Sunday, April 17, 2011

Time for action on heartbreak highway

Why is the ALP wasting billions of the people's money on nonsense schemes when real problems like this need fixing?

BARELY a week goes by without it claiming a life. Every second day, on average, it's impassable. It is littered with blackspots and plagued by potholes. The Bruce Highway, the state's main artery and Queensland's contribution to National Highway 1, is a national disgrace.

As the Federal Government prepares its Budget, the need to fix our highway of shame is more apparent than ever. In the first three months of this year, the road has been cut 84 times because it can not cope with seasonal flooding.

Leading the charge for action are grieving families of the almost 200 people who have lost their lives in the past five years, frustrated truck drivers and local mayors fed up with years of pleas for funds falling on deaf ears.

The State Government shifts the blame to its federal counterparts, with Roads Minister Craig Wallace calling for more funding from Canberra. "Both sides of federal politics have ignored the Bruce Highway for nearly 40 years and it will take time to reverse these years of impact," he said. A recent report released by Mr Wallace claimed $5.3 billion was needed to flood-proof the highway.

Miners, businesses and farmers say Queensland can no longer afford to keep vital freight and produce trucks waiting at flooded crossings. "There are goods and services we need, like fertilisers and chemicals, that get held up because we've got trucks sitting on the road for a week to 10 days," Bowen and Gumlu District Growers Association president Carl Walker said.

Whitsunday Mayor Mike Brunker said flood-prone sections were a severe threat to development and tourism. "Up near Sandy Gully which is going to be a state development area and could be the biggest coal port in Australia the whole state's resources are going to be held up by flooded creeks," he said. "If Abbott Point takes off in the next two years, you could have 3000 workers on one side of the creek not being able to get to work."

Upgrading of the Bruce Highway has long been stymied by political buckpassing, with state and federal governments arguing the other should be doing more.

The Queensland Government claims it will spend almost $1 billion between 2006 and 2014 but argues that given the Bruce Highway is a crucial part of the national network, the bulk of future funding should come from the Federal Government.

The Federal Government points out there is nothing stopping the states contributing more to the upkeep of their most important roads.

Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said the Labor Government had committed $3.2 billion until 2014. He blamed the current state of the Bruce Highway on the Howard Government, saying average annual spending had increased by $281 million since Labor took office. "Despite having 12 years to do something about this road and the record tax revenues to pay for it, they chose to do very little," Mr Albanese said.

Shadow Transport Minister Warren Truss said the blame game had to stop. "It's high time federal and state Labor worked together to ensure Queenslanders have a major highway they can rely on," he said.

State Opposition Leader Campbell Newman said the LNP would unveil details before the next state election outlining how it would deliver better flood protection. "The LNP is committed to addressing the state's infrastructure needs," he said.

The RACQ said the condition of the Bruce Highway was "totally unacceptable". "We need a quantum leap in investment to bring it up to standard," RACQ executive manager traffic and safety John Wikman said. He said the highway was 10 years behind current traffic volumes and more four-lane stretches were vital.

IT'S been more than five years since the Bruce Highway claimed Jamie McTackett's wife and daughter and he's still waiting for it to be fixed. In August 2005, Karryn McTackett, 33, and 12-year-old Jessica were killed in a head-on smash with a semi-trailer while returning to Bowen from a junior football match in Townsville.

While he says he has never blamed the truck driver involved, Mr McTackett called for extra lanes to be added to the troubled Bruce Highway. "If it was a four-lane highway, the chances of (his wife's accident) happening would've been pretty scarce," he said.

He said Queenslanders had been neglected by policy-makers for far too long. "Get your finger out and fix the road," he said. "Our national highway's a disgrace."


Government attacks fantasy environmental problems while real environment problems are virtually ignored

Senator Barnaby Joyce

I relax by taking a walk behind Red Hill onto the ridge that overlooks the city; the lights of our nation’s capital lay below with all their troubles resting before the next day’s frenetic activity. As you fly in, the Brindabella’s are sometimes dusted with winter snow that can be seen amongst the snow gums, ribbon gums, stringy barks, acacias, banksias and callistemon. If you are interested in botany or even if you are not, there are interesting walks around Parliament.

A local builder, Joel, took me for a walk out near Mt Stromlo to the top of Camel’s Hump. I could have been a million miles from work as we sat and had a couple of beers on what was a pretty cold afternoon, but a spectacular view.

