Latitudes North Conference of the LNP Holiday Inn Townsville 16 April, 2016


Every speaker so far today has told you all you need to know about Northern Australia, and its place in the world.

The positive vision and optimism exuded by Ewen Jones was a wonderful theme-setter for this weekend.

I want to say a few words about how far we have come in the development of Northern Australia, and what has been decided that will burst into fruition in the next couple of months.

My I start my few words by paying tribute to many of the people at this conference who have led the charge.

And I start with Warren Entsch who, since his election in 1996 – and even before as a former croc-hunter and servicemen – has understood the potential and the need for development of the north.

Warren’s passion and energy has been shared by Ewen Jones, George Christensen, Andrew Cripps, Jason Costigan, Dale Last as both a councillor and an MP, Robyn and Dennis Quick, Peter Landry, Bryce Macdonald, Dennis Dillon and of course many others.

But then having heard all you need to know from politicians, and very qualified guest speakers, I want to draw on the expertise, vision an plain common sense of those in this room to start planning the next steps.

And to do that we are planning to have some “think tanks” here in the room, and I will come back to that shortly.

The plan to develop the north did not start with the launch of the White Paper a year ago – nor with the launch of out Northern Policies before both the 2010 and 2013 elections for which, as Shadow Minister, I was privileged to have carriage.

It also didn’t start with the Northern land and water taskforce in 2006 – a taskforce led by Senator Bill Heffernan and which involved, along with Warren Entsch and myself, people like Lachlan Murdoch, David Crombie, David Baffsky, Noel Pearson, Terry Underwood, Dr Andrew Johnson from CSIRO and David Farley.

Now that Taskforce, and a complementary Dams taskforce, did much to publicise and make acceptable and feasible the goal of development of Northern Australia.

But it didn’t start there either.

Some say that it started in modern times with the series of Northern Australia Forums which I organised in my first couple of years as Minister for Regional Services. And while that did focus the Federal government bureaucracy on seriously looking at the development of Northern Australia, the pursuit of Northern development policies did not start there either.

And it didn’t even start with my maiden speech in 1990.

 Indeed the development of the north started at various times in the 19th century. And the first recorded scientific study of developing Northern Agriculture that I know of was in a report in 1904 where the same rhetoric, the same language and same vision and optimism was being spoken about.

So what is different this time?

This time there is a Government-adopted plan – the Northern Australia White Paper – which does set out a framework and a pathway to development.

And it comes with real budgeted cash.

And as well as hard cash  there is also the ability for projects to get cheap loans for infrastructure.

And there is a group of genuine politicians who believe in the North, who live in the North and whose background and lifetime has been in the North – and they are all from our side of politics.

And now, in spite of my advocacy over the past twenty years, there is now not just one Minister for Northern Australia in Senator Matt Canavan who is here today, but we also have Josh Frydenberg who is Minister for Northern Australia who sits in the Cabinet. Now Josh is a great speaker and an effective Minister. He is from Melbourne and part of his job to bring the people of Melbourne and Sydney and the other southern areas along with us as we develop Northern Australia: to make sure that they are on-board.

People talk about Northern Australia being the Food Bowl of Asia but I might emphasise that the development of the North is not just about food – important though that is, as Barry O’Sullivan and David Farley so knowledgeably pointed out this morning.

It is much much wider than that.

The Government plan talks about real empowerment of Indigenous communities in the North, and it recognises the absolute necessity of resolving current uncertainty around land tenure and native title.

The plan talks about Australian expertise as one of the few developed countries in the Tropical World – that part of the globe between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer. We have common goals and issues with our tropical neighbours and we are in a position to take a leadership role across the Tropics in areas like Tropical Health, Medicine and Education.

The Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine at JCU is a first step in turning Northern Australia into a hub of medical science in the study and treatment of tropical diseases, and in providing high quality medical services to the new middle classes in Asia, where these services are not currently as readily available.

We also have the $75 million Northern Australia Co-operative Research Centre which will work with industry and research bodies and educators to develop better approached to scientific and industrial development.

And at last, with the recently released Defence White Paper, the nation has again learned the lessons of WWII - and even the Russian-Japanese conflict in 1904 – and re-focused our strategic attention towards the North.

And with increased economic stability and improved infrastructure and a greater emphasis on scientific research and development we can bring increasing numbers of those newer Asian Middle classes to Australia as tourists to our unique natural, and built resources.

So the White paper is a real blueprint of not just what is doable, but also of what is actually being done.

But we cannot rest on our laurels.

And that is where you, in the room today, come in.

Many of you have been part of the process and progress to date. And you have also done a great job so far.

But we have to keep moving forward.

You have been a very good listening audience, but there is no such thing as a free lunch.

We want you to think what we as a federal and state government could realistically do to create a thriving Northern Australia over the next twenty years or so.

Thanks for participating and for sharing with me my passion for the North.

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