money has come from the Mareeba Shire Council.
And Tom, budgeting for local governments, I know, from having been at the Local Government Conference for the past couple of days down in Yungaburra and Atherton, and having been a Councillor myself, how difficult it is to balance the budget. So you’ve done a wonderful job in making provision for this sort of money to build this facility.
I understand the facility will take away the sewage, if we were in the pub I could use other language, but I guess I can’t here, but it’s interesting, this facility will deal with the waste of 12,500 people, but there is provision for expansion for up to 16,000. And it’s good to see the Council looking forward, not just dealing for today, but making provision for the years to come. It also shows, I might say, confidence in the future of Mareeba and the northern Tablelands, that you have this vision for this expansion ahead.
Tom, to you and your Councillors, I want to again pay tribute to you for your financial ability to be able to make this contribution - and for your foresight.
In the Federal area, we want to help regional Australia. We’re particularly keen on helping Northern Australia and you all would have heard sometime over the past couple of years of the Northern Australia Development White Paper. We’ve put a lot of money into the North, and we do that for a reason, because we believe that people, regardless of where they live, are entitled to their fair share of the benefits that come to Australia. And I often like to point out to my southern colleagues that although we’ve only got 6% of the population, we produce something like 50% of the export earnings of Australia. So we make a major contribution to Australia, and we as a Government want to make sure some of it comes back.
But to be able to fund our Stronger Regions program, with money that goes to the regions, and from where this $6million has come, we also at a Federal level have to budget carefully. And that is particularly difficult, and I suspect we have a bigger job than you, Tom, because we’re in a Parliament where, in the Lower House, the Government has a majority of 1, and in the Upper House, we don’t have a majority at all. And we always deal with populist proposals from other parties who always want to spend someone else’s money, but never really have any solutions, any plans, for where that money comes from. So in the Commonwealth we have a difficult time in balancing our budget, and to make sure we’ve got money in the Stronger Regions fund and the new Building Better Regions Fund that has superseded that, we have to make sure there is money there, and to do that we must manage our finances properly.
Councils, who are overseen by others, have to very careful management of your budgets, and your overdrafts and your deficits. But In the Federal Government, with some Governments it can at times be open slather on spending money the Government does not have. But always someone has to pay for it. I only go into that to say that we do have to raise the money that we give to projects like this, from elsewhere, and that’s not always popular but we do believe communities in regional Australia deserve that support.
Tom I won’t go into details about how this plant works. Not that I could, but I do note it is completed on time, and actually I was told the opening would be in August, so you’re ahead of time and under budget. So great work to you, great work to Downer, who I think did the construction, and all of those involved, Particularly again can I mention your staff, some of whom I suspect have been dragged out here on a Saturday morning to provide the audience. But guys, you do the work here. It doesn’t matter how good the facility is, without the right sort of staff and the dedicated staff and good management, it doesn’t work to the maximum. So again congratulations to you as well.
So with that, again, can I say how pleased we are at the Commonwealth level, to be involved. Tom, congratulations to you and your Councillors and your staff and all your team, and particularly for your forward looking vision for the future. Well done.