By Terri Butler MP

26 November 2019

It's been a very strange day here in the Australian parliament, of course. We've seen the really unedifying spectacle of a Prime Minister coming into the chamber to say that he will not be taking any action in relation to a minister with a criminal investigation hanging over his head. I think that most Australians would be quite gobsmacked that the Prime Minister—who is responsible for ministerial standards—is taking this quite remarkable step of saying: 'Nothing to see here. There might be a New South Wales police strike force—Strike Force Garrad—investigating this minister, but I'm just going to take no action whatsoever.' I think that's weak, and I think it's a real indictment of this government. There are a couple of things I think you need to have in order to be Prime Minister: you've got to have guts and you've got to have principles. And this Prime Minister has just demonstrated that he has neither. So it's an odd day to be standing up to give a speech in the address-in-reply debate, because, traditionally, the address-in-reply debate is an opportunity to reflect on the election and the term ahead. Here we are, six months or so into the term, and Australians are rightly looking at this government and saying: 'Well, what do you stand for? If you don't stand for integrity, if you don't stand for upholding standards, what actually does this government stand for?'

It's fair to say, particularly at the moment, given some of the very concerning and serious weather we've been facing and some of the stresses in our communities that we've been facing, that Australians are worried and they're looking for leadership. The droughts and the bushfires we've recently experienced have left communities reeling. Australians from the bush to the city are anxious about what those conditions mean for the future, especially given the widespread acknowledgement that climate change will mean the severity and frequency of wild weather will increase. And that's not just my view. If you read the drought coordinator's report that the government recently released quite belatedly—the drought coordinator's report was provided to them several months ago, but they released it only a couple of weeks ago—the drought coordinator talks squarely about the importance of climate change in the changing patterns of weather and in the increased severity and frequency of drought in Australia. And that's one of the reasons why he says that we need to have a national drought strategy. It's not just ad hoc announcements from the Commonwealth. He lays out a very clear road map for putting together a drought strategy. Our side of politics has been reaching out to the government to say, 'Let's get together, let's work across the parliament—bipartisan, non-partisan, get together people from the crossbench as well—to work on how we can come up with a national drought strategy based on the very solid grounding that the drought coordinator has provided.'

After years of neglect under the Liberals and Nationals, it's very clear that serious environmental damage is now threatening our unique, Australian way of life. Environmental destruction, from the bush to the beach and beyond, is putting hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk—in tourism, in agriculture and in natural resources. And Australians will not stand by and watch while the koala, the platypus and other species are put at risk. We won't let the reef be devastated. We won't let our rivers dry up or our oceans fill with plastic pollution without a fight.

I'm sure, Deputy Speaker Gillespie, like so many Australians, you've been watching with concern the plight of the koalas in the bushfire season we've just had. Today, of course, we've had the very sad news that Lewis—the koala that became famous because he was saved by a woman who took off her shirt, ran into a fire and wrapped him up to get him out safely—has died from the injuries that he suffered in that bushfire. Of course that's one animal of one species in one location, but Australians are seeing this as emblematic of concerns that we have about animal life, biodiversity and the environment.

Labor will stand shoulder to shoulder with our fellow Australians to save our precious natural environment and our Australian way of life, just like we did when facing the great environmental challenges of the past. Labor will always put science and on-the-ground local knowledge at the heart of decision-making. I will return to some of the issues in my portfolio shortly, but first I'd like to make some remarks about my electorate and my constituents.

Representing the south side is a very great honour, and it's also a very great pleasure. It's a wonderful electorate that I have in Griffith. It's a beautiful place along the river in Brisbane. It has some of the country's best icons like the Gabba, the Story Bridge and the South Bank. It has amazing restaurants, amazing culture and, most importantly, amazing people. And I'm so grateful that my community re-elected me in May this year. Working hard for my community is a privilege, and I feel the weight of that privilege every single day. I will continue to be a strong voice for the south side.

Locally, the community faces a range of issues: overdevelopment, traffic congestion, the pressures on public transport, the pressures on bicycle infrastructure—the need for all of those things that can make our city work better. They're all related. Also related is the increasing pressure on schools, on local parks and on local health services by the increasing population density in my electorate of Griffith. I want to call on the government right now, in developing the South East Queensland City Deal, to make sure that these issues—which really are posing serious challenges to the lifestyles of people living in the inner south—are taken into account.

