Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (12:45): During the so-called Christmas break that parliamentarians allegedly have, when we take a couple of months off on holidays, as many of the public believe is the case, I and I know a lot of other senators and members of the other house use those couple of months to get around, to talk to our constituents and to become better acquainted with some of the issues in our electorates. My electorate is the state of Queensland. It's a pretty big electorate to try and cover but, in the period between the sittings of parliament, I took it upon myself to visit different parts of the state, particularly to speak with local authorities, local government.
I used to be a member of a local council before I came into this parliament and I was once, back in the glory days, the minister for local government, so I've always had a close affiliation with local government. I find, as you move around a big decentralised state like Queensland, that you can't visit everyone and speak to everyone in various communities to find out what's happening and what they need, so I've always made a practice of calling on the local council, because the local council is made up of community people who've been elected by their peers and who understand exactly what's happening in every community and what those communities' aspirations are.
In this break, I called on the Central Highlands Regional Council in the wonderful town of Emerald in the centre of Central Queensland. Emerald is a wonderful city. It's a great example of what good agriculture can do to a region. I do lament that some of the mining towns in Queensland are doing it a bit tough, but that is always going to be the case because mines come and go. But Emerald is a classic example of a city with great export-oriented agriculture and with a very proactive council. Why is there good agriculture there? There's good soil—well, there's good soil in a lot of places—but there was a dam there, the Fairbairn Dam, built by a Liberal-Country Party government back in the day when, I think, Mr Fairbairn was the Minister for National Development. That's going back in history. But, because of that dam, there is practically unlimited water in this inland Central Queensland area, which enables that community to grow cotton, grain and other crops. Practically anything that has a market can be grown there.
I just want to mention, in passing, that in Emerald at the moment there is an outfit called 2PH, run by the Pressler family, who, would you believe, exports mandarins around the world—to Taiwan, Japan, China and all countries in South America. They are in the throes of establishing new markets in the Middle East. When I was down there and called to see them, I noted to my amazement that the huge area that they had under mandarins had almost doubled. It's an incredible story. They were on the bones of their bums, one might say, some years ago when citrus canker destroyed their industry. The government eventually provided some compensation to all the citrus growers in that area, and, as a result of that, the Presslers built this wonderful business with the sorts and types of varieties of mandarins that people around the world want to buy. It's a huge success story. They employ, I think, 40 local people and 60 of the Pacific Islands workers program, which is great for Australia because it's part of our foreign aid to those countries. It's a real success story.
While I was there I spoke with the mayor, Councillor Kerry Hayes; the deputy mayor, Councillor Gail Godwin-Smith; and Councillor Paul Bell, an old mate of mine from a long time ago, who used to be the LGAQ and ALGA president; and other councillors there. It was good to catch up with them and hear of their successes and aspirations.
I then moved on to the North Burnett council, which is centred in the town of Gayndah, although there are several smaller communities in that North Burnett region as part of the new, enlarged shire. I had a very interesting conversation with the mayor, Councillor Rachel Chambers. She obviously has a very intellectual, assiduous, astute understanding of the importance of smaller regional towns. She said to me—I want to repeat this—that the Queensland and Australian governments have got to make a decision on whether they want small country towns to exist in Australia or whether they want everyone to move to the capital cities on the coast. She had a great perspective on the world, and I was delighted to listen to and learn from Councillor Chambers on some of those issues.
I later met with the mayor of the Carpentaria shire, Councillor Jack Bawden. He has a number of initiatives going in that gulf area of Queensland—that north-western part of Queensland. Councillor Bawden knows of the success of the government's Building Better Regions program. We put a fibre-optic cable between Burketown and Doomadgee. That's not in his shire—it's in the Burke shire—but he is next door and he knows of that, so he has an application in for fibre optics between Karumba and Normanton. That project certainly has my support. I wish him well in his application to the National Stronger Regions program for that. I might say that Councillor Bawden has learnt well, because he has about five or six different applications in to the federal government's proposals, which are all aimed at making regions stronger.
I also visited the Cook shire and met with the mayor, Councillor Peter Scott. We were talking about that great shire, which is really everything north of Mossman and the Port Douglas area—the whole of the cape. There are some Indigenous councils in that area, but the rest of the area of the cape is looked after by the Shire of Cook. I was able to discuss many things with Councillor Scott, but the one thing that particularly interested me was his reminder that 2020 is the 250th anniversary of the beaching of Captain Cook's ship the Endeavour, on a river that is now called the Endeavour River, for repairs to the boat. I might say the celebrations will highlight this aspect: this was the first act of reconciliation between Europeans and Indigenous people, as the two communities got on very well together after one initial misunderstanding. They got on very well together in the 48 days that Captain Cook and his crew were there.
I also spoke to the mayor of the Wujal Wujal Aboriginal shire, Desmond Tayley. He is a very committed guy, interested in promoting his communities. I'm helping him and other Indigenous councillors with a new grouping they have to get together to do better buying for Indigenous councils in the cape and in the north.
Finally, I met with the Douglas Shire mayor, Councillor Julia Leu. That is a shire that centres on Port Douglas and Mossman. It was originally, under a Labor government initiative, joined with Cairns, which was totally inappropriate. Fortunately, there were the two years of the Newman government in which they put the Douglas shire back to where it belonged. Councillor Leu is very environmentally aware. She and I differ slightly on the need to establish in a better way the road between the Daintree and Cooktown, which other mayors in the area support and which I think would be a good idea. Councillor Leu is not quite certain about it and thinks there could be a problem. It was good to catch up with these people.
So it's been an interesting time to meet with these very differing communities and to find out problems they might have, but, more importantly, to discuss with them their aspirations and to see where we as a federal government can help these communities in achieving the futures that they wish.