Thanks very much and thanks children.
Look Alf this is a wonderful conference but I think Greg must have learnt a bit from the wonderful conference we had on Palm Island last year and you deserve all congratulations for that.
Can I recognise the new chairman Liz Schmidt an old mate of mine and also to all the Mayors and Councillors here. Particularly but can I recognise Greg Hoffman. Now I was a councillor when Greg first started the LGAQ and I suspect of all those in the room I have known Greg longer than most. So I can attest to the considerable contribution that Greg has made to local Government in Queensland over the past couple of decades. Congratulations Greg! I am sorry to hear you are going but I wish you well into the future.
Can I also recognise your local Mayor, Greg Campbell, new to the job but running a wonderful town here in Cloncurry.
It’s always a pleasure for me to be in Cloncurry, the birthplace of both my Mother and of my Father and his Father who my family claim was the first white child born at the Cloncurry Hospital. This particular venue has a family omnipresent for me as, although I never met my grandfather, he had the saddler’s shop directly opposite this place and, according to the plaque on the old Council Chambers, served 3 years as an elected councillor on the Cloncurry Shire Council. So I love coming back to Cloncurry.
Perhaps his previous activities in local government has led me some 40 years later albeit to serving an 11 year term on the Burdekin Shire Council as an elected Councillor and maybe that qualified me to be the Federal Minister for Local Government for 3 years during which time John Howard and I implemented the Roads to Recovery Programme – and, if I be remembered for nothing else, it should be for introducing that legislation into the Federal Parliament.
Many of you attended the recent Australian Local Government Association Conference in Canberra, in the weeks before the Federal Election and would have heard my speech at the traditional LGAQ Breakfast that we have during the Australian Local Government Association Annual Conference.
It was an honour to be asked to speak – although I suspected it was because in the 2 weeks prior to the Election no other more important coalition figure was available.
But it was an honour for me because when these breakfasts first started in the last century, it was an initiative of the LGAQ then which I as either the Minister for Local Government or the Shadow Minister for Local Government, and it is so long ago that I can’t remember which, first initiated, now run annually by the LGAQ now run at the Annual Conference.
So rather than bore you with the same speech, I thought I would earn thunderous applause by simply giving you my website address which contains that speech http://www.senatormacdonald.org/news3.php?newsid=481 and then sit down. That would probably be the most exquisitely timed speech you’ve ever had at any Conference you’ve attended.
However, being a politician I’m not going to do that.
I will touch on a couple of the matters that I mentioned there, a couple of matters relating to the subject of this sessionImproving Innovation and Infrastructure and a couple of matters relating to the recent Federal Election which as elected local politicians yourselves, I’m sure you would have at least a passing interest in.
Let me start with the latter.
Despite some indecision in the commentarial immediately following the 2nd July, it is now clear that the Coalition will again form the government of our nation. At the time of speaking I’m not sure what the Senate will look like, in fact I’m not sure if I have been elected. But quite frankly, no one can say with any great confidence what the composition of the Senate will be.
Whilst I expect that because of my position on my Party’s ticket, I will be elected, my election is not yet confirmed. However what seems certain in the Senate is that it will be an interesting place to be in the next three years but I suspect that it will be more manageable than the last Senate even although it looks likely that the Government numbers in the Senate will drop by at least 4, regrettably 1of those is from Queensland. But, I emphasise, that is all speculation and once preferences are allocated in what is a completely new and untried system, anything could happen.
And while the Government has been returned, quite an exceptional result for my Party in my home State of Queensland, I am somewhat disappointed as a northerner that Darwin will no longer be represented by a Government Member and that, as of today, the result in the Townsville based seat of Herbert is, is frankly, anyone’s guess. There are a number of irregularities in relation to that poll which may delay the final outcome for some time.
Having spent the last 3 ½ weeks, when I expected to be taking a short break, counting some 96,000 votes 7 separate times , I have become an expert on the handwriting styles of voters and intend to urge that our schools start teaching people how to clearly write the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9, as you would be surprised how many of that 96,000 voters cannot do that.
