STATEMENTS BY SENATORS - Northern Australia


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (13:13): I'm pleased to tell the Senate that I come with a good-news story. I and my colleague from the Northern Territory here live in a part of the world where there is a lot of optimism, a lot of movement forward; not the sort of negativity you just heard from a senator from South Australia. One can only note in passing that a Greens senator from South Australia was part of what I assume was the Labor government which managed South Australia for so many years and did such an awful job. It always amuses me that the Greens political party, who are in coalition with the Labor Party, criticise their state religiously. I and my colleagues in the north have a far more positive outlook on life and we look forward to opportunities for the future.

Back in the dark days when the Liberal-National parties were in opposition, we sat down to develop a white paper about the development of northern Australia as a whole. For this, I pay credit to the then Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, who had an understanding and an appreciation of what the north could offer. Mr Abbott, although Sydney based himself, had been in the north quite a lot because of his great support for Indigenous people and the way he genuinely interacted with them—without the TV cameras following along, I might say. In Tony Abbott, we had a Leader of the Opposition at the time who was very keen on developing northern Australia, on moving forward the great opportunities and great resources that there are in the north.

Over many months, with the very substantial assistance of Mr Andrew Robb, who was then a senior shadow minister with good contacts around, we developed a northern Australia white paper, which was released by Mr Abbott in Cairns in June 2015, if I recall correctly. It was a blueprint that set out how northern Australia could be developed and how the federal government could play a part in facilitating that development. Since that time, the white paper has been pursued. One of the great results of the white paper was that, for the first time, we had a minister for northern Australia. It was originally Mr Frydenberg, who I'm delighted to see is now the Treasurer. I expect that, as Treasurer, he will remember his advocacy and his passion for the development of northern Australia.

We also set up the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, a $5 billion fund that can be used to provide low-interest, easy-repayment terms to private companies and government instruments that want to develop the north. The establishment of NAIF, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, has been a wonderful step forward. Unfortunately, politics got a bit in the way of that proposal. The Queensland Labor government, who have a lot of projects that would benefit from NAIF funding, made a political decision not to involve themselves with NAIF. Why? It is because, from the point of view of the Queensland Labor government—a very narrow view, I might say—if it's something that the Liberal-National Party federal government has done they say, 'We don't want to do anything that makes it looks like it's successful, so we'll go out of our way to destroy it and not to take part in it.' The classic example is the Adani railway line, which would have benefited from NAIF money. I'm pleased to say that, just last week, Adani announced they're going ahead anyhow. It would have benefited from NAIF money, but the Queensland Labor government and Mr Shorten undermined that to the extent where Adani withdrew any approaches they might have made to NAIF.

The Northern Territory government do not have that philosophically stupid and narrow political approach. They have been great supporters of NAIF, because they understand there's some money there that can help develop the Northern Territory. I'm delighted that one of the early NAIF loans has been to Humpty Doo Barramundi, a farm in the Northern Territory and a great private company. I'm sure my colleague from the Northern Territory knows a lot about that farm. It's going gangbusters, so to speak, and the NAIF funding will certainly help expand that wonderful operation. The Western Australian Labor government also had no such scruples. They supported the Onslow Marine Support Base, which was another early project of NAIF. James Cook University, in my home town of Townsville, has been the recipient of a substantial grant—a $98 million loan—to establish a technology innovation complex at their campus in Townsville, which they see as having great capability for the future, and there are other projects that NAIF are involved in.

Some people say, 'There's all this hoo-ha about a northern Australia white paper, but nothing's happened.' Of course, the people who say that are entirely ignorant. One of the initiatives in the northern Australia white paper was the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia. That was set up by the government and headquartered in Townsville. The CRC provides assistance for research into different matters that will help develop northern Australia. They have recently announced a large number of research projects in the north that will benefit from joint funding with the Cooperative Research Centre for the development of northern Australia.

One of the great initiatives in the white paper was to, for the first time, look at roads that need to be built in northern Australia and then devise a way that they could be built. There has been an enormous amount of activity in that area. I will just mention some because I've only got two minutes left and I couldn't mention them all in that time: the Richmond to Winton road progressive sealing is proceeding; the Richmond to Croydon road is proceeding; the Burke Developmental Road between Chillagoe and Almaden is proceeding; the Ootann Road upgrade between Almaden and the Kennedy Highway is proceeding; the Rockhampton Road Network is going ahead; the Gregory Development Road is being funded through the northern Australia white paper; there is the Great Northern Highway upgrade between the Ord River and Turkey Creek in Western Australia; the Barkly Stock Route upgrade; the Tablelands Highway; and so it goes on.

Under another program of the white paper, the northern Australia roads of priority, there is the Flinders Highway from Townsville to Torrens Creek; the Landsborough Highway from Longreach to Winton; the Barkly Highway from Cloncurry to Mount Isa; the Capricorn Highway—excuse me, I’m mentioning the Queensland roads first because I am a Queensland senator—at Rockhampton; the Bowen Development Road; the Peak Downs Highway; the Great Northern Highway; the Marble Bar Road in Western Australia; the Broome to Cape Leveque road; the Plenty Highway; the Tjukaruru Road upgrade—I know I have my pronunciation wrong, but my Northern Territory colleague will know the road I'm talking about; the Buntine Highway; the Arnhem Highway's Adelaide River Floodplain upgrade; and the upgrade of the Keep River Plains Road. These are all actually happening as we speak. The northern development white paper is actually working as we go.

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