BILLS - Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021 - Second Reading

 It's a great privilege to follow the Greens 'senator for northern Australia', Senator Rice, from inner-city Melbourne. It's an even better honour, though, to confirm the continuation of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility. This facility was set up six years ago by the government for an initial five-year period. When this bill, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021, passes, we will extend that period for another five years. What is important about that is that it shows that the government—indeed, the Australian parliament—is in the north for the long haul.

We have great opportunities to develop northern Australia for the benefit of Australia, and it is going to take a long time. It was right and proper to set up a new and innovative facility like this for a limited time at first to see how it went. But it's great to see that it will continue its life, I believe, with the support of this chamber because to build the north we'll need to be there for the long haul. We need to work at this over many years, decades even, to really accomplish the creation of opportunities in and the potential of northern Australia. The NAIF, the Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility, is being extended through this bill because it is working. It is delivering major projects that are creating jobs right across northern Australia and benefitting the whole country. It now has made nearly $3 billion worth of investments around the country.

Last week I saw firsthand the impact of these investments. I was at Beef Australia 2021, beef week, in Rockhampton, and there a company called Signature Beef had a stall run by Blair and Josie Angus. Signature Beef is a great Australian company. They are in the process of building a new meatworks near Moranbah in Central Queensland. It'll be one of the first meatworks opened in this country for decades and it will be smack bang in cattle country in the Fitzroy Basin. There are more cattle in the Fitzroy than in the whole of the Northern Territory. It will be a fantastic opportunity for graziers right through central and northern Queensland to have an alternative for their product to be processed, especially in a way that keeps their ownership of the product. They want to set up a facility that will do what are called 'service kills' to allow graziers to process and sell their own beef with their own brand on it when it comes out the other end. It is a great project. They had a video of the building being funded by the NAIF. It's almost complete; without holding them to it, it should be opened in August this year, and then 80 people will have a job at that facility in Central Queensland, giving an alternative opportunity for people to find work.

There's also the Kidston hydro project, which in the last couple of months has reached financial close. It's been a long process to get there, but that's a massively innovative project, costing almost $1 billion and creating hundreds of jobs in North Queensland. They are using an old gold mine to install a pumped hydro project which will help back up energy in North Queensland, a massive project also creating jobs and lower energy prices for North Queensland. There are other projects as well. Metro Mining is doing bauxite in Cape York. It will have substantial benefits for Indigenous Australians with employment in a mining industry there on the cape. One of the projects I'm most proud of, as a former northern Australia minister who ticked off on this, was the loan the NAIF has made to the Australian Aboriginal Mining Corporation. They are currently constructing Australia's first Aboriginal owned iron ore mine. It's a great outcome for our nation to see Indigenous Australians not just getting a job in the mining sector but also owning the mine itself: taking the business decisions, taking the risks, hopefully making the profits. Certainly, if the iron ore price stays where it is, they'll have no problem there. But they're making a go of it on their own land in their own country and building something for the long term for their peoples. That has been facilitated and come about thanks to the NAIF.

There's also the Kalium Lakes project providing the first production of phosphate products in a long time in Australia. It's producing a fertiliser that will help farmers to increase our food security, so we're not relying on imports. In the Northern Territory there have been fantastic projects at Humpty Doo. I think a barramundi farm there is going back for a second NAIF loan after the first one expanded its barramundi output. In Darwin itself there have been NAIF loans to expand the great port of Darwin, especially to help maintain more of our naval fleet in northern Australia. Further south in the Northern Territory there's been the investment in another Aboriginal corporation, Voyagers, to upgrade the airport near Ayers Rock, at Yulara, a fantastic initiative that will help attract tourists and grow their business. All these investments are making sense. They are creating jobs, they are building our nation and that is why it's important to extend the Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility, so we can keep doing more of those things in the future.

