Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Bill 2016, Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2016 - Second Reading


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (11:41): It is with some excitement and gratitude that I welcome and support the bill now before the chamber, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Bill 2016. The bill is actually almost a culmination of a dream that I have had for most of my lifetime, and certainly for all of my long term in this parliament, of the sustainable and sensible development of an area I am passionate about: northern Australia. It is an area where I, unlike most others in this chamber, actually live. It is an area where I have had my own investment in small businesses over the years, and it is where I and many of my family and friends live and work.

I think this bill today will be the seal on the government's commitments to the sensible development of northern Australia. I want to congratulate Minister Frydenberg on putting this bill together. It is a very clever bill. As Senator Moore said, it has lots of safeguards in it. It is very, very well put together, and it was very roundly supported by the Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia, which investigated the bill.

I want to pay recognition and thanks to members of the Labor Party who participated in this whole northern Australia approach. Senator Moore's speech this morning, I might say, was a very good one and clearly spelt out and described the parameters of this bill and the part that the joint committee played. I also want to acknowledge Mr Gary Gray, who, over a long period of time, has been a great and sensible supporter of northern Australia.

I want to recognise my only northern Labor Senate colleague, Senator McLucas, who over the years has tried to help, in her own view, northern Australia. Unfortunately, my praise for Senator McLucas was dampened a little when I heard her very ungracious speech earlier on this morning. I guess Senator McLucas, having been dropped from the Labor Party ticket for the next election, is a little bit annoyed that in her time in the Senate she has not been able to convince her party to do the sorts of progressive, forward-looking actions that the coalition has been able to achieve over the last 20 or so years.

As well, I want to recognise the constructive role that Senator Siewert played in that committee. I understand they have amendments which they have announced and which they feel passionate about. But Senator McLucas and the Greens played a very constructive part in the whole investigation into northern Australia, and I appreciate their positive contribution. I disagree with their amendments, obviously enough. I am grateful, though, that Senator McLucas has indicated that she will put her amendments but will not delay the passage of this very important bill.

It is important that the Senate deals with this today and the amendment being moved—effectively to include Carnarvon, which I and many others always thought was included, I might say—as it has to go back to the House of Representatives. It is essential that this be done today so that the bill can take effect from 1 July, as is anticipated.

As I said, I was a little sorry about the approach Senator McLucas took to something which she, as a northerner, should be very excited about—as I am. She took the opportunity to raise the patrol boat construction in Cairns. I cannot let that go without pointing out that it was the Labor Party, while Senator McLucas was in this parliament, which destroyed the shipbuilding industry in Cairns about five or six years ago, when Senator Faulkner was the defence minister. The Labor Party in Queensland and some of them down here effectively ruled that industry out. And for Senator McLucas to use this debate on an exciting new initiative to rehash—wrongly—a debate on shipbuilding in the North is very disappointing.

Success has many fathers, and I hope that when the success of the development of Northern Australia is being spoken about in the annals of history, that I will be able to have some small place in that line of fathers who will claim success for northern Australia. The push to develop northern Australia started as early, really, as the Commonwealth of Australia. I once read a report from a predecessor of the CSIRO that the CSIRO showed me—I think it was from 1904—which had all the same terminology, all the same vision and all the same approaches as we were talking about more than 100 years later. So it has been going on.

I particularly want to acknowledge Labor Prime Minister, John Curtin, who cleverly introduced the zone tax rebate scheme as one initiative to try to develop populations in the more remote parts of Australia which, of course, included most of northern Australia. Senator Smith, my colleague, who is a passionate supporter of the North—particularly the North of the West—mentioned in his speech Sir Robert Menzies's vision for northern Australia. It was a vision that did not only involve words but actually involved funding and the commencement of the Ord River Dam, which many saw as a white elephant but which some tens of years later is actually coming into its own.

The development of northern Australia is something that I mentioned in my maiden speech in this parliament. As the Minister for Regional Services I started a process at government level of a series of northern Australian forums which were planned to be the start of a detailed plan for the development of northern Australia. Unfortunately, when I moved on from that ministry the impetus for northern Australia faltered for a little while and my interests turned a bit south, as Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation. Fisheries and forestry were mainly in the south, but I should mention that in the conservation area of that portfolio we did maintain a very strong and positive interest in northern Australia.

That is where, I should mention, I met the CEO of the Northern Gulf NRM group, which the Howard government had set up. Noelene Ikin, who was the CEO of that group, was a real champion of Northern Australia. She was one who, not having ever been in parliament, probably contributed as much as anyone else to the good things that are going to happen for northern Australia. Noelene would have been the new member for Kennedy had not an horrendous illness overtaken her. But the work that the coalition government does in northern Australia to a large degree has benefited from the contribution by Noelene Ikin.

I also want to mention the Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce and the role that Senator Bill Heffernan played in that. His role in the development of northern Australia should never be underestimated. Those of us who know Senator Heffernan and know his inimitable style also understand his passion for things that he is deeply involved in. Senator Heffernan played a very significant role in that Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce, importantly, by going on the airwaves in Sydney and Melbourne and telling the people—the majority of voters in Australia—just how important the North was and explaining in detail what could be done. That is something that I know the minister, Mr Frydenberg, is continuing to do in those centres of larger population, which we need to take with us when we develop the North of Australia.

In our six years of opposition I was the opposition spokesman on northern Australian development. I developed the election policies we took forward to the 2010 and 2013 elections. But I do also want to acknowledge the very significant and major contribution that Andrew Robb made in putting together the 2013 policy and the white paper that eventuated, and also the then Leader of the Opposition and later Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.

