Before I start my remarks tonight, I would like to briefly mention that a number of Queensland state politicians have announced their retirement in the last few weeks. All up, these four people who have announced their retirement in the last month have collectively served about 83 years in the Queensland parliament. They will be a huge loss of collective experience, wisdom and knowledge to the Queensland parliament.
They include Howard Hobbs, the member for Warrego, who has served for 28 years in the Queensland parliament; Vaughan Johnson, the member for Gregory, who has served for 25 years; Ted Malone, the member for Mirani, who has served for 20 years; and Rosemary Menkens, who has served for 10 years. All of them have made a significant contribution to the Queensland parliament and Queensland political life, and I wish them great success in their retirement. The people who replace them will have huge shoes to fill. I know the burden of that expectation, having replaced Ron Boswell in this place. He who served for 30 years. It certainly is a big job to live up to.
I have now been here for three months, and I wanted to talk tonight about the Rockhampton area of Queensland in which I have established a Senate office. I wanted to talk about the importance of Central Queensland not just to the state of Queensland but to our nation because Central Queensland is a wealth-producing part of our country. There are about 3 million head of cattle in the Fitzroy basin in the Central Queensland area. There are more cattle in the Fitzroy basin than in the whole of the Northern Territory. Rockhampton is not known as the beef capital for nothing. There are two large meatworks in Rockhampton which export beef all around the world and provide thousands of jobs to the people of Central Queensland. All up, the Fitzroy basin accounts for about a third of northern Australia's agriculture. It is not just the beef industry. There is a substantial horticulture industry in and around Emerald. There is a lot of cotton production there as well, and many of our pineapples, particularly during our winter months, are grown in Yeppoon, on the coast from Rockhampton.
It is also a great area for the mining industry. Eighty five per cent of Queensland's coal comes from Central Queensland from about 41 mines, and those mines employ about 35,000 people. The coalmining industry is doing it a little tough at the moment in Queensland, but it remains a great wealth producer. The area of Central Queensland also has pristine tourism assets, particularly along the Capricorn Coast and the Great Barrier Reef. All of these industries—beef, agriculture, mining and tourism—earn export dollars for our nation and help underpin our standard of living.
A few years ago we faced a major crisis in this country when the global financial crisis hit. Others would have you believe that $900 cheques, pink batts and school halls helped get us out of it, but I would say that the major reason that we escaped from any great destruction in our economy was the success of our exporting industries—particularly our mining, wheat and beef industries, which continued to export to Asia during that crisis. Since then, things have changed a little bit. As I mentioned, the coal industry is doing it tough. Around 14,000 jobs have been lost in the coal industry in the last 18 months, including 700 jobs lost last week in the Central Queensland area at BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance. There is no doubt that the fall in coal prices is having an impact on the employment levels in that industry, and there is a significant knock on impact to the whole of Central Queensland—to Rockhampton, Mackay and Gladstone. All of these areas are feeling the pinch from what is happening west of there in the mining industry.
I do not want to spend my time tonight talking about the negatives. I think that there is great optimism and positivity for Central Queensland. Despite the fact that the coal industry is struggling right now, there are great opportunities in Central Queensland. There are new mines set to open. The Carmichael mine received federal government approval a few months ago and it is going to provide 10,000 jobs alone in a new coal basin, the Galilee Basin, west of Mackay. It is a great opportunity for North Queensland. It is going to be one of the biggest areas for coal mining. It is probably the best area in the world for new coal mines. It is a great thing for Queensland to have.
Associated with that, there will be new rail lines and ports built, and there will be an expansion to Abbot Point. All of these things will provide flow-on tourism and benefits, particularly Abbot Point to the town of Bowen, which a couple of weeks ago held a rally in support of the expansion of the Abbot Point port. I was in Bowen in the first month I was in this job and I did not meet one person in the town who was opposed to the port, because they know that their economic future is tied to that development.
In the Great Barrier Reef there is a huge proposal for the development of Great Keppel Island: a $2.1 billion resort which will provide 1,400 jobs and will see the tourism industry of the Capricorn Coast regain the strength that it once had after the development of the Iwasaki, now Mercure, resort.
I want to make the point that all of those projects—the Carmichael mine, the Abbot Point port and Great Keppel Island—are opposed by the Greens. The Greens even oppose the Great Keppel Island project, a tourism asset that could be developed and bring more people to the Great Barrier Reef. That would ultimately protect the reef because if there are dollars in it then we will not want to do any damage to it. The Greens are opposed to all of those projects and have the forced the EPBC approval that those projects have all needed and now have. We should always keep in mind that, while the Greens will lecture us about the purity that they would like to see, they will never be in a position to provide the jobs that people need to get on with their lives. The environment is very important, but having a job is pretty important too. If we do not have an economy, we will not have the luxury of protecting the environment. We need these projects to go ahead. All of them have now gone through the federal government approval processes. I very much hope that the private investment can happen.
There are other things that we should also be doing and focusing on as government. The government has a Northern Australia green paper out for consultation, and a white paper will be released early next year. One of the central elements of the green paper is developing our water resources around the nation. The Fitzroy Basin has a lot of water, and it needs to be a big focus of that development. The Fitzroy Basin is the largest water catchment on our eastern seaboard; more water flows out to the Pacific Ocean through the Fitzroy catchment than any other catchment on our eastern seaboard, but it is very underdeveloped in terms of water storage projects.
Again, the Greens will say: 'There are no good more dam sites. We should not build any more dams. Forget about it. We don't need to develop anymore; we just need to protect frogs now. We can't do anything as humans anymore.' That is absolutely false. There are plenty of good projects in the Fitzroy Basin. Next week the member for Capricornia, Michelle Landry, the member for Flynn, Ken O'Dowd, and I will be travelling around Central Queensland looking at these sites. We are going to jump in a plane and get up in the sky. We will take someone from SunWater, which is the Queensland government water infrastructure provider, fly around these sites and see for ourselves the potential that is there.
We know that projects like the Connors River Dam can provide water to the Galilee Basin, the Carmichael mine projects and others. We know that Nathan Dam has heaps of potential. It was first proposed in the Queensland parliament in 1926, and we are still talking about it. We should get on and build it. A few years ago it was held up by some snails. In 2009 federal bureaucrats found 850 snails at Nathan Gorge. I give credit to the Bligh government for trying to progress this project, but the federal Labor government—or their officials—turned up, found 850 snails and said: 'You have to stop the project. You have to try and relocate those snails to see if they can survive. If they survive, then you might be able to build a dam.' That held the dam up for two years. A couple of years ago, they walked over a hill and they found 18,000 of the snails. So now the project can get going again, but we have lost two years in the process. I hope that project can go ahead.
We will be looking at all those projects next week as a Central Queensland LNP team. We will bring the ideas that we get from our consultations with the Queensland government and from our direct visits to the communities and the sites on the ground back to Canberra in the next sitting period with a report to the federal Treasurer, Joe Hockey, and the Deputy Prime Minister ,Warren Truss. We will urge them to give strong consideration to these projects and to respond to what is a big downturn in mining jobs in Central Queensland. While it is a little bit tough there at the moment, the future is bright if we have the vision and the guts, and if we stand up to those that like to say no all the time. There is a lot to do in Central Queensland.