House debates

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Ministerial Statements

Developing Northern Australia

4:12 pm

Photo of Keith PittKeith Pitt (Hinkler, National Party, Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—The potential of northern Australia is as vast as the north itself. The Morrison-McCormack government believes in this potential and the people of northern Australia. The north has a vibrant and innovative community, with the capacity to create wealth for all Australians.

It is an honour to stand here today as the Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia to deliver this, the fifth annual statement to the parliament, on the progress we have achieved in developing northern Australia. I would like to acknowledge my colleague the Hon. Michelle Landry MP, Assistant Minister for Northern Australia. Michelle's belief in the north is underpinned by a wealth of experience and deep understanding of northern Australia. She knows and values the immense contribution that the north makes to our national wealth and global significance.

This is a 20-year vision, set out in the 2015 foundational white paper: Our north, our future, a strategic policy framework to build a strong, sustainable northern economy and, in turn, a secure and prosperous Australia. We have implemented 45 of the 51 inception measures of the white paper, with progress evident across the north. Building on the significant foundation this government created, we are continuing with dedicated initiatives to achieve the very best for the people of northern Australia.

COVID-19 response, fires, floods and drought

This year has brought with it some immeasurable challenges—for Australians and for the Australian economy. Prior to the global pandemic, fire, floods and drought took their toll. The government responded to this with more than $3.3 billion to assist farmers, businesses and communities. This includes funding for five regional recovery officers who are 'on the ground' directly helping the North Queensland flood recovery and rebuilding process.

The coronavirus pandemic caused significant shock to our northern tourism, agriculture, mining exploration and tertiary education sectors. This government's rapid response and early investment and support have maintained jobs and services in regional Australia. JobKeeper has been successful and has supported around 3.5 million Australians in over 900,000 businesses. And now, we begin the path back to economic recovery.

For northern Australia this means returning our focus to development, bringing forward new economic infrastructure projects, encouraging growth, and creating new jobs.

Our vision is for thriving northern communities playing an even bigger role in our nation's prosperity and economic resilience.

Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF)

Established in 2016, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, or NAIF, has driven development across the north.

To date, NAIF has made investment decisions totalling $2.4 billion in projects, which are estimated to generate around 8,000 jobs in the north. In the last financial year 11 investment decisions have been made across a range of sectors such as agricultural, resources and aviation.

Loans provided by the NAIF are helping to catalyse projects and investment in the north.

Just last week, on my behalf, my colleague Senator Sam McMahon announced that the Humpty Doo Barramundi farm in the Top End will receive a second NAIF loan of $24.2 million to construct a purpose built hatchery to house its saltwater barramundi breeding program. This will be undertaken in partnership with CSIRO, along with further investment in production infrastructure to make Australia more self-sufficient in barramundi supplies. This Australian family business is our most successful barramundi farm. It's going from strength to strength. It is growing over a third of Australia's barramundi and, with the aid of its first NAIF loan of $7.18 million, supports 178 jobs in the north.

This second NAIF investment in Humpty Doo Barramundi is a job creator in northern Australia and will enable total employment supported by the operation to grow to over 500 in the next decade.

Dan Richards, CEO of Humpty Doo Barramundi, says that the support from NAIF as well as the ANZ has been a major boost for the company and are pleased to be able to make this further investment in producing Australia's iconic saltwater barramundi and supporting jobs for our Territorians.

The provision of NAIF loans has also been useful to help crowd in investors for projects. The NAIF approved a $10.5 million top-up loan for the Kalium Lakes potash project in Western Australia to assist them to achieve a $70 million capital-raising target. I'm pleased to say that they raised more than what they needed and didn't require the additional NAIF loan to fill the funding gap.

Kalium Lakes CEO Rudolph van Niekerk commented that the additional NAIF loan was an important signal to investors that the project has the backing of the Commonwealth, and they're now on track for production to commence in September 2021.

Through the NAIF statutory review process we have listened to stakeholders in the north that have said that, while it has been a valuable investment tool for projects, more can be done.

On behalf of the Australia government, I recently announced a number of reforms that seek to turbocharge investment and open up more opportunities for project proponents.

Under these changes, projects will find it easier to get the support they need.

We're cutting red tape to speed up investment approvals.

We're expanding eligibility to make it easier for small businesses to qualify.

And there will be more flexibility and an increased risk appetite to support projects with the potential to deliver significant public benefit.

These changes come on top of my announcement in July extending the NAIF for five more years, confirming this government's absolute commitment to driving jobs and economic development for the people of northern Australia.

