Thursday, 13 May 2021
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—