It is very hard to go bushwalking in Canberra, or in Australia for that matter, and not be near a member of the Myrtaceae family. The ubiquitous eucalypt, angophora with its masses of white honey scented blossoms, the massive tallow woods which form part of the Corymbias, paper barked Melaleucas on your creeks, rivers and coasts, for the more inquiring, the leptospermums and for the smarty pants, the Metrosideros.

An introduced fungus has now placed our arboreal heritage at risk. The carbon sequestered by these plants will be severely hampered by what appears as a yellow fungus, yet this issue does not rate a mention in the carbon debate.

Uredo Rangelii is spreading from the initial sighting at Gosford in last year across the Myrtle (Myrtaceae) family of Eastern Australia. Myrtle rust as it is commonly known is part of the Guava Rust (Puccinia psidii) complex and both are similar in their DNA.

Guava rust was discovered in Brazil in 1884 and causes severe damage to Australian plants of the Myrtle family. The introduction of this fungus was not planned but that amounts for nought now that it is here.

The Federal Government’s concern for what could be a devastating environmental problem amounts to $1.4 million. I am sure they have stopped work at ANU to line up for that!

Do we have to hope and pray for a Dr Jean Macnamara coincidence, who while researching poliomyelitis in the US bumped into Dr Richard Shope researching Myxomatosis on rabbits?

Obviously we are hoping that a fluke of associated research like this by somebody else will bring a solution. While living carbon in trees dies the government says it is essential to sequestrate carbon.

The Government’s attention thus far is culpable. Whether you are a bush walker or a logger, a gardener or just conscientious this is an issue for you.

If we were clever we would be inspiring the acumen of diligent minds and motivated researchers to deal with a problem that is within our capabilities to fix. If our Government had started earlier we could have isolated this disease.

On a similar environmental front we now could isolate the great threat to apiarists and native honey bees from the Asian honey bee, another introduced pest marauding its way across our nation.

The Government is outraged by 400 head of cattle in the Alpine National Park but does nothing about the hundreds of thousands of deer, tens of thousands of pigs or thousands of brumbies.

Multiple billions of dollars are to be spent on something we cannot possibly affect, the temperature of the planet, while these other afflictions that we could deal with are running rampant. If we cannot stop a fungus in Australia it is highly unlikely that we have the acumen to change the temperature of planet earth. If a bee is beyond our control, is it then rather a large step to convince the globe that atmospheric recalibration is within Australia’s grasp. What is bad about a cow that is good about a feral pig?

If we see one day great swathes of our local environment effected by Myrtle Rust, then concerns about insolvable problems and the money expended chasing rainbows whilst a raging fire was burning at our back door will leave us all negligent.

We should target our research to tackling solvable problems at home, such as Myrtle Rust, rather than be lured into an absurd Wizard of Oz type multiple billion dollar carbon frolic.


Incompetent weather bureaucrats again

AN AMATEUR weather buff predicted what trained meteorologists did not, a flash flood that threatened lives in the Lockyer Valley, 90 minutes before it struck. Neil Pennell, a medical sonographer who monitors the weather as a hobby, told the Queensland Floods Commission he feels "considerable guilt" that he did not do more to warn people of the impending disaster.

Seventeen people died and 150 homes were damaged or destroyed when a wall of water rushed through the Lockyer Valley on January 10.

Mr Pennell, who lived in the nearby Fassifern Valley for most of his life, was watching the weather develop that day. At 1.10pm, under the username Buster, he posted on the Weatherzone online forum. "Those rain rates between Esk, Crows Nest and Toowoomba are truly frightening. I fear that there could be a dangerous flash flood very soon, particularly in Grantham. Am I overreacting?"

Half an hour later, Mr Pennell posted again: "I live in an area that is equally not used to being so saturated and equally not used to falls of that nature … I just know that 56mm in an hour right now here would produce a flood of frightening proportions and one likely to put lives at risk … I repeat my question … Does someone in Esk, Grantham, Toogoolawah need to know what's possible? Who do we tell?" Some time between 2.30pm and 3pm, the "inland tsunami" swept through Grantham.

In his submission to the commission, Mr Pennell said he is "carrying a burden for the shattered lives in the Lockyer Valley". He blames himself for not contacting the Bureau of Meteorology or the local police that day, believing they could have given locals at least 45 minutes' warning of the deluge.