The reason we should invest in northern Australia is not just for the people of northern Australia. Around six per cent of Australians, or just over a million Australians, live in northern Australia. Of course, it's important that they're looked after. They deserve to have money spent on nation-building initiatives in their part of the country. Just as we built the Murray-Darling, the Snowy scheme and the Kalgoorlie-Perth pipeline, we should also seek to have nation-building initiatives in northern Australia. It's important for those people, but it's also important for our nation, because the economic output of those six per cent of Australians—the just over a million Australians who live in northern Australia—represents around 12 per cent of our nation's output. So they punch above their weight. They actually produce double per person in terms of economic output than the average around Australia. That is because northern Australia is home to our nation's biggest exports. It is where more than half of our exports originate from.

More than half of the boats that leave our shores, making us money so that we can afford the things that we spent money on in the budget the other night, leave from northern Australia. Big iron ore vessels filled with red rocks from Western Australia help pay for public services. Those boats leave with lots of black rocks from Central Queensland, where I'm from, with the coal that helps us to pay the bills, making us the great nation that we are. Increasingly, big refrigerated boats that carry liquefied gas are helping to pay the bills for this nation. Of course, northern Australia is a powerhouse for our beef industry. There are plenty of grains and cotton produced in northern Australia. All of these products help our nation to pay its bills.

What does a good business do? A good business invests back into those parts of its business that make the money. If you sat down in the boardroom and said: 'Where should we put our capex to manage the budget for next year?' You'd probably look at the parts of your business, the lines of business, that are actually making a profit and making money. You'd say: 'Okay, let's put more into those areas.' That's why as a nation we should put more into northern Australia: you get bang for your buck. There is so much opportunity there to build more dams, to capture the water, to grow more food and to expand our mining industries—our coal, gas, iron ore. There is a massive demand for all of these products throughout the world, and we produce some of the highest quality minerals in the world. We should focus on those.

That brings me to the Greens senator for northern Australia—from Melbourne—Senator Rice. It's not surprising, perhaps, that a senator from Melbourne shows a complete misunderstanding—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Walsh ): Senator Waters?

Senator Waters: I want to clarify for Senator Canavan's benefit that I'm the representative of the Greens on these matters, and I happen to live in North Queensland—in northern Australia. He seems to be a bit confused. I know it will wreck his rhetoric. Sorry about that, mate, but get your facts right.

Senator CANAVAN: On the point of order, first of all, I wasn't referring to Senator Waters; I was referring to Senator Rice, who said in her contribution that she was going to move amendments to the northern Australia bill. So a Greens senator from Melbourne is going to tell us what to do in northern Australia. We've seen that before from the Greens, which I might come back to. Also, just to clarify for senators, Senator Waters does not live in northern Australia; she lives in Brisbane, Queensland. If she had actually read the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Act 2016—she says, apparently, she's the representative for northern Australia—she would know there's a map that's referred to in that act and that Brisbane is not in northern Australia. It's about 600 kilometres south of Gladstone, which is where the border is on the coast of Queensland for northern Australia. So that's a little bit embarrassing for Senator Waters.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Sterle, on the point of order?

Senator Sterle: I can't remember which part of the standing orders it is, but Senator Waters had clearly corrected the record, and Senator Canavan is being frivolous. I can't think what the actual wording is.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Sterle. Senator Canavan, can I invite you to continue with your remarks and move the Senate forward.

Senator CANAVAN: It's no wonder that Senator Sterle can't remember the point of order, because there is no point of order against frivolity. Frivolity! This place is a bit boring at times, so it's nice to have a little bit of fun.

As I mentioned, the Greens spokesperson for northern Australia, from Melbourne—that's not a point of order.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Indeed. She wasn't seeking one, Senator Canavan.