I would like to extend my thanks to the stakeholders that provided contributions through the consultation process, which helped informed the direction of the NAIF reforms.


Water is the most precious of our resources—for people, agriculture, aquaculture, mining and energy. As a former sugarcane farmer I know this only too well.

That is why we have committed almost half a billion to water infrastructure and feasibility projects.

The investments include: the Adelaide River offstream water storage assessment in the Northern Territory as well as $176 million to build Rookwood Weir near Rockhampton and $30 million for capital works at Big Rocks Weir near Charters Towers, both of which can start once final approvals are in place.

Frank Beveridge, Mayor of Charter Towers Regional Council, recently spoke about how exciting the Big Rocks Weir project is, saying: 'It will double the capacity we have here now. It will create agricultural jobs and industrial jobs and be a catalyst for a whole range of projects in North Queensland.'

These projects show that we are actively and strategically working towards securing the water supply infrastructure that is so critical to sustainable development in the north, providing resilience to communities and building greater resistance to climate change.

Partnership with Indigenous Australians

Working in partnership with Indigenous Australians lies at the very heart of northern development.

Last December, the Northern Australia Indigenous Development Accord was established, providing a framework for governments and communities to work together to advance Indigenous economic development across the north.

The Indigenous Reference Group Chair, Mr Peter Yu, said, 'The accord is a landmark agreement and milestone achievement in moving toward more equitable participation of Indigenous people in the northern Australian economy.' The accord's work is important to all northern Australians.

We know that Indigenous participation and working even more closely together, is the key to jobs and prosperity. I'd highlight the Amrun bauxite mine as a prime example of this collaboration. Developed in partnership with the local Wik-Waya people, the mine is delivering jobs for 400 Indigenous workers and more than $1 billion for local businesses and suppliers.

Critical minerals

This government has also taken action to support the development of critical mineral projects, especially in the resource-rich north. The Critical Minerals Facilitation Office was set up earlier this year. It's had a busy first few months working with the states and territories and our trading partners to boost exploration, open up new basins and promote downstream processing hubs. All this results in jobs and export income.

The TNG Limited Mount Peake project in the Northern Territory will produce high-quality vanadium, titanium and iron ore and support 500 jobs during construction and up to 250 during the operations phase.

Arafura Resources is developing a major rare earths project north of Alice Springs. Production from its Nolans project will be in demand as an important component of high-tech permanent magnets and energy-efficient electric motors.

The NAIF has approved a loan of up to $150 million for Strandline Resources to develop one of the world's largest minerals sands project in Western Australia. The project is expected to benefit the local region to the tune of $922 million over 25 years and could create up to 315 jobs during the construction phase and up to 190 jobs during the operations phase.

The United States recently committed to developing concrete measures with other trading partners, including Australia, to bring new critical mineral supply online, reinforcing the global importance of northern Australia's critical minerals reserves.

Budget measures

The 2020-21 budget set out our national path for economic recovery, and it is a budget for the north. It contains measures worth more than $4.15 billion for families, business and communities. To spur on the 'gas-fired recovery', the budget included an additional $28.3 million to develop five strategic basins—including the Beetaloo Basin in the Northern Territory and the Northern Bowen and Galilee basins in Central and North Queensland. Development of gas reserves in the Beetaloo has the potential to generate billions of dollars for the Territory economy and over 6,000 jobs at a time when the region needs to make the most of every opportunity it gets to create jobs and attract investment. This government knows how important the sector is to the Australian economy, to regional Australia and for the businesses in this sector.

A few weeks ago I met a business owner, Steven Burt, the managing director of Gas Field Services. His business has been operating in the Queensland and New South Wales resources sector since 2007, starting as a team of three. They now provide a full suite of drilling services, running 12 rigs and employing 76 people. They also employ four apprentices and three trainee drillers. Steven and his team won both a mining contractor of the year award and a safety award, highlighting their passion and drive for delivery and improvements in safety. We are backing businesses like Steven's, creating jobs and business opportunities.

Communities in northern Australia will also benefit as part of the $13.7 million allocated to CSIRO's Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance, which provides rigorous scientific research to help local communities understand the impacts of unconventional gas exploration and this is so important to our collective journey of a gas-fired recovery. Now more than ever is the time to capitalise on the north's advantages in gas, critical minerals and renewable energy sources.

