Northern Australia Job Creation

Senator Canavan: My question is to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs representing the Minister for Resources, Energy and Northern Australia. Will the minister update the Senate on its signature Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility? How will this create jobs and growth in my state of Queensland and right across Northern Australia?

Senator Scullion: I thank Senator Canavan for his question and acknowledge his longstanding passion for developing one of Australia's most promising regions. As the senator is well aware, Northern Australia has huge untapped potential. It has an abundance of energy and resources and invaluable proximity to our key trading markets in Asia. The government is committed to partnering with the private sector to unlock this potential, creating jobs and growth right across Northern Australia. Last week, the Minister for Resources, Energy and Northern Australia released the exposure draft of the enabling legislation for the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, which is a key part of the government's strategy for developing Northern Australia. The facility will provide concessional loans to build economic infrastructure in energy, water, transport and communications and will support the development of critical infrastructure in Northern Australia. It is expected to be on track by 1 July this year.

The draft legislation will see an independent board made up of financial and infrastructure experts across a range of projects. While decisions about funding of individual initiatives are obviously a matter for the board, recipient projects may include, to the delight of all Territorians and Queenslanders, the Mount Isa to Tennant Creek railway, the Townsville port expansion and the expansion of the Outback Way linking Western Australia with Queensland. We will also be encouraging Northern Australia by putting in place a range of services that will assist investors in their decision making. An office of the Major Projects Approval Agency has already been established in Darwin. It is co-located with the Office of North Australia, which has also recently been moved to Darwin by this government, delivering more jobs for this city that has so much potential. The government is absolutely committed to proceeding with its agenda for Northern Australia as an area not only with potential for development and industry but as a hub for innovation and scientific research.

Senator Canavan: Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister also advise the Senate on other ways in which the government is supporting investment and the development of critical infrastructure in Northern Australia?

Senator Scullion: The government has been driving both international and domestic interest in investment in north Australia through a number of measures aimed at capitalising on north Australia's development potential and opportunities for the region to be an innovation hub. As many would know, there was substantial interest in this place late last year when the Minister for Resources, Energy and Northern Australia and the Minister for Trade and Investment welcomed some 350 investors to Darwin to discuss a range of investment opportunities in the region. The government is also expanding its investment in key transport infrastructure through the $100 million beef roads initiative.

One understands—with 11.7 million cattle in northern Australia, nearly 45 per cent of the national herd, and cattle exports worth $3 million a year—these upgrades are critical to connect product with markets. The $600 million northern Australia roads package will partner with the three northern state and territory governments, in addition to the funds already provided through the nationwide investment in transportation infrastructure, including the $2 billion of upgrades to the Bruce Highway to demonstrate how we are putting investment in northern Australia.

Senator Canavan: Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Will the minister also advise the Senate on the ways in which the government is capitalising on northern Australia's potential as a hub for innovation and scientific research?

Senator Scullion: The government is not only keen to see Australia as an area leading development in industry; we are passionate about supporting northern Australia as the hub for innovation and world-leading research. We have recently appointed leading grazier, John Wharton, as interim Chair for the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia. This new CRC will encourage collaboration between research organisations and industry. It will be focused on the food, agriculture and tropical health sectors.

Beyond the work of the CRC, the government is investing in a renewed focus on tropical health and medicine. We recently committed $42 million to the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine at James Cook University for a range of research facilities. Northern Australia is the gateway to the tropics, which will be home to half the world's population by 2050. We are well placed to be a leader in tropical health going forward. It is an exciting time to be in northern Australia.

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