In a similar vein, I want to talk about the Bulimba Barracks. In a way it's an overdevelopment question, because there's been a fight about what should happen with the land, but it's also a question about whether the government is paying enough attention to our area. There've been some deeply concerning issues that have emerged at the Bulimba Barracks. The barracks has a proud history in our community. It represents service, it represents honour and it stands as a living memory of the sacrifice that Australians from far and wide have made for our great country, but, instead of treating this site with the reverence it deserves, the government has been very slow to respond to findings of contamination—including PFAS. As people would know, the federal government has been working on the sale of the barracks for its entire time in office. The site has now been sold to overseas developers, and the sale will be settled in five or six months time. Our local southside Labor team—me, state MP Di Farmer, local councillor Kara Cook and former councillor Shayne Sutton—fought the federal government's approach to this site from the start, demanding a fair go and also a real say for our community. From the moment it went on the chopping block, we fought tooth and nail, side by side with our community, to get a master plan for the site, because without one this sale would have led to terrible outcomes for the community. It's a peninsula area. The roads in and out are already congested. It's really important that there isn't rampant overdevelopment on the site. We got the master plan, which will mean less of a development footprint and less of a traffic burden, but we've had an ongoing struggle to get the government to face up to the contamination issues at the site. Those issues were reported to the government more than a year ago, in August 2018, but it seems to have taken no remedial action since that time—one of the ministers confirmed as much in a letter to me recently—and nor is there any real indication that the government will take any action between now and when the sale is settled in five or six months time.

As I said, PFAS is present on the barracks site. It's a chemical capable of causing cancer, according to many jurisdictions around the world. It's been found to be present on a lot of Defence sites around Australia. The former Prime Minister announced a package of measures to, allegedly, investigate it and clean it up. There's no evidence that that's been done in our community at the barracks site. It's a disgrace. It's been reported that up to 40,000 people are joining a class action in Australia against PFAS contamination, spearheaded by Erin Brockovich—I'm sure you remember the movie, Deputy Speaker. In relation to the contamination that's been found on this particular site, about 200 of the site's neighbours in Bulimba have signed my online petition, calling on the government to rectify the contaminants on the site. The government has sat on its hands, despite my calls for some action in relation to PFAS. It's outrageous to think that the federal government can abrogate its responsibility to ensure a proper and thorough clean-up of a site that has been contaminated over generations, particularly when there is potential for run-off from the site, from the contaminants on the land. Also, the government's own documents are telling it that there are contaminants sitting in sediment in stormwater drains that run to the Brisbane River. It's just not good enough.

Speaking of things not being good enough, I want to mention the government's neglect of another Defence related property: the former Red Cross Hall, a property owned by the Commonwealth, which is right across the road from a veterans' hospital, Greenslopes Private Hospital—

[in continuance the following day]

I wanted to talk a little bit about the matter of asbestos in the Greenslopes Red Cross Hall, a matter I've attempted to talk about several times already this morning in this Chamber. Perhaps this time I'll get the opportunity. As I said earlier this morning, the Greenslopes Red Cross Hall—no longer occupied by the Red Cross, of course, but they were the former tenants—is a decrepit and vacant Commonwealth owned property in my electorate, and it's fallen into disrepair and disuse. The property is riddled with asbestos and has now been sitting empty for many years, with nothing between it and the footpath but some temporary fencing, which has been there for much too long. I mentioned this as we were adjourning this debate yesterday, and I'm giving this speech in continuance now. I welcome the opportunity to provide this speech in continuance from yesterday's address-in-reply debate.

As I've said, I've been asking the government to do something about this hall for many years. At the May federal election, Labor committed that, if we were elected to government, we'd provide a significant funding boost to get the hall fixed up, with a view to getting it back in to community use. The LNP didn't match that commitment. Now, six months after the election, our community is still waiting for action to be taken.

I'm grateful to the minister for meeting with me last month about this issue, right here in the parliament. I raised with him again the numerous issues with this site. It's become an eyesore. It's decrepit. It's wrapped around with this flimsy security fencing. There is shade cloth hanging off it and signs up saying: 'Brittle asbestos roof. Danger: do not enter.' It's a real eyesore for the community.

Secondly, the site is just going to waste. So many locals have told me about their fond memories of the hall when it was in use—but it's just sitting there empty. There's a lot of history about the place, too, because of the buildings on the site having been used in previous conflict. I think the government knows this. But despite the remarkable history of the hall, the Morrison government has failed to undertake the necessary maintenance of it since the Red Cross vacated it some years ago.

Thirdly, and most importantly, the run-down state of the property poses serious safety and health risks. For six years there have been warning signs of asbestos and the brittle roof. Yes, there are fences, but anyone who's been a teenager knows that they can be seen as more of a challenge than a barrier. And of course there's a risk of damage and danger if there is wild weather in the south-east, as occurs from time to time and more and more frequently—particularly around this time of year. Every day this dilapidated hall is left abandoned is another day that asbestos fibres could blow in the wind, putting locals at risk.

I've been working as a team with my colleagues—state colleague Joe Kelly MP and council colleague Matthew Campbell—to call on the government to take action without further delay. I wrote to the minister following our recent meeting, calling on the government to address the problems. I respectfully ask that the government take heed of that call. It's time the government took responsibility, started listening to locals and fixed the hall.