We are also committed to providing cheaper, more reliable power and jobs by helping to unlock the economic promise of the North West Minerals Province. The government has committed further support for the CopperString 2.0 transmission line project to progress to a final investment decision. This project is expected to provide 750 direct construction jobs, providing a much-needed boost in employment opportunities for the region.

The Exploring for the Future program is expanding, with a further $125 million to map and identify new minerals, energy and groundwater resources along the WA-NT border and along the NT-Queensland border. Anglo American has cited previous work undertaken by Geoscience Australia through the EFTF program in their decision to take up exploration opportunities in that area.

The EFTF will include minerals, energy and groundwater components in its examination of various areas. ACIL Allen completed a study of return on investment from the work of Geoscience Australia on these three components of EFTF funding totalling $45 million. ACIL Allen found returns of between $446 million and $2.5 billion which includes a return to Commonwealth revenues of between $92 million and $632 million.

Further investments to support healthy oceans, Commonwealth national parks and digital connectivity are being rolled out.

Relief and recovery fund

The relief and recovery fund is continuing to provide a much-needed boost to the north. We are supporting essential air services, connecting Cape York and the Torres Strait Islands, Darwin and Jabiru to West Arnhem Land, and Port Hedland through to the Pilbara. We are maintaining our vital agricultural exports sector by supporting a Darwin-Brisbane flight and Brisbane-Hong Kong flight via Cairns twice a week. And there's further relief that has been provided across regional arts, tourism, zoos and aquariums, and Indigenous arts centres, among others.

The government has also fast-tracked many projects to accelerate recovery and keep the northern economy strong. The Roads of Strategic Importance program has been fast-tracked over the next 12 months to help stimulate economic activity and road-building jobs across the north, such as $13 million to fund developments on Rockhampton to Yeppoon Road, and $9.8 million to upgrade two of the Northern Territory's main freight routes, the Barkly and Stuart highways.

Our investment in 38 road projects have upgraded 500 kilometres of major transport corridors under the Northern Australia Roads and Beef Roads programs—25 are complete, 11 are underway and the final two will commence shortly. Upgrades directly support communities, efficient and safe transport and freight and are expected to create over 2,000 jobs across the three jurisdictions.


We are continuing to explore northern Australian agriculture, health service delivery and traditional owner led development research through the $75 million Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia. The CRC for Developing Northern Australia provides valuable information and data gathered from sectors and stakeholders across the region that helps shape the ongoing development of Northern Australia. To date, 40 research projects worth $35 million have been cooperatively commissioned.

Moving forward

I'm now focused on the next phase of development under the 20-year framework of the white paper on developing northern Australia. Going forward, we will build on what has been achieved over the last five years as well as the measures announced in the budget to implement our JobMaker Plan. The northern economy is still developing and the Morrison-McCormack government is committed to supporting this important region and generating jobs. Strategic investment will result in significant change and large productivity gains for our nation.

The next phase of the northern agenda is an opportunity to create more jobs and more business opportunities through capitalising on the assets of the north—its land, its water, its minerals, its energy and, most importantly, its people. We have been listening to stakeholders and are considering options that build on our industry strengths and capitalise on opportunities for growth. The next phase will have a singular focus: the same focus of creating jobs in the north.

This is a resilient region that continues to grow and adapt, building on traditional industries, while being strategically placed at the forefront of contemporary and emerging economies. The untapped potential, abundant resources and increasingly diverse population makes this a critical nation-building economic development agenda.

Concluding remarks

In conclusion, this government continues to deliver the practical policies and programs which are making a real difference to the people of northern Australia. Every day we work to create jobs. Every day we work to foster economic growth that is both enduring and sustainable, and contribute to the development of regional communities. And we do this with the cooperation and goodwill of the people of northern Australia. Their hard work, their fortitude and their capacity to stare down drought, flood and pandemic is why they, and the north, are so important to our nation's future. The people of the north learn these lessons early in life—resilience and acceptance of the situations and tough conditions in which they live, work and play.

I can assure this parliament, and all those in northern Australia, we will continue to represent you and work even harder for you. As minister I am proud to serve this great part of Australia and its people. And I wish to acknowledge the dedicated support of many: my colleague the Assistant Minister for Northern Australia, the Honourable. Michelle Landry MP, for her constant support through tireless community engagement; the Minister for Indigenous Australians, the Hon. Ken Wyatt AM MP, for his contribution to the critical role of Indigenous economic participation in developing the north; the members of the Ministerial Forum on Northern Development; Glenys Schuntner, as chair of the Northern Australia Advisory Group; Peter Yu, for his invaluable work as chair, and the insight of members, of the Northern Australia Indigenous Reference Group; the efforts of the team at the Office of Northern Australia, based right across the north. Much has been achieved. As always, there is more to do, but the people of northern Australia are up for the challenge.

