Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia Who’s Who: Warren Entsch

28 January 2014
Kerriann Lock
As chair of the Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia, Warren Entsch will be a significant figure in the development of policies concerning the region over the coming year. A closer look at Mr. Entsch’s background and political career provides an insight into his ability to meet the Committee’s objectives, as outlined on the Parliamentary website.
Regional Development
Born in the northern Queensland town of Babinda, and serving as Federal Member for Leichhardt for over a decade, Warren Entsch is a passionate and outspoken supporter of regional development, evidenced in his statement:
“With its abundant resources and proximity to Asia, Northern Australia is set to become the new frontier in the economic development of Australia, opening up new opportunities which will benefit the entire nation. With the right policies and incentives in place, Northern Australia has the capacity to become a leader in agriculture, minerals and energy, tourism, research and education. We must remove impediments to growth and set the stage for innovation and investment.”
As an experienced crocodile farmer and grazier, Mr. Entsch has first-hand agricultural knowledge, supplemented by interaction with the sugar cane, fruit, aquaculture, fishing, mining and tourism industries within his electorate.
On his website, Warren Entsch promises to “promote opportunities with China, in particular new streamlined visa processing”, but the impact of this on potential northern development is unclear.
Mr. Entsch has expressed a desire to see more government agencies based in north Queensland, especially those responsible for policies affecting the region, such as the CSIRO and AQIS. This would reduce travel expenses, boost the local economy, and improve bureaucratic understanding of regional issues.
Addressing impediments to growth
As the Federal Member for Leichhardt, Warren Entsch has identified several impediments to growth within his own electorate that are also relevant elsewhere in northern Australia. Of primary concern is the shutdown of the local tuna fishing industry due to pressure from green organisations such as the Pew Charitable Trusts. In a parliamentary speech on the subject, Mr. Entsch said:
“It beggars belief that the former Labor government, acting under the insidious influence of that gangrenous organisation called the Pew Charitable Trusts, has destroyed family businesses that have been operating sustainably for generations. At the same time, it is open slather for other countries, which are gaining a windfall from the fish that are swimming out of our waters. Their exports fill the vast majority of our canned tuna imports.”
The speech also criticized the exclusion of fishermen from decision-making that would impact the future of the industry, and de-bunked the myth that tuna populations were endangered, as they have an extremely frequent and high quantity rate of spawning.
Mr. Entsch promises to re-establish fishing in the region by “opening up marine parks with multiple use zones where sustainable commercial and recreational fishing can take place.”
In another parliamentary speech, Mr. Entsch addressed the over-regulation of the 457 visa program and the negative affect this has on small business and economic growth:
“Unfortunately, the changes with this bill simply add to the burden of regulation and compliance on sponsors who use the 457 visa program…It also highlights the absolute hypocrisy of the Gillard government, which clearly would prefer to see illegal boat arrivals put into the community on welfare rather than skilled migrants paying their own way and helping our economy to grow.”
He went on to say that “skilled migration has been a key driver of Australia’s economic performance”; that it is something the nation has always needed to prosper and will continue to need for the foreseeable future.
Along with impediments to growth such as the over-regulation of the business sector by government, and the preferential treatment of green lobby groups, Mr. Entsch has also identified affordable electricity, insurance pressures, and health issues (such as tropical disease) as barriers to progress in the region. According to his website, these matters may be resolved accordingly by large scale renewable energy projects, round table discussions between relevant parties, and expansions to the National Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine.
Private Investment, Innovation, and Infrastructure
In view of his stated goal to “get out of the way of small business”, it seems unlikely that Mr. Entsch would support prohibitive conditions for private investment and innovation. At this point in time it appears any additional regulation of the business sector, whether small or large, can only have a negative impact on Australia’s north and the nation’s economic growth as a whole.
In a parliamentary address on 11 December 2013, Mr. Entsch criticized the previous government’s habitual promise-breaking in terms of funding infrastructure, citing several examples from his own electorate:
“It is all very well to stand up here and create a perception that you have a commitment to building infrastructure in this country, but unless you are prepared to put dollars into it and step out from the political interference then all of that is nothing but hot air.”
The recent announcement that the Abbott government has pledged $210 million to improving infrastructure in the Cape York region was therefore welcomed enthusiastically by Mr. Entsch, who said:
“This provides a solid foundation for building on our Northern Australia policy. The Cape York Region package will look to upgrade key access roads in the region to ensure they are able to withstand severe weather conditions. This will keep those roads open for longer during the annual wet season and underpin stronger local economies and better services for the locals.”
Mr. Entsch and the Committee
While it is clear that Mr. Entsch has a genuine commitment to northern development, and the capacity to instigate progress in the region, his committee is a mixed bag due to its selection by a resolution of appointment. This means half the membership has been selected by the Opposition and/or minority groups.
Although Mr. Entsch has tactfully said he is “very pleased with the makeup because the Committee members not only represent regions from across Northern Australia, but they’ve got a great breadth of knowledge of the issues and interests that we’re likely to come across”, it remains to be seen whether all members share his dedication to promoting growth in the region.
Kerriann Lock