Acts of God, but not much remedial action in Parliament
Floods and fires mean we need more alternatives for transport routes. Photo: Andy Zakeli
The reason for inter-nodal inland transport and communication corridors is self evident.
In the west we have bushfires because it is too dry. To the east, especially here in south-east Queensland and north-eastern NSW, we have flooding. If I drive east the road is cut. If I go west, well what is the point of that when I am supposed to be heading to Canberra?
The major infrastructure corridors along the coast are again under pressure or cut. The Telstra fibre providing the communication link for north Queensland was cut because of flooding.
The justifiable focus on the current problem of flooding should be accompanied by a long-term solution to alleviate some of the problem.
St George lies directly between Cairns and Melbourne on a more direct route than the coast. St George should now be inundated with trucks moving produce on an alternate inland corridor. Better still, inland rail would mean that the wear and tear on wet roads from heavy transport would be reduced as the majority of long distance haulage would be carried on rail away from the intemperate conditions currently creating bottlenecks at every watercourse intersection on the coast.
Apparently we can change the climate with a tax, but planning since the last flood to alleviate the infrastructure issues pertaining to the weather has been vastly more problematic. These areas are again a problem.
The course of innovation is not lineal, it is more chaotic, but in the period of this government there has been no plan that has dealt with the year-in, year-out problems of floods, congestion and safety of moving goods along the same corridor as people, along the coast. It should not be a surprise any more that somewhere between Cairns and Melbourne at some point in summer there will be a flood, and generally at many points along the coast.
There is nothing quite as frustrating as confronting the same problem over and again without a plan that, if it cannot remove the concern, alleviates the problem. A brilliant metaphor for this ineptness at the expense of reality was delivered by the National Parks and Wildlife Service at a bushfire at Gwabegar, near Coonabarabran in NSW. A fire started in a national park from a lightning strike. The local bushfire brigades with the aid of a bulldozer put the fire out and the National Parks officers were nowhere in sight.
The next day, however, the National Parks officers turned up and rather than a thank you, complained bitterly about the damage to the track the bulldozer made, demanding that it "be regenerated to its native state". Maybe if the locals had let the forest burn out, National Parks would have been happier. It was not rainforest, it was part of tens of thousands of hectares that would generally be known as the Pilliga Scrub. Did the National Parks officer have even the slightest idea how incongruous his attitude was to the disastrous problem that was imminent if the fire got out of control?
The election campaign will hopefully evolve from a tawdry soap opera that has absolutely no relevance to the problems that confront us, to something more substantial which lays down plans to deal with the problems before us. One such problem is the $260 billion in gross debt that we have got ourselves into. Our political discussion should recognise that if the electorate wants an episode of Big Brother they would prefer that the house not be our parliament.
We need an educational system that does not leave Australia falling behind our Asian neighbours. More than two sealed roads from east to west across our nation would be very 21st century if we could manage it. We should plan to develop our nation's north so we evolve from the southern crescent economy of Lachlan Macquarie's day to one that can make the most of Asian middle class opportunities. The capacity to move product on long haul rail from our second biggest city, Melbourne, direct to our nation's third biggest, Brisbane, should have happened years ago.
If we assist, rather than place extra taxes on our strengths such as mining, then the economy in general will prosper. If the transport corridors to the mineral provinces from our major cities are efficient, then the capacity for the benefaction of our mineral wealth to travel south would be vastly more pronounced.
Barnaby Joyce is the Nationals' Senate leader and the opposition spokesman for regional development, local government and water.