As you know, our Government went to the election with the unique policy programme for northern Australia detailed in theNorthern Australian Development White Paper which was something I, Andrew Robb and other of my colleagues developed over the previous 3 and 6 years. It is a blueprint for the development of the north.
The commitments the Coalition made at the election have been confirmed as recently as Tuesday during the Prime Minister’s visit to Townsville when he met with the Townsville City Council to start the ball rolling on the City Deals promise we had made which we hope will incorporate a new Stadium as part of a CBD redevelopment of the north’s largest and arguably most prominent northern city. Townsville is, of course, as you well know, the major general purpose Port in the north with plans for increasing live cattle and coal exports to join sugar and general freight coming in and out of the Port. It is, of course, currently the gateway for the north-west mineral province.
The Prime Minister indicated to me in Townsville on Tuesday, in a private conversation which I probably be repeating, that he thought all of the cities in north Queensland should be part of the City Deals initiative so that would cover Gladstone, Rockhampton, Mackay, Townsville and Cairns and there is no reason why the City of Mount Isa shouldn’t be included in that city deals program.
But our commitment to the cities in the north is not the end of the story as some of our bigger infrastructure and innovation projects which I’ll mention shortly recognise the enormous contribution the non-city areas of the north play to the wealth of our nation.
I don’t want to introduce politics to this Meeting of North Queensland Local Governments as I appreciate that, with a few exceptions, you are all Apolitical but I must say that I am disappointed with the result in both Herbert and Kennedy and should it should it transpire that neither is represented by a Government Parliamentarian then that will make the job of continuing the development of northern Australian just that little bit more intensive for those of us who remain, particularly myself who, because of my location in Townsville and my regular duties in the west, means that increasingly the liaison point between the North and the Commonwealth Government in Canberra will be through my office as roll out our plans for the North and election commitments.
With no disrespect for the current Member for Kennedy, I can say that the high expectations I had for government representation in this vast north-western area of Queensland, following the 2013 election where a wonderful little girl and one time Etheridge Shire Councillor, Noeline Ikin led the primary vote by some 10,500 votes and her inability to be our Candidate again shattered what I think could have been a very, very bright future for the north-west. I will certainly not be able to do the work Noeline would have done because of my other commitments as a Senator for the whole of Queensland but I will certainly try.
This Session is entitled Innovation and Infrastructure and without re-hashing the Party’s election promises, can I simply say that the $6 billion worth of commitments for infrastructure and other development in the north will continue with increased spending on roads, for example the Hann Highway, the Townsville Eastern Rail Corridor project, the investigation of the Mount Isa to Tennant Creek Railway, Beef Roads, City Deals in the north to name just a few. And clearly, whilst there has been no dam building activity in Australia for more than 2 decades, I am confident that the feasibility studies which we announced during the election period committed to by the Government will come to fruition and will mean that, provided we can get co-operation of the State Government, and I might say that’s not completely assured, we will again see some Dam building and water storage facilities in the north where of course we all know the bulk of rainfall in Australia actually falls.
Again, I don’t want to be political but I do always want to ensure that there is no misunderstanding as to the facts. The current Queensland government and Jarrod also mentioned this, is in place because of the Greens Political Party. The Greens Political Party does not like dams, and never has, and it will be a test of the resolve of the Queensland Government which controls rivers and streams within the State as to whether the Coalitions Governments initiatives for water storage in the north can be implemented. Some people may scoff, but I speak only of the reality.
In relation to Innovation, this is the signature of the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull.
He understands innovation, he has a fine sense of how, for Australia to continue to hold its place in the world it will need to encourage, and more importantly, to action the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship that has been the hallmark of Australia success since its settlement by Europeans.
