Thanks very Patrick (Cr Patrick Hill, Chairman of the Outback Way Council) I appreciate your offer to say a few words and thank you for having me with you today.
First of all can I again congratulate you and all of the team here today on what you have achieved for the Outback Way. You often don’t appreciate this but can I tell you frankly that you’ve got a lot more Commonwealth funding for the Outback Way than many ever thought would happen. And this has only been achieved by the constant good work of you all, your Councils and, of course, Helen Lewis your wonderful CEO.
I have spoken at these Council meetings on a number of occasions and you’ve probably all heard what I am going to say before. There is not a lot new in what I can tell you.
There are however 4 themes that I have mentioned before and that I will briefly touch on again.
First of all in me you have an undying supporter in what you do. I do recognise the importance of the Outback Way servicing communities along its path and providing access that, to a degree, ensures the longevity of those communities. Without good access those communities could well fade and die away.
I always understand the tourism aspect of the road and how tourism is the industry that again will be important in the local economy along the way into the future.
I understand as well the defence and transport imperatives of the road. As more and more cattle and goods move across Australia, this route will become increasingly important.
My commitment extends to Parliament as you know that I co-convene the Parliamentary Friends of the Outback Way Group and we are always delighted to host you when you come to Parliament House.
The second thing I always say at these meetings, and I know you have all heard it before, but you are going to get it again, in a shortened and perhaps more colourful language and that is how I first became involved with the Outback Way.
At the time I was Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government and I had attended the ALGA conference in Canberra and had been to the presentation by the Outback Way supporters. That night was the normal ALGA dinner which I attended and after the dinner I, and a couple of my staff, associated with those in the room that seemed to have more in common with me that is those who were having a good time when drinking lots of grog. They happened to be a couple of Western Australians and when the function finished and everyone was very very happy these people invited me up to their dodgy hotel room in one of the back streets of Canberra where the party continued on to 3 o’clock in the morning. I remember at about the time it came time to leave these people said who we were with said they had to go because they had to be a little bit sober to meet some toffee nosed Minister who they hoped would give them some money tomorrow and we all had a good laugh about that. Dutifully the next morning at 10 o’clock this bedraggled crew of Councillors turned up at my front door and came in to embarrassingly plead their case and the rest is history.
The third thing that I always mention at these meetings is that I am one of the few politicians who have done the whole Outback Way, indeed the trip from Cairns to Perth across the centre. I did that about 15 years ago and it took about 7 days but even then the Docker River Road was the worst part of it and I understand from Patrick that nothing’s changed.
And finally when I speak at these meetings my message continues, and that is, keep at what you’re doing, don’t expect miracles, understand the reality of Government funding and the challenges that all levels of Government face. I remember telling you on that very first meeting when you wanted $800 million tomorrow to immediately seal the whole road, that that wouldn’t happen. That you needed to lobby bit by bit from various Governments and that by the time I left Parliament you would have the road completed. And I think you are still on track for that goal.
So you probably all heard that before.
But two things have changed which might be of interest to you.
During my road trip that preceded my attendance here, I did meet with the Hughenden and Etheridge Councils and actually drove the Hann Highway to support and promote that road building exercise. The Hann Highway was actually mentioned in the Northern Australia White Paper and it will happen and with the sealing of the Hann Highway it will mean adventure tourists, Germans and North Americans who flock into Cairns will have an easier and more direct route to get from Cairns through Hughenden andto Winton and onto the Outback Way to Perth. I am not sure that this group focuses enough on the importance of the Hann Highway to your project. As well, I’ve driven from Croydon to Richmond along what John Wharton wants to be one of the recipients of Beef Road Funding announced in the White Paper. That road, I think, will happen as well and it will give people coming from the west along the Outback Way the option of reaching Winton and going either to Townsville, Cairns or Karumba.
The other new element as we spoke earlier about, is, of course, the Northern Australia White Paper. As you know all of the Northern Territory is classed as Northern Australia and so whilst there’s not a lot of the road in Western Australia a substantial part of the Outback Way is in what’s known as Northern Australia and will benefit from funding under the Northern Australia White Paper. In fact the Outback Way was specifically mentioned in the White Paper.
We also spoke earlier in the meeting about changes in Canberra in the last fortnight and I repeat that the appointment of a specific Minister for Northern Australia can only be good news for the north. Whilst the new Minister is from inner city Melbourne and some people find that strange, I always emphasise that in a Federal Parliament of 250 Members only 14 represent Northern Australia. Accordingly, to make the development of Northern Australia happen we have to take the people of Sydney and Melbourne with us and the new Minister will have that as one of his priorities. Josh Frydenberg is young, enthusiastic, intelligent and a very good communicator and one of his major roles will be to explain the benefits of Northern Australia development to the majority of Australians who live in the South East of our Country. I know Josh is keen to get up this way as soon as he can and as soon as I arrange it I will have him meet with the Friends of the Outback Way Group in Canberra. Perhaps next time some of you are in Canberra we can arrange for that.
But again, thank you for having me with you and all the very best for your continued advocacy for this very important asset for our Nation