Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (12:45): On 11 September 1990, I said in my first speech to this chamber:
The future of our nation lies in north Queensland and northern Australia—an area of enormous diversity …
I also said in that speech that:
Northern Australia is, after all, the area which, with only 6.5 per cent of Australia's population, produces 45 per cent of Australia's export income.
I was very keen at that time, as I have been during the whole of my relatively long public career, to advance and develop northern Australia. I'm very pleased to say that over those years we have succeeded far beyond the expectations I had all those years ago. I did say at that time as well, in my first speech:
As one of only two of Queensland's 12 senators resident in north Queensland, my role in the Senate will be to concentrate on north Queensland and on northern Australia.
That situation unfortunately hasn't improved. At the moment, I am the only senator representing the north of my state of Queensland, and I will be fighting hard to ensure that after the next election I am still there as a genuine northerner representing the people of the whole of Queensland, but with particular emphasis on Northern Queensland because, dare I say it, nearly all of the other of the 12 senators in Queensland reside in the south-east corner of the state. I expect that at the next election I will be the only senator from northern Australia, the only person from northern Australia with a chance of winning that is a genuine North Queenslander.
We have achieved much to highlight the opportunities and the resources in northern Australia and North Queensland. Whilst it has been a passion of mine, you don't achieve things entirely by yourself, and I want to acknowledge the help that so many people have given over such a long time to the work of developing northern Australia. They include various groups, various organisations and a lot of councils in the north, people who've put their hearts and souls into achieving success in northern Australia. I will, in this speech, just highlight some of those successes. But, in doing that, I do want to acknowledge some people who have supported me so much in my goal to promote northern Australia, and that was from my first staffers, Xenia, Guy and Leanne, to my current staffers, Marie, James, Matthew, Michael, Isaac, Morganne, Lorraine, Sharyn and Peter—many of those are part-timers or volunteers, I might add—and of course my wife, Lesley, who has been at my side all of the time in the work that I've done for northern Australia.
Perhaps one of the most significant things that happened for northern Australia was the development of the northern Australia white paper, which I had worked on, as had many other people, for a long period of time. I do want to pay recognition to the then Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott for his encouragement and his understanding of the importance of the north and, dare I say also, his then Chief of Staff, Ms Credlin, who was very helpful in getting that forward as an opposition policy. That northern development white paper was eventually launched in 2015. Since then, the government has acted in a very exact way and a very precise way and a very practical way to assist with the development of northern Australia.
I want to go through some of those successes achieved by the northern development white paper. I want to also acknowledge the government's acceptance, as recently as this time last week, of a proposal that I have long been fighting for. I remember talking to Peter Costello as Treasurer about this for many years and being rebuffed at every turn. But this time last week, the Treasurer, Mr Frydenberg, with the Prime Minister's support, announced that there would be a Productivity Commission review of the zone council rebate scheme, a scheme which, if it were brought up to date, would mean so much for those who live in and develop northern Australia and other remote parts of Australia where the cost of living is so exorbitant that it makes it difficult for these people to continue to exist.
The northern Australia white paper has resulted in many, many hundreds of millions of dollars going into the further development of the north, encouraging private enterprise into those areas, including $100 million allocated to the North Australian Beef Roads Program and $600 million to the Northern Australia Roads Program. I will mention the northern Australia water feasibility studies. The federal government can't build dams unless states agree, but we can do studies that will encourage state governments to act upon those feasibility studies and to build dams that are so important to northern Australia. Over $25 million has been spent on work towards feasibility studies for activities in northern Australia. The CSIRO recently completed a $15 million water feasibility assessment.
The Northern Australian Infrastructure Fund provides some $5 billion to private industry, to governments, to local governments and to agencies. If they are prepared to invest in the north, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund will provide very easy repayment terms and low-interest loans for that. I'm delighted that the NAIF has already supported the Kidston Pumped Hydro, the Onslow Marine Support Base, Humpty Doo Barramundi, James Cook University, the Pinjarra Road upgrade, Sheffield Resources and Northern Territory Airport—just to name a few. As well, the government has set up the Cooperative Research Centre for Northern Australia and that has already issued almost $3 million worth of support for research into activities which will help northern Australia, including smart supply chains, North Queensland agricultural supply chains, exporting perishable commodities to Asia, the Kakadu Plum value chain, eye-screening services, horticultural evaluation, Indigenous land use and bush products—the list goes on.
In addition, there has been so much other support the government has given which will benefit northern Australia, not the least of which is, of course, the increased spending on defence, particularly for Australia's largest Army base at Lavarack in Townsville, HMAS Cairns, the second-largest east coast naval base, and significant Air Force bases in the north. The Singapore deal with Singaporean troops is another step forward which will help in the development of northern Australia and in the support of our international defence arrangements.
Time won't allow me to go through this long list of achievements that the northern Australia white paper has achieved, suffice it to mention that there are many, including: regional employment trials, rural pharmacy maintenance, payment schemes for air services, research and development programs for reef restoration and adaptations, and solar voltaic cells. Across the board, just so many of these things will happen.
I conclude by thanking all of those who have had the faith that I've had in northern Australia and who have supported me and the government so strongly in getting these advancements and investments that will see northern Australia. As I said in my first speech, the future of our nation lies in North Queensland and northern Australia