Senator CANAVAN: Sorry, I just saw Senator Waters get up. The Greens spokesperson for northern Australia, from Melbourne, Senator Rice, said that we should not invest in fossil fuels in northern Australia because it's all bad, it's terrible, and it's going to blow up the planet if we continue to do these things. What she doesn't understand and doesn't mention is that half of the economy in northern Australia comes from mining—50 per cent. Half of the jobs, half of the income, half of the cash flow, half of the tax revenues that we all take, down here, come from the mining sector in northern Australia. So if you move an amendment here that cuts off a big part of the mining and resources sector, and I'm including LNG as part of mining there—just to clarify—and say, 'No, none of that can be invested in,' you are cutting off half of northern Australia and you are completely limiting the opportunities for our part of the world where I live in northern Australia to grow and develop, because we have enormous opportunities to grow and develop our mining sector even further. We have enormous opportunities to grow and develop the coal basins of North Queensland, because people want high-quality coal around the world, and we have it. We have enormous opportunities to continue the enormous trade in iron ore that we have going out of the west. We have enormous opportunities to continue exports of gas, especially in the Northern Territory, where our country's first shale gas field exists in the Beetaloo Basin. Wouldn't that be a great thing for Darwin? It is a great port, it has great access to the Asian region but it doesn't have cheap energy at the moment; that field offers that. Let's hope it is developed.

The problem is the NAIF did get off to a rocky start; there is no doubt about that. It is hitting its straps now but it got off to a rocky start. One of the reasons it got off to a rocky start was that the Labor Party teamed up with the Greens to stop the NAIF investing in the Adani Carmichael mine. That was going to be a big project for the NAIF. It could have built the rail line out to Adani, it could have been built to a bigger capacity than is currently being built, but the Labor Party, with Jackie Trad in Queensland, with Bill Shorten down here, with everybody supine over there on that Senate side, teamed up with the Greens to kill any investment in a new rail line out to a new coal basin, the first coal basin that would have been opened in 50 years; that was taken off the table. Thankfully, the Labor-Green alliance wasn't successful in killing the project overall. They were successful in killing the size of the project; the rail line is not as big as it could have been, thanks to them. We could have had more jobs going up there now, but for them.

Thankfully, the project is going forward, and the rail line is currently being built. Just the other day Adani did hit first coal at their Carmichael mine; although the coal seam they hit is not one they will mine. In a few months they will hit the coal seams they actually will mine, and later this year they will export the first coal from the first coal basin in 50 years from this country to another one, to India, and it will be a fantastic day for our nation. And it will be no thanks to any of those people here in this chamber in the Labor and the Greens parties; they actively tried to stop it. Thankfully, the Australian people rejected that at the last election, and we are getting those jobs. We have that mine and we are going to have future opportunity for northern Australia and North Queensland.

Now, I do need to say, though, thanks to one person—that is, former Greens Senator Bob Brown. He was of enormous assistance getting the Adani mine going. I was trying for years, banging my head up against the wall, pushing, fighting, begging for the project to proceed. Bob Brown turns up and, within weeks, the whole thing is going forward. He was a magician, an absolute magician. There is one particular amendment I would suggest the Greens move that I might consider supporting. If they want to put Bob Brown on the NAIF broad, I might support that, almost as an honorary position for Bob Brown to come on to the NAIF board for his work in helping create jobs in northern Australia, and we would love to see him more in the north. I would love to have him back. Unfortunately—I have invited him many times—he is not coming, apparently. He has blamed COVID; now it is gone. But maybe if he was on the NAIF board he would actually come and visit us a bit more. He would come up to the Beetaloo Basin and help Senator McCarthy get shale gas going in the Northern Territory. He would come up to the west Kimberley in Senator Sterle's area and help us get cotton farming going around Kununurra; he would hate that too. He would do magic. He would do wonders up there. We could get that moving.

There is so much opportunity across northern Australia and there are a lot of people from down south, like Senator Rice and others, who constantly want to downplay those opportunities, who often bring, can I say, a European mindset to our nation, where they think the north is hot and humid and infested with pests, and we should keep our population development down in the more sanguine Mediterranean climate of our south-east. But I think our nation's mission is actually to grow and develop across this great continent. It is great what we have done in cities like Melbourne and Sydney; they are fantastic testaments to what we have achieved as a nation. But we can actually build similarly successful and popular cities in other parts of our country as well, where there is plenty of water, where there are high-quality minerals, where there are high-quality soils to grow food in. If we invest in those areas, we won't maintain our position as a country where we are concentrated in just one small corner but we will spread, grow, develop and create the opportunity for thousands and millions more Australians, as we have done in the south.

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