July 27, 2015
I am very pleased to speak tonight on the northern Australia white paper, Our North, our future
. The white paper is one of the Abbott-led coalition's 2013 election promises. The paper will be northern Australia's blueprint and will unlock the potential of one of Australia's best assets. Madam Speaker, you know as well as I do that for too long governments have talked about developing the North, but this is the first major step in northern Australia reaching its full potential. Two great regions of my electorate of Durack, the Kimberley and the Pilbara, will both reap the rewards of this paper. As I represent the whole of the north-west, this is music to my ears.
There are about one million people living in northern Australia, and of those, according to the latest census, there are 177,000 living in Durack. The white paper commits an extra $1.2 billion in funding for the development of a range of infrastructure projects across the North of Australia to improve the lives and the livelihoods of Australians living in this fantastic part of the world. This includes the upgrades of the Great Northern Highway, the Tanami Road and the Outback Way, three major roads which are important to the people of Durack. The paper identified great potential for water in the North in areas like the Kimberley and the Pilbara, also in Durack. It unveiled over $13 million for tourism in the North, which will go a long way to showing people from around the world just how beautiful the Kimberley, the Pilbara and even the Gascoyne are—and I know Madam Speaker is well aware of that, because she has seen it with her own eyes.
It is time to unlock the water potential in Australia's North. Our government will create a new National Water Infrastructure Development Fund which will fast-track investment in water infrastructure. The Abbott government will immediately commission water resource assessments to take place in areas like the West Kimberley. This opportunity will allow Aboriginal leaders and traditional owners and other private investors an opportunity to negotiate pathways to lift agricultural productivity in the north-west. Funds will be set aside to determine the best locations for water infrastructure in the region. The paper notes that about 60,000 hectares could be developed for irrigated agriculture utilising overland flow and groundwater in the region. There is also a commitment of $5 million to carry out a feasibility study on Ord stage 3, and the people in Kununurra and Darwin say, 'Hooray for that!'
The Abbott government wants northern Australia to be a dynamic part of the tropical region, and we want businesses in the North to have the opportunity to target the emerging Asian middle class, numbering 600 million today but climbing rapidly. This middle class presents Australia with a booming market for its niche and high-end markets, and the signing of the free trade agreement with China will help to facilitate these opportunities. The middle class can also help to boost tourism opportunities in the north-west, an opportunity I am sure Durack will grasp with both hands.
The white paper acknowledges the importance of tourism to the North's economic prosperity, and funds will be available to support tourist operators in the Kimberley, the Pilbara and, I expect, also the Gascoyne. We will also introduce 10-year tourism visas for visitors from China and India and a more streamlined application process to entice these adventure-thirsty tourists.
Madam Speaker, you will know as well as anyone here that the process for establishing native title is a costly and lengthy process. There are some native title cases that have been running for longer than the Mabo case itself, and these long-running court battles have proved restrictive and detrimental to development. Our government will prioritise native title claims and will contribute over $20 million to support native title bodies to realise their potential and negotiate more effectively with business groups.
I have spent the past 18 months working as a member of the Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia, taking evidence on how we can help the North reach its full potential and, more recently, helping to finalise the white paper. I firmly believe that the whole of Australia will benefit from the development of the North, especially as we will develop new industries and progress with existing industries and therefore more employment opportunities, particularly for young Australians who are willing to move to the North.
I would like to acknowledge the many before me who have championed the development of the North—people like Senator Alan Eggleston—and I give them my pledge that I will work hard for the people of Durack to ensure we do not let down the North, and particularly the north-west.