Thursday, 13 May 2021
Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021; Second Reading
As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, Senator Hanson and I are passionate about developing the northern part of our country. The 2015 government white paper clearly articulated the unique challenges facing our north. It's a no-brainer. Consider these things: long distances; highly variable weather, with more extreme weather in cyclones; services; shortage of services; and reliable and accessible infrastructure—which we simply take for granted here in the south. There are no economies of scale in the north, and they have smaller populations and plenty of communications blackouts.
In spite of the best intentions, a big pot of money and all the knowledge required to develop a robust fit-for-purpose infrastructure fund to meet the needs of the north, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility has not been fit for purpose. As a member of the Select Committee on the effectiveness of the Australian Government’s Northern Australia agenda, I repeatedly felt disappointed to hear witnesses across northern Australia stating that getting money from NAIF was impossible.
Northern Australia is operating from a lower base than in the south. The foundational pieces that we take for granted here in the south—all-weather road access, reliable internet and access to a skilled workforce and highly qualified professionals, be they in the trades, engineering or medicine—are not readily available across northern Australia.
NAIF needed to be adding value to northern development at a grassroots level, yet missed that target altogether. It's significant that, for a 20-year development horizon, the first five years have been far from optimal. We welcome the changes included in this legislation, but the ground lost during the last five years was an unnecessary opportunity cost and loss of momentum. The government had all the information it needed to have made better decisions from the start.
A more accessible NAIF is not the only element, though, that needs to be addressed. It's ironic that the issues that need addressing to facilitate development in the north are systematically being dismantled in the south due to atrocious federal and state governments. For example, energy, land tenure and water access and price are severe problems and hurdles in the north. How the hell can these be addressed and solved with policies currently destroying energy, destroying water access and raising water prices, and destroying land tenure in the south? The problems in the north cannot be solved with these destructive policies.
It's wonderful to have NAIF improved, but we need to get the governance in this country fixed. The core issue suppressing development in the north is atrocious state and federal governance. People, their talents and resources are being suffocated under the stifling morass of bureaucracy inherent in the interference, overlap and duplication of government agencies, state and federal. Until this poor governance is addressed, the good work that NAIF can bring will be diluted and development in the north will remain painfully slow, to the whole country's detriment.
I look forward to the next review to see how quickly and effectively this last $2.5 billion brings northern Australia along with the rest of the country. We will be support being this bill, especially given the deadline of 30 June for the changes, and we will be closely scrutinising all amendments. We will not be supporting racially based amendments. We will improve assistance to the people in the north, and I point out some of the comments in my dissenting report to the Northern Australia agenda inquiry. We will be balanced and measured, but we will always ensure responsibility is with the right people.