Bennett calls for Bailey resignation, claims port’s stalling
MEMBER for Bundaberg Stephen Bennett has called on Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey to resign over claims progress at the Port of Bundaberg is being deliberately stalled by the State Government.
But the Labor minister has hit back, claiming the LNP is using the port as a smokescreen because the party "botched its Hinkler regional deal from day one and wanted our borders opened" and says "if anyone should resign, it's Deb Frecklington".
Mr Bennett joined Member for Bundaberg David Batt at the port today to call for action, saying the State Government had not offered any firm indication on when a multi-use conveyor would be built.
"The Queensland State Labor Government is intentionally delaying a multi-million project at the Port of Bundaberg which would attract more investment and jobs to the region," a joint statement from Mr Bennett, Mr Batt and Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt read.
"As part of the Hinkler Regional Deal, in April 2019 the Federal Government committed $10 million towards a multi-use conveyor at the port."
Mr Pitt said the project was needed as soon as possible.
"We're in the middle of a global pandemic, our region is desperate for jobs and the Queensland State Labor Government is sitting on its hands," he said.
"Even though this a 100 per cent funded project, the State Government is still dragging its heels at the expense of the Bundaberg region and the jobs this project will create."
Mr Pitt said Assistant Minister Marino wrote to Minister Bailey in July, inviting him to sign the Project Agreement for the project and has had no response.
"There have been ongoing negotiations for six months to get the Project Agreement ready for signing and this is yet another delay," he said.
"We have no indication of when it will be signed and the State Government won't even provide a copy of the business case to the Federal Government," Mr Pitt said.
Mr Bennett said he has been approached by businesses interested in establishing themselves at the Port of Bundaberg.
"However, with no firm indication of when the multi-use conveyor will be built, this uncertainty could mean these businesses start looking elsewhere," he said.
"We can't afford to lose new businesses or the associated jobs because the State Government wants to play politics.
Mr Bailey denied the claims from the region's MPs, saying the government was working on the project.
"Instead of securing a deal that would benefit communities across the whole Wide Bay Burnett region, they played politics before a federal election and cooked up a deal to save Keith Pitt's job," he said.
"The reality is that federal LNP MP Nola Marino only wrote to me last month seeking our agreement.
"While I support any funding for Queensland, I have to make sure Queenslanders are not penalised of our fair share of GST revenue by Canberra.
"My department has been liaising with the federal department to work through the details now that we have them and that work is progressing well."
The region's MPs claimed Mr Bailey should have been well aware of the conveyor issue.
"The negotiations have been going on for years," Mr Bennett said.
"The minister is being completely disingenuous by referring to this letter.
"The letter was in sent at the start of July in response to six months of failed negotiations and delays.
"As the minister well knows and has been told, GST is not applicable for this project.
Minister Bailey is only saying that to continue to muddy the waters; it is just another delay tactic."
But Mr Bailey said he wanted a declaration from the LNP that they would not penalise Queensland's share of GST revenue.
It was also a day for exchanging blows over privatising assets, with Mr Bailey slamming "the LNP who tried to sell off the port corporation to the highest bidder, and wasted more than $100 million preparing for asset sales".
But the MPs said it was Labor who sold and privatised the port.
The Bundaberg Port was sold to the Gladstone Ports Corporation a decade ago after the state, led by then premier Anna Bligh, sold its previous owner the Port of Brisbane Corporation as part of an asset sell-off.
And while Mr Bennett claimed Mr Bailey was paying lip service to the region when he visited the port recently to pledge his support for development and jobs, the minister says things are progressing.
"We've seen increases in trade with throughput for molasses increased by 32,000 tonnes, sugar by 30,000 tonnes and gypsum by 6000 tonnes," Mr Bailey said.
"Overall, throughput has more than doubled at the port to more than 500,000 tonnes a year in the past decade.
"We've getting on with a joint upgrade of roads in the port precinct and we've attracted major investment by Pacific Tugs for a Marine Industry site."
However, according to Mr Pitt's office, the Pacific Tugs project received $6 million in Federal Government funding.
In August 2017 Mr Pitt announced that Pacific Tugs was successful in applying for funding through the Federal Government Building Better Regions program.
"But The $6 million grant was meant to fast-track the marine industry precinct, yet two years later an extension to the funding was granted by the Federal Government due to development approval delays by the State Government," a statement read.
Mr Bailey said the state was doing everything it could.
"Recent agreements with Sugar Terminals Limited (STL) and Australian Bauxite Limited demonstrate that we will continue to grow investment and trade at the port," he said.
"It's under the Palaszczuk Government that a Memorandum of Understanding between STL and the Bundaberg port has been signed to investigate a common user facility for the port."
Mr Batt said, however, it was the simple act of ticking off on the multi-use conveyor that would enable more products such as wood chip and metals mined in the North Burnett to move through the port.
Speaking at the port today, Mr Bennett called for Mr Bailey to hang up his hat over "continual political games and delays that are the conveyor belt that has been promised to our region for a number of years".
"This is cheap politics and today is a call to the minister to get out of the road, and if he can't handle it, today's the day you hand in your resignation. Our region deserves so much more than this cheap nonsense that continues to be plaguing our region."
Mr Bailey responded, saying he believed the state LNP leader should step down instead.
"The LNP will say anything to get off the fact that they've called for our borders to be open 64 times - if anybody needs to resign it's Deb Frecklington and her negative and nasty attitude to just about everything," he said.
Member for Burnett Stephen Bennett and Member for Bundaberg David Batt launched a petition today, calling on the State Government to sign a Project Agreement at the port and support local investment.
To view the petition, visit https://bit.ly/31SNcTi.
What Labor candidate Tom Smith had to say:
Bundaberg will never forget LNP tried to sell the port corporation to the highest bidder.
Now they're launching petitions on false pretences.
Bundaberg and Queensland doesn't deserve to be ripped off by Canberra because the LNP want to distract from their botched Hinkler deal.
Instead of being loose with the truth, the LNP could fast-track this process immediately by declaring it won't penalise Queensland's share of GST revenue.
The Palaszczuk Government backs the publicly-owned Bundaberg Port and has the track-record to prove it.
It's the Palaszczuk Government that has helped to double trade at the port in the last 10 years.
And the minister was out here just two weeks ago checking out a joint upgrade of roads in the port precinct and plans for Pacific Tugs' Marine Industry site.