Mr Pennell wants the commission to thoroughly investigate why "someone with my limited formal meteorology/hydrology experience could be made to sound like Nostradamus while the Bureau of Meteorology remained silent about the impending danger in the Lockyer Valley".

He argues that the fact the catchment was saturated and the upper Lockyer creek was already at minor flood levels meant it did not take much rain to cause the disaster.

The commission's first week of hearings focused on whether Wivenhoe Dam could have been managed better to prevent the city flooding. But Mr Pennell, whose own house in the Brisbane suburb of Rocklea was flooded, believes concern about the dam should be a "distant second" to the loss of life in the Lockyer Valley. "Grantham needs to be the number one focus of the inquiry. Things are one thing, people are another."

Mr Pennell was reluctant to discuss his experience. "I'm just a bit of a nobody," he said. "The only reason I [made a submission] is because what happened in Grantham is just beyond the pale. Those people weren't doing anything. They were just at home living their lives and the flood came to them."

The Floods Commission will hold public hearings in Toowoomba tomorrow and Tuesday.


Federal solar scheme hits the poor

Inequity spurs grant rethink

SOLAR panel rebates could be slashed again after the Government confirmed it was still concerned the scheme was driving up electricity prices for the poor.

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said he was deeply concemed about the equity of the program that some experts estimated was already costing families that couldn’t afford panels about $100 a year. That’s because the cost of the uncapped solar credits scheme that offers grants of about $6000 is passed on to consumers by electricity retailers, rather than being a cash grant in the Federal Budget. Electricity users pay again when a feed-in tariff scheme “pays” the solar householders who produce more electricity than they use.

Mr Combet has already said the rebates will be slashed from about $6000 to $5000 from July 1, prompting a stampede of customers. "It is a program that we inherited from the Howard government. And it was a thoroughly poorly designed, inequitable program,” he said. “We’ve progressively wound back the levels of assistance. I announced before Christmas a fluther wind»back to take effect from July 1.

“In the meantime, I’ve been watching closely the levels of demand that are still being created by this scheme. The thing that's appropriate for me is watch it very closely, to take steps to reduce the levels of subsidy, which I am doing

Mr Combet said the surging demand for solar roof panels was “not purely a function of a federal govemment level of assistance". “Various state govemments have what’s called a feed-in tariff. The NSW feed-in tariff led to a complete explosion in demand. “They’ve both contributed to very high levels of demand. As well as the high dollar, because it means that the solar panels being imported from China are relatively cheaper. So I am very mindful of that and I am watching it very closely, because I have been particularly concerned about the equity of that program. Because it is effectively a subsidy that is paid through electricity prices.”

For families who can afford it, the generous scheme can reduce the cost of installing solar panels from $10,000 to just $4000

The above article by Samantha Maiden appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on 17 April

Your regulators will protect you -- NOT

Lazy Queensland Office of Fair Trading blasted for inaction in rain tank rip-off

QUEENSLAND'S fair trading regulator is under fire after failing to act on a tip-off about a rainwater tank venture that left a $1 million trail of debt. More than 600 people paid deposits or in full for tanks advertised by companies Aqua Conscious and Columbus Sales Group. They are now fighting to get their money back after the tanks never arrived.

It has emerged the Queensland Office of Fair Trading received a phone call and written complaint about Aqua Conscious more than three months before a public warning was issued by NSW Fair Trading on January 28. During that time, the companies continued advertising, attracting buyers across three states.

Leisa Donlan, the chief executive of the Association of Rotational Moulders, the peak body for tank manufacturers, phoned Fair Trading on October 12, but could not progress beyond the call centre despite insisting it was urgent. Ms Donlan then sent a fax the next day warning that Aqua Conscious was taking payment for tanks she believed may not exist. "We have used our industry resources to establish that this company currently has no contract for supply in place," the letter warns. But no reply was received.

"It's very disappointing and certainly helps someone doing the wrong thing to go on and create even more damage for players in the industry."

Fair Trading in NSW was the first to act after consumer complaints.

A spokeswoman for the Queensland Office of Fair Trading said the complaint appeared to have gone to the wrong area. It is not clear why the complaint was not passed on to the complaint intake unit and there was no record of it.


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