Monday, 2 May 2016
Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Bill 2016, Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2016; Report from Committee
On behalf of the Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia I present the committee's advisory report, incorporating a dissenting report, on the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Bill 2016.
The Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia was pleased to undertake and report on the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Bill 2016, or the NAIF bill.
Throughout this parliament the Northern Australia Committee has been considering new approaches to tackle the economic and social issues which have plagued northern Australia for over 100 years.
The committee's first report, Pivot north, which underpinned the government's white paper on developing northern Australia, recognised infrastructure's vital role in stimulating the economic and social development so crucially needed in northern Australia.
Fourteen of the recommendations in Pivot north concerned the provision of new or existing infrastructure in northern Australia, these being: the development of critical road, rail, water resource, agriculture, digital communications and energy infrastructure, and the creation of a rural investment fund to make it easier for rural infrastructure projects to access capital investment.
Importantly, as part of the NAIF bill inquiry, the committee further considered the official geographic boundary of northern Australia as defined in the NAIF bill.
The original NAIF bill defined northern Australia as: the whole of the Northern Territory, and the areas which lie above the Tropic of Capricorn in Western Australia and Queensland, including the areas below the tropic of Capricorn which capture the statistical areas level 2 of Gladstone, the Gladstone Hinterland and Newman. The Exmouth Statistical Area Level 2 which lies above the Tropic of Capricorn was excluded, with the exception of the town of Exmouth. The definition of Northern Australia was raised with the committee by the members for Durack and Perth and later by the Chairs of the Gascoyne and Pilbara Development Commissions, the Shire Presidents of the Shires of Upper Gascoyne, Exmouth, Carnarvon and Shark Bay.
In discussions with the minister, it was agreed that the definition of Northern Australia, as included at clause 5 of the NAIF Bill, should be amended. This amendment of the NAIF Bill will expand the definition of Northern Australia to include in the Western Australia Statistical Area Level 2 of Exmouth and Carnarvon, as well as the local government shires of Meekatharra and Wiluna. The definition will be amended to include additional regions in Western Australia that are viewed as operating as part of Northern Australia.
Broadly the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, established by the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Bill 2016, will provide the necessary financial assistance to begin to address the infrastructure gaps the committee highlighted in its Pivot North report. The facility is one of the government's white paper key proposals, and it places the development of infrastructure at the centre of the government's plan to unlock the economic and social potential of Northern Australia.
The facility will partner with the private sector to develop projects that, despite being commercially viable, have not been able to attract sufficient investment to go ahead. In its own right the facility's $5 billion investment in infrastructure is significant, but by leveraging private sector capital, the value of the infrastructure projects it supports will be far greater than $5 billion. Northern Australia is a region of vast potential. The facility will accelerate the development of an infrastructure base that can underpin the long-term social and economic development that is crucial to realising this potential. For these reasons, the committee recommended that the parliament pass the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Bill 2016.
Mr Speaker, I would like to thank all those who participated in the inquiry by providing submissions and appearing at public hearings. I would like to thank the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources for their timely responses to questions on notice. I would especially like to thank the committee secretariat for their assistance in enabling the committee to develop this high-quality report in such a short time frame. To Stephanie and Tim, thank you very much indeed for your cooperation. Finally, Mr Speaker, I would like to thank my fellow committee members—including the member for Perth, my very able deputy—for their support and participation in this inquiry. I commend the report to the House.
It is very rewarding that, in my last week in this place, I feel that I have actually achieved something. I am extremely pleased that the government has agreed to amend this bill to rectify what I considered to be a considerable injustice embedded in the original formulation of the legislation. Because of the very complex and convoluted definitions that were being used, I am sure that most people were unaware that parts of Western Australia above the Tropic of Capricorn were excluded—Coral Bay, the whole Cape Range National Park and all the developments along there, as well is a great proportion of the area that lies between the 26th parallel and the Tropic of Capricorn—in Western Australia has always been considered part of the North-West. I want to commend the Gascoyne Development Commission and the Pilbara Development Commission for bringing this to my attention while we were in China a couple of weeks ago representing Northern Australia at an investment conference. They showed me the definition and expressed their concern. I began to pull it apart and I contacted my colleagues on the committee, asking them to have a look at that. Unfortunately because I was in China I was not able to be there to drive that, but I do want to thank the chairman of the committee for providing support so that we were eventually able to get this amended.
To me, this is really important. I guess I have always have a particular affection for Carnarvon, ever since I worked there in 1980. The real potential of the town of Carnarvon has never been met. There is an opportunity right up that Ningaloo Coast for tourism development and horticulture development. It is a great little horticultural area. We need at least another 400 hectares, if not another 800 hectares, to be added to that precinct and for that we need investment in water infrastructure. I am pleased to see that Andrew Forrest himself has now got involved in pastoralism in the Gascoyne, and I think with better infrastructure we will see the pastoral industry, together with the horticultural industry, taking a great leap forward. We can look forward to much greater development in the precinct, exploiting the opportunities that lie there. But we do need investment. We need access to this important loan facilitation fund to enable those areas to have concessional access to finance. It is a good piece of legislation. I hope that we hand this money out very judiciously, that proper cost-benefit analyses are done before these funds are allocated, but I do think that we can see great potential for Northern Australia to go forward using these facilities. I am pleased to have been able to play my little bit in ensuring that Western Australia receives equal treatment with Queensland and the Northern Territory in that regard.