Parliamentary Discussion on Northern Australia

10 November 2015

Senator CANAVAN (Queensland Nationals Whip in the Senate) (14:34): My question is to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Scullion, representing the Minister for Resources, Energy and Northern Australia. Will the minister update the Senate on how this government is supporting major economic projects and infrastructure, like airports, roads and ports, across Northern Australia?

Senator SCULLION (Northern Territory Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:35): I thank Senator Canavan for his question and note his longstanding and keen interest in supporting the development of Australia’s north. Senator Canavan would know well that unlocking the potential of the north is good news for the people of the Northern Territory, north-western Australia and northern Queensland.

It is a region that contributes over 11 per cent of our GDP, over 40 per cent of the land mass and yet only five per cent of our population. So it is a particularly different demographic. In June this year the government released the first ever white paper on developing northern Australia, which is a blueprint for the long-term development of this region. At the heart of this initiative is a $5 billion concessional loan facility, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility.

This facility will provide up to $5 billion worth of concessional loans over five years, commencing in the 2016-17 financial year. Yesterday, Minister Frydenberg released a consultation paper to seek feedback on the proposed design and operation of the $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility. This is a significant milestone in this program, which will encourage and complement investment in northern Australian infrastructure.

I have already had positive reports from those that attended the northern Australia showcase that Minister Robb has just hosted in my home town of Darwin. I understand that some of the world’s most significant investors were there to explore opportunities for the development of northern Australia. After many years in the wilderness, it must be so encouraging to so many residents across northern Australia to look forward to increased investment and activities in our communities. There really has never been a better time to be a resident of northern Australia.

Senator CANAVAN (Queensland Nationals Whip in the Senate) (14:37): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Will the minister advise the Senate how the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility specifically will maximise investment in the north?

Senator SCULLION (Northern Territory Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:37): North Australia continues to face infrastructure challenges partly because of its low population density and remoteness. The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility will help fill the critical infrastructure gaps identified by the Northern Australia audit. Importantly, the facility has been designed in such a way that it will not crowd out private sector investment.

The facility will act in partnership with private financiers and the governments of the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia. The loans will help to build the economic capacity and longer term expansion of industry population in North Australia and deliver benefits to all Australians.

The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility will be able to provide more patient capital that allows for a project to reach maturity before being repaid. As a minister, and also as a senator for the Northern Territory, I can tell you that this is going to be a game changer for North Australia.

Senator CANAVAN (Queensland Nationals Whip in the Senate) (14:38): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister please outline what effect the government’s policies to develop the north will have on northern Australia, including, in your role as Indigenous Affairs minister, remote Indigenous communities?

Senator SCULLION (Northern Territory Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:39): The government’s Northern Australia agenda it will drive development and growth in northern Australia, including for those Indigenous people who live in the north. This government is committed to practical action to create more opportunities for Indigenous participation, and the white paper announces a range of measures to ensure that we include Indigenous people in this major investment in infrastructure. We have $20 million to support native title holders directly for the first time. And, for the first time, it will actually provide equity.

So when a big developer comes and says they would like to go into some sort of partnership in the land, at least they will have capacity to be able to make a comprehensive response. There is $17 million to support secure property rights and township leasing and $12 million to expand opportunities for Indigenous ranger groups.

On top of this, we are ensuring we include commitments for specific measurable targets for Indigenous employment and supply use because we on this side of the chamber recognise that the private sector must be part of the solution.

Courtesy of Hansard

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