We will continue to make progress and make the very most of the opportunities and promise the north offers for the entire nation. Because if it is good for the north, it's good for Australia.

4:30 pm

Photo of Shayne NeumannShayne Neumann (Blair, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Defence Personnel) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in response to the minister's statement and I thank the Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia for providing an update of the government's plans for northern Australia. At least he bothered to actually front up, not like his predecessor who just tabled his statement in parliament, perhaps because he was too embarrassed to make a statement. I'm delighted to represent Senator Murray Watt and take note of this particular north Australia agenda. Like Senator Watt, I've travelled extensively across northern Australia, from the Torres Strait—the member for Leichhardt was there with me on one occasion—though to Cape York, Townsville and Cairns, and into the Northern Territory with Groote Eylandt, Arnhem Land, Maningrida and a whole range of areas across northern Australia with my good mate the member for Lingiari, and into the Kimberley as well in northern Western Australia.

It's an important part of Australia, and I would encourage Australians, when given the opportunity, to travel there and to witness the industry that's happening across there in tourism, in the resource sector and in the tertiary education sector as well. There is a whole range of service industries that are being provided, and I would encourage all Australians to realise the potential and to get behind our northern Australia agenda. I travelled there when I was younger. My mother lived up there in Cairns with her husband, and I travelled there many, many times before I was a member of parliament, and since.

At the outset, I want to say that Labor shares the government's commitment to north Australia. For decades, we've called for and supported its economic development, protection for its fragile environment, the provision of quality health and education services to the people, and the empowerment of the north's First Nations population, which is so critical. You cannot develop northern Australia without the participation, the knowledge and the involvement of Australia's First Peoples in the north.

We know northern Australia offers incredible opportunities in areas like tourism, agriculture, biofuels, renewable energy, mining, the resource sector and tropical medicine, for example. Thanks to Labor governments in my home state of Queensland as well as Western Australia and the Northern Territory, we've put in place enabling infrastructure like ports and airports and established supply chains. A competitive tax environment, of course, is really important, as well as a skilled workforce based on quality education and research institutions. These are very, very important. We need educational opportunities for people in the north just like there are for people who live in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Northern Australia is a place that embodies the best of this country. It's where cutting edge scientists play a vital role in the economy, as much as the farmers who cut the cane. Northern Australia is on the cusp of really exciting times with a key part to play in our engagement with our Asian neighbours, as it does with the domestic market in which it flourishes. It is recognised as a world-class producer and leading resources destination which is hungry for investment capital. It also has a long reputation as a reliable supplier of high-quality clean and green produce. While it may not always necessarily be acknowledged as the food bowl of Asia, we are fast becoming it's delicatessen and its premium butcher. Notwithstanding the impacts of COVID-19 on tourism, food has become an increasingly important component of the industry of northern Australia and a huge export earner for that part of our country—thanks, really, to the dining boom. More and more visitors are now coming to the north to sample our cuisine and cosmopolitan restaurants. It is a very multicultural community in northern Australia.

It is this tremendous diversity of opportunities which makes northern Australia a place where virtually anything is possible, but we need to provide support for the area. There are many challenges of living in the tropics, and the minister alluded to the droughts and cyclones that the people in the north face but that aren't faced, necessarily, by people who live in urban areas in the southern parts of the country.

This is of particular relevance to the growing needs of people living in the tropics, who, by 2050, will account for half the world's population. I would encourage people to go north to visit, see and realise the potential. Former Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, who pioneered Australia's cultural and trade relationship with China, once said that he wanted to be remembered not for what he was against but for what he was for. I'm very proud that Labor is for business, for growth, for jobs and for opportunity for all, particularly in the north. We are unashamedly bullish about the opportunities for our northern neighbours. I'm from South-East Queensland and I know how important the northern part of my home state, with the resource sector, agriculture and tourism, is to the prosperity of my home state of Queensland. And we know how important it is to have partners north of northern Australia, in the Asian region. Northern Australia—North Queensland, the Northern Territory and north-west Australia—is very connected to our Asian neighbours.