The NBN and communications continue to roll out, an area of policy which I understand is so essential in north Queensland because of its distance we are from the Queensland capital and the National capital and our proximity to Asia which requires us to be able to connect quickly and directly with those places. The fibre optic cable from Burketown to Doomadgee which you’ll hear more about later in your conference is one example of the Federal Government’s commitment to this policy of better communications in remote areas. And I continue to hope that the new generation satellites will provide the sort of service city people accept as normal, once the satellites are in place and operating effectively as I have been assured they will.
But I did want to do, just briefly, is touch on a few of the matters which I know are important to you.
I know how passionate you have all been about the NDRRA council day labour issue particularly the rural and remote Councils, and I have to say that I and one or two others of my colleagues, have also been equally passionate because we understand that particularly the smaller rural Councils rely on their Council workforces for their towns to continue. I’m pleased to say that battle has been fought, and I believe, won.
Secondly we understand your support for our betterment and resilience programme but I understand that whilst you’re very keen on that, you don’t want that to be at the cost of the normal recovery funding.
You’ve had the Minister’s assurance, of extensive consultation in developing the ‘up front’ assessment model for recovery funding. It is essential that as we go into that new phase that Councils are totally consulted and actually listened to and, I want to make my commitment to make sure that the Ministers and the Government fully understand and actually listen to the local government issue on that ‘up front’ assessment model.
I’m led to believe that the resolution is at hand for the Council machinery use at realistic and fair costings, that issue that has been so big in recent months. The way it is going, or was for a little while, just didn’t make sense and I think, and I believe that resolution is at hand.
Many councils, and many in this room have complained, rightly about the suspension of the FAG’s indexation. We had a difficult few decisions to make when we came to government and local government, State government and indeed many Federal government programmes were suspended or cut to try and address the budget crisis, we have to live within our means. I know that was an unpopular decision, the suspension of the indexation, and I understand that, but it was essential and everyone in Australia had to play their part in our debt reduction program. I’m pleased to note the suspension of the FAG’s indexation will be lifted in 2017.
I am pleased to say that the Roads to Recovery funding was substantially increased with an extra $400 million making a total of $3.6 billion through to 2019/20. This initiative, which was new in the year 2000 when I was Local Government Minister was significant in that the money went directly from the Federal Government to Local Government, where it was best used, bypassing the State, as you all know better than I always will take their cut and I know from driving around just about every road in Queensland, that that money has been well used by Councils throughout our State. We have substantially increased funding over the current period of time and, ladies and gentlemen, this is on top of increases in the black spot funding, the heavy vehicle safety and productivity programme and the bridges renewal programme which I know many Councils are very, very keen on and which are a wonderful addition to the funding for the work that I know Councils have to do.
If time permits I am happy to answer any questions you may have and certainly to pass on to the relevant Ministers any suggestions you may have that will help your communities progress as you would want in the exciting future ahead of us
Can I conclude by saying as one of Queensland’s 12 Senators but, regrettably since the last election, the only Senator based in the north these days, I pledge to continue to work with you as I have for the past 26 years to turn the aspirations we’ve all had into reality. And I want you to treat me as one of your staff; I want you to treat me as someone you can click your fingers and I will come running. I want to be there at your beck and call. Because I have to tell you unlike most other politicians, I am not in this business for personal agenda, I am a proud and loyal member of my political party and the Government but I am beholden to no one and seek no personal advancement in the games that are often played in Canberra. I am here solely for your benefit and the benefit of the people of the North. And I am able to and will stand up to my own government where I believe your interests are not being properly addressed. Whilst I have no executive position in the Federal Government, the fact is that I do have a corporate knowledge and to that you can read I know where the bodies are buried and that because I am now the longest serving parliamentarian in the Federal parliament in both house, so that does give me a little bit of influence in times when it is need.
So again its lovely to be here with you all, you have all become good friends of mine over many years, I still vaguely remember the first NLGA conference I went to, it was at the golf club in Georgetown and it’s been a long connection with me. So thank you very much for your friendship and ongoing support, remember anything you think of that I can help with, please don’t hesitate to contact me and I will do what I can.
Thanks a lot.