In making this contribution to the debate of the address-in-reply, I also want to deal with some other issues. One of those issues is traffic congestion: a crucial issue for the south side. I'm really passionate about busting traffic congestion. It's been a focus of mine since before I was in the parliament and since I first ran for the parliament in 2014 in a by-election.

I've said this in the House before, but the latest data from the HILDA Survey shows that Australia's capital cities are dealing with longer commutes, with an average of 66 minutes each day, and there is no sign of things getting better. Families in my electorate, just like those in inner suburban communities across Australia, have had enough. Traffic congestion throughout the eastern and southern suburbs in my electorate is getting much worse. In fact, we have one of the south side's worst traffic snarls, the Coorparoo level crossing on Cavendish Road. I've been talking about this level crossing for a very long time, calling on the government to actually do something about fixing it up. I've been campaigning to fix it up, as I said, since before I was elected.

At this federal election that was held in May this year Labor made a serious massive commitment of funding to get this particular traffic snarl fixed up, to get moving on it. I called on the government to make a similar, or the same, commitment to put a serious amount of money on the table. It's an expensive problem, I know. The government had put into the May budget $85 million for the Lindum level crossing in a Liberal-held marginal electorate. They did not put any money into the budget for the level crossing in my electorate. There's no reason why a similar amount of money could not have been committed to the Coorparoo level crossing.

I don't begrudge the people of Bonner the amount of money that's been put into the Lindum level crossing. It's an important level crossing. It's adjacent to Iona. There was a fatality there at the beginning of the year, so of course that one should be fixed up. But so should the level crossing at Coorparoo. We shouldn't have to wait until there is a fatality at this level crossing to get the government's attention, to get some real money on the table to deal with this particular level crossing.

The Liberal-National government talks a lot about busting congestion. They've got the so-called Urban Congestion Fund—although I note they didn't actually manage to spend any of it; they did find $17 million to put into advertising about busting congestion but they didn't spend the so-called Urban Congestion Fund and actually bust congestion—and they claim to have this focus. Let's see it in Griffith. Let's see some real money on the table to deal with this terrible traffic snarl. It's an awful, awful situation. Everyone knows it needs to be fixed. The South East Queensland Council of Mayors has listed it as one of the top five level crossings that need to be dealt with in our city.

This level crossing needs to be fixed. We also have schools adjacent to it. We've got Coorparoo Secondary College right down the road from this particular level crossing and, up the other end of Cavendish Road, you've got Coorparoo State School and Mount Carmel a bit further up. We also have Giffin Park right near this level crossing—a really important sporting facility on the south side. It's been a training ground for the Lions for a long time but, much more importantly, this park is where so many young kids go to play Aussie Rules. They don't need to be having to navigate this dangerous level crossing right near the park, right near the school, in order to get there safely. They certainly don't need the traffic congestion that comes from the fact that every time a coal or passenger train goes through, the boom gates are down and the traffic just banks up. And of course in the 21st century it's ridiculous.

We've also got Old Cleveland Road, Stanley Road and massive important roads on either side of this crossing. Cavendish Road runs between them. This doesn't just affect people in Griffith; it affects everyone who tries to commute to the CBD from the eastern suburbs. It affects people in Bowman. It affects people in Bonner. People trying to get into the city in peak hour will tell you: it is an absolute disgrace of a traffic snarl and it's about time that the Morrison government stepped up and actually showed that it cared about this particular traffic snarl. It will actually do wonders for traffic congestion throughout the eastern suburbs of our city if the government was to do something serious in relation to this particular level crossing.

We didn't win the election. I'm sad about it; you're probably not, Deputy Speaker Hogan. The fact is the Morrison government is in charge. You guys need to get your act together. The buck stops with the government. It's time that the government showed some love to traffic congestion issues on the south side in Brisbane because, if you don't do it, then you're going to continue to have this problem. It's just going to get worse and worse, and our cities, for liveability, for productivity, need to have safe roads. They need to have roads that work well, and that means dealing with this particular traffic snarl.

In the last few seconds available to me, I just want to mention a portfolio matter—that is, the second 10-yearly review of the EPBC Act that is now underway. The Liberals and Nationals are now in their seventh year of government, and their cuts and mismanagement are evident in the blowout of decision-making times. There's so much delay. It's actually got to a point where 40 per cent of decisions are now made outside statutory time frames—it was 15 per cent when the Liberals and Nationals came to office. This is bad for jobs. It is bad for development and it is bad for the environment. We should be able to, as a nation, have strong environmental protections and also be able to get decisions made within statutory time frames so that the jobs and development can go ahead where it's safe for that to happen. Thank you.