We want to see businesses take advantage of the NAIF, which the minister referred to. We want to see the government working with the private sector to deliver major projects of significance. We are willing to look at new funding models, but this needs to go beyond big-ticket items. Areas like tourism and smaller projects need to be looked at. At a micro level, small amounts of startup capital will make a big difference—the next Google or the next Skype. Innovation and collaboration are essential elements of the new economy, and we must build on these and compete today for the generations that follow. We really must. So it's vital that innovation and investment are brought together.

A few years ago, a group called StartupAus made the comparison that Australians bet more on the Melbourne Cup than our Nation's entire venture capital industry invests in startups in a year. We need to turn that around—notwithstanding that we are coming up to the Melbourne Cup very soon. We have to turn this around if we are going to be a competitive economy. This is crucial in northern Australia. To that end, we support investment in innovation, skills, business development and encouraging a startup culture, particularly in the north. We want to bring back innovative people, turning ideas into outcomes and building the jobs of tomorrow, particularly in northern Australia.

Innovation is a critical driver of economic growth, while technology is speeding up the pace of change. The telephone took 75 years to reach 50 million users—but the Angry Birds app took just over a month. That's why it's pleasing to see state and territory governments, like the Palaszczuk government in Queensland, embedding coding, computer science, robotics, Asian languages and, crucially, entrepreneurial schools in school curricula. The work we are seeing in medical research in Queensland to develop a COVID vaccine is a fantastic application of this, building on previous research into vaccines for malaria and other tropical diseases.

Diversification is another key strategic buffer against the disruption in our trade relationships and the peaks and troughs of our traditional strengths, such as mining and agriculture, in northern Australia. This is why Labor has been talking about the need to diversify these relationships—for example, broadening and deepening our connections with India. We need to diversify our export base, build on existing strengths, and foster the development of completely new industries. That's why I've mentioned the startup industries—and we can look at micro industries in northern Australia. Our gas sector, including liquefied natural gas, is a good example of an industry in the north where we can promote exports from the region and our own energy self-sufficiency.

Unfortunately, though, in northern Australia, what we have seen from this government, as we have seen in so many areas, is that plans go off into the never-never; they are taking forever to get out the door. The north Australia white paper is a prime example of what this government loves most: a flashy big announcement but almost zero follow-through. In 2015 we had Our north, our future: white paper on developing Northern Australia. I remember reading it on the plane flying home from Canberra on a Thursday evening after a sitting period. It made big promises to turbocharge growth and create jobs right across the region. Five years on, that paper has been left to languish somewhere in the bottom drawer. It has been very slow progress for a plan that was supposed to mark the beginning of a new era of growth in northern Australia.

We've heard from the minister today that the Morrison government still hasn't fulfilled all the measures it set out five years ago. Time and time again, this government talks about the north's potential; but what it doesn't seem to understand is that the people in the north are looking for action to realise that potential. It's easy to lose count of how many reviews and rehashes of programs the government have announced for northern Australia in the last few years. Ask anyone living in the north. They don't want another announcement from this government; they want delivery.

The northern Australia white paper's crowning jewel, its big-ticket announcement and basically what this minister is the minister for, was the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility. Many of the things the minister referenced in his speech today were really cross-portfolio areas that he has no personal responsibility for. But he does have the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, widely known by us as the 'No Actual Infrastructure Fund'. It has been a huge disappointment to Australians in the north. It has comprehensively failed to deliver what was promised. I would encourage those people who may be listening to look closely at the words of the minister, the fact that he's undertaken a review. He claims it's a prime mover, that it's driven development in the north. Well, I wouldn't like to get in a car with the minister and drive from Cairns to Townsville. We wouldn't get very far if this is what he thinks driving is all about, because I can assure you it hasn't driven much. The minister talked about getting rid of red tape and making the NAIF more flexible. He talked about the fact that he was going to change the eligibility guidelines. I say to the minister: you've been in power since 2013 and the white paper came down in 2015, so you've had five years to get this right.

The minister talked about the fact that he'd made all these investment decisions. I was just having a look at the minister's press releases. In his press releases, the minister has said some interesting things. In his press release on 30 September this year he talked about the NAIF having actually invested $2.4 billion. There you go: he created 7,200 jobs. That was 30 September. On 6 October it was only $2 billion—he'd lost $400 million—and he'd created 6,500 jobs. So he'd lost $400 million and 700 jobs in about seven days. That was the budget press release, by the way, on 6 October, so it probably would be pretty accurate. You'd forgive him for getting the one before wrong, but he's lost $400 million out of the NAIF investment decisions and he's lost 700 jobs.