The development of northern Australia took a step further forward in the 2015 budget when Joe Hockey brought forward a number of funding initiatives to support the development of northern Australia. People often say to me, 'Well, you've talked about northern Australia for decades, almost for over a century,' as I mentioned earlier, 'but what is different this time?' What is different this time is that the promises come with money—with money that was budgeted in the 2015 budget and which I am hopeful will be built upon in the budget tomorrow night. I do want to acknowledge the work that Joe Hockey did. Joe was certainly a friend of northern Australia—he had a farm up there, but that was almost irrelevant. He spent a lot of time out in the north-west, and he is dearly loved and recognised for his support for the development of northern Australia.

The launch of the white paper that was promised at the 2013 election happened in June last year in Cairns amongst a large crowd of passionate northern Australians, and it was great to have Tony Abbott, as Prime Minister, and Andrew Robb there to launch that paper. The white paper contains something like 165 promises, 112 of which are for the more immediate future. Mr Abbott, in his good sense in launching that white paper, appointed a committee to oversee its implementation—something a bit new in Australian parliamentary and governance circles—and I was honoured to be appointed chairman of that committee. Those of us who have been around for awhile recognise that commitments are made by governments and money is allocated by governments but other things intervene—ministers get busy, the bureaucracy gets busy, other issues become issues of the day—and it is important to make sure that the bureaucracy in particular, and ministers as well, remain focused on the commitments that have been made and the money that has been allocated. That committee has been working with ministers and the bureaucracy on the promises we have made, to make sure that the moneys we allocated have been spent.

I am delighted to say that of the 112 immediate promises that were made in the white paper just a year ago about half have already been completed or are well in action. I will mention a few of those: the CRC on northern Australia is happening; some of the promised investment forums have been held and have been very significant in attracting foreign investment interest into Australia; the Office of Northern Australia has been set up; the single point of entry has been set up in Darwin; the airstrip upgrade and the regional access program are well underway; the Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine—a $100-plus million initiative contributed to by the Newman Queensland government, this government and James Cook University—is well underway; and the tourism initiative is well underway. I am delighted that a lot of the promises that were made are actually on the way or have been completed. That is a little bit unusual in this place—you get lots of promises at election time, but rarely do you see so many of them actually being put into effect within 12 months of being made.

I am hopeful that the northern Australia white paper's commitment to an additional $600 million for priority roads in northern Australia will be announced before we go into the caretaker mode of government. I am equally hopeful that the $100 million beef roads initiative announced in the northern Australia white paper will have some definitive announcements made in the next few days, and I am particularly keen to hear some of the $500 million allocated for feasibilities and actual construction of water storage and water management projects in northern Australia announced within the next few days. I know that on all of those projects the work has been done, there has been a lot of consultation, there have been a lot of meetings and stakeholders in northern Australia have been fully consulted. Everyone has given the government the benefit of their local knowledge and understanding on these matters, which I am hopeful will be announced very shortly. People out there are expecting them, because it has been a very involving process that has taken with it those people who understand the north and who understand sustainable development.

That brings me back to the bill. I will not go through that in any detail, as other speakers have already done that, but suffice to say that I am again disappointed that a fellow Queensland senator, the previous speaker, could be so negative about Queensland and could so misrepresent the facts. It is not relevant to this bill, but there was a claim that banks have knocked back support for Adani. One bank that has been named is the National Australia Bank. I took that up with them and, as they said, they had never been asked, so they could not have knocked it back. They also indicated that, contrary to media reports promulgated by the Greens political party, they have made no policy decision on not funding coal in this country. The Adani group, a very significant Indian company, will fund that as it gets going—as it will now, thanks to the Queensland Labor government at last approving it—and hopefully work will start very, very shortly.

Whether Adani are interested in applying to the NAIF, I do not know. If they are then they, like everyone else, will be assessed according to the guidelines set down in this bill. As I and other speakers have mentioned previously—and I emphasise that speakers from the other side have mentioned it—this is a bill which will get the right approach and the right assessments. It will independently look at what is good for Australia by developing northern Australia. Some of the money that will be sought for development will no doubt go into sustainable and renewable energy projects; in fact, the Commonwealth government has just announced new funding for a renewable project up my way, near Townsville. That shows that this is a government that can look at all aspects of development which will help our country. I strongly support Adani; I strongly support some of these renewable projects where they are sensible, economic and can turn over a profit without subsidies from the government.

All in all, this is a good bill. It is an initiative of, I think, Mr Hockey's and, as Senator Moore rightly said—perhaps she did not know how accurate she was—when it was first announced the idea was there. Mr Hockey knew it could be done, but the detail of how to do it has taken a lot of work since then. I congratulate him, Mr Morrison and certainly Mr Frydenberg, who have put a lot of effort and a lot of work into getting this bill to the place it is. It will mean a wonderful boost to Australia.

I again say to Senator Waters that she seems to think that everyone who might be involved in any part of the development of northern Australia is a rabid destructor of all that is good about Australia, but most Australians understand our environment and where we live. Nearly everyone I know in Australia is keen to make sure development happens in a sustainable, proper way, and I am sure the people who will be appointed to that board will fill that description and we will get very sensible and forward-looking decisions from the board.

It is a wonderful bill before the Senate, as I said at the beginning. I am very excited to support this and I support it with gratitude to my country that we are taking this step that will mean real progress in the development of the place in Australia that I love the most.

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