Prime Minister talking jobs on visit to Mackay
WHEN the chance to ask Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull cropped up yesterday, the hand of 16-year-old Whitsunday Anglican schoolgirl Meghan Dansie shot up.
"I'm glad you were able to spend a nice Valentines Day with your wife yesterday, but when will we see marriage equality in Australia?" she asked.
The question came off the cuff she said, because "the issue is very prevalent to a lot of my friends".
"This government talks a lot about innovations, but when are they going to talk about the social issues that really matter?" she said.
"I'm disappointed Australia is a step behind (other countries)."
Innovation was indeed one of Mr Turnbull's favourite talking points when he spoke to the crowd of 250 at Harrup Park about 3.30pm yesterday.
New Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce also took to the stage, in the pair's first public appearance together since Mr Joyce took on the role last Thursday.
"We are very keenly aware of the importance of investment in infrastructure," Mr Turnbull said.
"And we have the money to do that."
He highlighted the Mackay Ring Road project, which would be 80% federally funded, and the $6.7 million to go into the Bruce Hwy as two key projects to benefit Mackay.
The National Broadband Network also came up, which he promised would reach more of the Mackay region early next year.
The potential for new water infrastructure was also raised.
"The opportunities for us, right around Australia, have never been greater than they are today," he said.
"Last year 301,000 jobs were created across Australia. That's more than at least since 2006.
"I know there have been job losses here in Mackay but we are seeing a transition which is driving opportunities."
Many of these opportunities stemmed from Australia's proximity to the rising middle class in Asia and trade deals Australia had already secured, like the Chinese Free Trade Agreement and the Trans Pacific Partnership.
The theme of Mr Joyce's speech, after being introduced by Federal Minister for Dawson George Christensen as "the bloke who calls a spade a shovel", was also jobs.
"We understand what's happening with the jobs... and the town's doing it a little bit tough," he said.
"And we want to put our shoulder to your wheel."
Schoolgirl Meghan Dansie wasn't the only one seizing the opportunity to ask questions.
Bowen Gumlu Growers Association president Carl Walker wanted to know the region's chances of getting dams built.
Neither Mr Joyce nor Mr Turnbull made any promises, but Mr Joyce said as both were former water resources ministers "you got a pretty good bet you'll see some water resources built".
The Resource Industry Network's David Hartigan wanted to know how it would help remove hurdles standing in the way of the Carmichael Coal Mine.
But Mr Turnbull suggested there was very little left federal government could do.
"We have given all the approvals that are needed from our end. It is simply a question for state government," Mr Turnbull said.
"We did present proposed legislation to limit the ability of obstructive litigation that was essentially political action. But we haven't been able to secure passage through the senate.
"The senate has been disappointing."
But Mackay Chamber of Commerce chairwoman Kylie Porter's question may have been the toughest: "How are we going to stop the disconnect between federal and state politics, given at the end of the day, it's us that suffers?"
After stating he would take the issue up with the state premier later this week, Mr Turnbull went on to point out his frustrations with state government.
"It is pretty disappointing that you've got elements of the Bruce Hwy upgrade where we're putting up 80% of the money... and it hasn't got started. And really it should have, it would provide a lot of jobs," Mr Turnbull said. "It should have nothing to do with politics. But the best time for governments to be spending money on infrastructure is a time like this."
Mackay Street Chaplaincy officer Rob Kerruish came along with a specific question in mind, and although he didn't get the chance to speak during the event, caught the Prime Minister on his way out the door.
He put forward an idea to have federal government fund some of the public liability insurance for volunteer groups, as he claimed many were drowning in overhead costs.
"We are raising all this money but a lot is not going to the community, it's going to overheads," Mr Kerruish said.
"He (Mr Turnbull) said it sounded like a great idea."
He was advised to talk to Federal MP George Christensen about it further.