Today I was reading his speech beforehand. For those who don't know, when whoever is in government—and we did this when we were in government—has to deliver a speech everyone gets a copy of it beforehand. It's the right thing to do, and I pay tribute to the minister for doing the right thing. I'd had a look at what he was going to say today and I was listening closely—and you would have heard him, Mr Deputy Speaker—to see if he actually said these figures. He's found the $400 million! It's back! The $400 million is back, and he's found 1,500 jobs—in the matter of a few days. Honestly, how can you believe the minister about how much money it is? By the way, Minister, you might want to have a look at your website and see what your actual department says about how much money you've allocated and how much you've invested.

Government Member:

A government member interjecting

Photo of Shayne NeumannShayne Neumann (Blair, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Defence Personnel) Share this | | Hansard source

It's not the same as you've said today. So we've got four different versions of events from the minister about what the No Actual Infrastructure Fund has done. Can you get it right, Minister? Can you get it right for the benefit of northern Australia?

The most recent figures show that the NAIF has spent—spent, not made 'investment decisions', as the minister said today—and delivered $170 million of the $5 billion budget five years after it was announced. In my home state of Queensland the NAIF has released less than $2 million to only one project. Not a single Queensland project north of Townsville has received a dollar from the NAIF. The government have given themselves another five years to try to hit the funding target, but they're hanging communities in the north out to dry. At this rate, it's going to take 150 years for the government to deliver what's promised for the region—150 years. I won't be on God's green earth, and I'm sure the minister won't be, when that happens.

Labor has been calling for major changes to the NAIF for three years, and last month the Morrison government finally admitted its failures. The minister admitted it in the paper today. He admitted the failures, because they're going to change everything. They're going to overhaul the project. That's what the minister said today. The money's got to start rolling out the door faster, Minister. You talk about turbocharging. If you want to turbocharge the north, you've actually got to get it out.

During a COVID pandemic it's understandable that people in the north feel let down by the government, because the decision to pull back JobKeeper support too early has hurt businesses and workers in northern Australia—in Cairns, Townsville, Darwin and the Kimberley. They have all been hit hard by the international border closures. Tens of thousands of businesses across the north have been kept afloat by JobKeeper. Thank you very much for listening to Labor, by the way, and introducing JobKeeper. The Morrison government says it's for northern Australia, but it's cutting the very measures that have been keeping it afloat.

The minister touched on the JobMaker announcement. This is the government's priority list for jobs-boosting national infrastructure projects. When it was announced, the Prime Minister promised to fast track 15 major projects across Australia to boost the economy. How many were in northern Australia? What the Prime Minister failed to mention was that not one of those major projects was listed in the Northern Territory, for example, and there was not a single Queensland project north of Brisbane. Once again, northern Australia has missed out on its fair share. The government has failed to follow through on a promise to create jobs in the region. We've found out that, despite multiple promises to the people of Townsville last week, this government doesn't have a single full-time worker—not one—stationed in North Queensland at the North Queensland Water Infrastructure Authority. After the authority has been operational for 18 months the best the government can do for North Queensland is a team in Canberra consulting on important projects for the north. That's all they've got. Perhaps with this attention to detail it shouldn't be surprising they've scrapped the National Water Infrastructure Loan Facility. It failed to deliver a cent of its $2 billion funds, but—hey!—it's just following the NAIF.

We want to see northern Australia flourish. We want the government to get the agenda right. We want the government to start spending the money it has put aside. We want the minister to get his press releases right, his speeches right and his website right, but he can't do it. He can't get it right, losing $400 million in a matter of days. We're talking about hundreds of jobs going missing, and then he finds them all. They can't even organise that. It's a great opportunity to develop the north of Australia. We need to expand industries like resources and agriculture. We need agriculture to expand massively. We need things like advanced manufacturing, startups and microbusinesses. But in order for the north to survive and realise its potential at a very challenging time we need the full support of the federal government, not just platitudes, not just righteous statements and unction from the minister. We want actions, not just words. Action has been sadly lacking under this government.

Today's ministerial statement makes it clear that all the Morrison government has delivered for northern Australia in the last five years, since the white paper was launched, is a series of announcements. That's all they've done. People in the north want more than that. They want help to realise their potential and to back in their resilience. They want respect, they want their fair share and they want action, Minister. It's time the Morrison government got on with this job. Those opposite claim they're in office. How about you be in power and do something? Start delivering real results for northern Australia rather than just talking about it and getting things wrong, like you've done today.