Ministerial Statements - Northern Australia


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (18:25): I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I congratulate Senator Canavan on a wonderful statement and a wonderful job in advancing the interests of the development of northern Australia since he has been appointed the minister. It is not an easy portfolio, and there are a lot of people watching with keen interest. Senator Canavan, I have to say that you have done a wonderful job and made a wonderful start on the ongoing development of the North. I also pay tribute to Mr Andrew Robb, who was very much instrumental in the formulation of the white paper, and also the previous minister for northern Australia, Mr Josh Frydenberg, who took the white paper from its inception to a very good start.

As I have said for as long as I have been in this chamber, northern Australia has only five per cent of Australia's population, but it produces something like 50 per cent of its export earnings. As Senator Canavan has said, northern Australia has always punched well above its weight when it comes to the economic interests of Australia. The further development of northern Australia is not just about northern Australians; it is about all Australians and it is about making sure that the potential of the north is captured and turned into benefit for every single Australian. Senator Canavan mentioned at some length in his statement some of the advances that have been made.

A small government committee which I chair, made up of all the northern Australia members and senators, has been part of an oversight committee which keeps an eye on what is proposed in the white paper and on what action happens. The oversight committee's assessment is that, of the over 102 significant commitments made in the white paper a year ago, some 19 have already been completed—and I understand from the minister that may now be 21. Further, 51 of the 102 commitments in the white paper are in progress or pending; 30 of them have not yet been actioned; and two of them, of a relatively minor nature, have been abandoned. That is a pretty good start, after just one year, on a major white paper on the development of the North.

I want to pay tribute to all of the ministers and departments involved. While Senator Canavan is the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, there are many other ministers and departments who have jobs to do in relation to the white paper. Indeed, there are 16 different federal government ministers who have a role and whose responsibilities are mentioned in the white paper. They and their departments have acted enthusiastically in conjunction to play their part in implementing the significant interests of the white paper.

Senator Canavan rightly referred to the connection between northern Australia and Asia. We expect up to 50 per cent of the world's population will be living between the tropics in the not too distant future. Over a third of the world's middle classes are living in that tropical area. That gives great opportunity for Australia to be a world leader on what can be done in the tropics in so many areas, particularly in the area of health.

I am very proud that last Friday I, together with the Premier of Queensland, officially opened the Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine at James Cook University in Townsville. The universities will play a very big role in the development of northern Australia. JCU, who I have just mentioned, are even more advantaged in that they are the one Australian university, indeed the one foreign university, with an accredited university on the island nation of Singapore. With the Singapore defence deal to be, I hope and assume, announced tomorrow when the Prime Minister of Singapore is here, it will bring an even greater connection between northern Australia, and Townsville in particular, and Asia—and, so far as the defence deal is concerned, Singapore.

Senator Canavan also mentioned some other highlight achievements of the government in the white paper. The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility is a wonderful facility which will provide cheap loans for those wishing to develop the north. It will be a wonderful initiative for further investment and further developments in the north.

Senator Canavan mentioned water, which is so very essential to the north. I am delighted that a number of the projects that were committed to have received funding. We only need the relevant state governments—who control rivers, streams and water—to get on board. We also need to make sure that the money that the Commonwealth has made available is able to be used to develop water storage facilities in northern Australia, which are so very essential.

The Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia—Mr Pyne's department—is underway with a $75 million non-competitive investment there. Even the Bruce Highway in the north is benefitting from the investment of the government there.

This white paper is not a one-year document. It is a five-, 10-, 30-year document, so it will be a long time in its full implementation. As I said, Senator Canavan and his fellow ministers have made a very good start in the implementation of those commitments, but this white paper is only the start of the further development of the north. All of us who live in the north, and those of us in parliament who come from the north, will be keen to work with the minister and with the government not only to implement the white paper but to look further beyond the white paper and always keep in mind the additional areas that have to be developed.

Senator Canavan mentioned the city deals project. To some in Townsville that would read 'stadium', but it is more than a stadium, it is a whole new concept of all levels of government working together to make particular cities better places to live. I am very pleased and excited about that.

Many of the commitments are underway and some have been completed. We have been a bit slow on some things and some things are very, very difficult. One of the real problems holding up development of the north is the land title situation—who owns what and what sort of tenure you have in land titles. The white paper had a lot of comment about Indigenous lands and Indigenous people. Some of the benefits for Indigenous people are underway and are being actioned, as the minister mentioned in his statement. The issue of land titles is a very, very complex one and certainly will not be fixed in a 20-minute speech nor in the immediate future. But it is something that, for everybody's benefit, really needs to be addressed. If we can address the issues of who owns what and what land is available then you will see a huge explosion, an even bigger explosion, in development projects in the north.

It is a wonderful start. Congratulations to the minister, to all of the ministers involved and to all of the departments involved in this white paper. It is a great initiative for Australia. It is something that will benefit all Australians.

I will conclude by saying that I look forward to the day when I say that it is not five per cent of Australia's population producing 50 per cent of its export earnings but something like 20 per cent of Australia's population producing something like 80 per cent of its export earnings. I think both figures are possible and doable, and I look forward to that day.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Macdonald. I note that you sought leave. I did not see Senator Moore. She popped up before you.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I want to seek leave to continue my remarks.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Yes, I know you want to do that. I want to go to Senator Moore, with the indulgence of the Senate, seeing as I missed her when she stood.

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