Trade and Investment in Australia's North
8 November 2015
Introductory remarks and acknowledgements
Thanks, Bruce. Can I first thank you and Jane for the incredible organisation that Austrade put in to today’s events.
Can I also acknowledge the traditional owners of the land and their elders past and present. Can I say, while I might be the first Minister for Northern Australia and Andrew Robb, the first Minister for Trade and Investment, Marcia is a first Australian. I also acknowledge you here today, Marcia.
Can I also acknowledge, as Andrew did, my parliamentary colleagues from Canberra, Richard Colbeck and Ken O’Dowd and Senator Ian Macdonald who has done so much to drive this northern Australia agenda forward, particularly with the first ever White Paper which I’ll speak a little bit about.
At the Territory and State level, can I acknowledge Adam Giles and his colleagues, Peter Styles and Willem Westra van Holthe. Can I also acknowledge Stirling Hinchliffe as well and my old sparring partner, Gary Gray as well as my other colleagues Natasha Griggs and Warren Snowdon.
Can I say about Andrew Robb, one of my colleagues recently said that he’s had so much success negotiating free trade agreements with China, with Japan, with Korea and now the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that if he was an athlete they’d be testing him for steroids.
He really has been a shining light in both the Abbott and now the Turnbull Governments. He has brought to the Parliament that great combination of economic experience having been a leader of the Farmers’ Federation and having worked at a very senior level in corporate Australia, with the depth of political experience having been the head of our Party organisation before being a longstanding Member and Minister in the Parliament.
So, Andrew, congratulations – this is your event. You’ve been absolutely brilliant in your portfolio and I know the rest of Australia salutes you.
Northern Australia and the White Paper
As many of you know, earlier this year the Australian Government released Our North, Our Future – the first-ever White Paper on Developing Northern Australia.
The White Paper is a plan of action to unlock the enormous potential and opportunities of the north.
As Andrew said – but it’s worth repeating – Northern Australia covers 40 per cent of Australia’s land mass, and is inhabited by just 1.3 million people.
It’s also well-endowed with tremendous advantages, not the least of which is its proximity and connections with both Asia and the Tropics.
I will speak more about the resource endowments of our country at the dinner tomorrow night, but no speech about northern Australia would be complete without a brief mention of its world-leading resource investment opportunities.
We are the world’s largest exporter of iron ore, accounting for 53 per cent of world trade in 2014 and we’re the world’s second largest exporter of coal, with 28 per cent of world trade.
We are on track to overtake Qatar by 2019-2020 as the world’s largest exporter of LNG.
All of this comes from northern Australia.
Northern Australia also has the land, the skills and the institutions that Asia and the Tropics need.
By 2050, the Asia-Pacific region will account for almost half of the world’s economic output and more than half the world’s population.
This represents significant opportunities, not just for trade and investment, which I am focused on today, but also for education and tourism.
As Andrew said, hundreds of millions of Chinese will be travelling every year, but also 50 million Indians will travel overseas every year by 2020 and Andrew is busy working on a free trade agreement with that large country.
The White Paper will also help plan northern Australia’s ability to capture a larger slice of that tourism market.
The White Paper focuses on building priority roads, allowing more diverse use of land, developing water resources, removing red tape, building a sustainable workforce and ensuring effective governance arrangements.
Governments cannot alone develop northern Australia – they can only set the right environment for businesses to profitably invest and for communities to flourish.
There is already strong investor interest from the private sector which accounts for a remarkable 96 per cent of all investment today in northern Australia.
The White Paper puts in place the right policy settings to build on this base and enable the private sector to benefit by investing, innovating, collaborating and prospering.
The Australian Government firmly and strongly welcomes foreign partners and investors and signals a shared commitment to prosperity through development.
It recognises that private investment has been a key element of northern Australia’s success to date from both domestic and capital sources and more is needed.
At present, there are 72 major non-residential projects that have either been committed or are under construction in northern Australia.
In total, these projects are worth more than $220 billion, representing 54 per cent of the value of total non-residential projects across the country.
In terms of value, 55 per cent of these projects are in Western Australia; 27 per cent are in Queensland; and 17 per cent are here in the Northern Territory.
In addition, $78 billion worth of non-residential major projects are under consideration for northern Australia.
Of these, just over 50 per cent of projects are under consideration in Queensland, 40 per cent in Western Australia and 10 per cent in the Northern Territory.
Not surprisingly, 94 per cent of non-residential investment is in mining, with LNG projects making up 90 per cent of investment in mining projects in northern Australia.
The remaining projects are mainly in transport and storage and public education and health projects, like hospitals.
White Paper initiatives
The White Paper includes specific commitments by the Australian Government to measures that will help encourage international investment in our north.
This forum is one of the first of those commitments.
It showcases Australia to the world and, importantly, it will help build business-to-business links and government links that are essential to winning new investments.
Relocation of the Office of Northern Australia
The Office of Northern Australia is being moved to Darwin to drive the northern development agenda.
The office will help me to manage collaboration across Commonwealth agencies, the northern States and the Northern Territory, lead the implementation of the White Paper, and engage with northern stakeholders to identify future opportunities, including ways governments can continue to reduce red tape for business as well as investors.
Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility
Talking of investment, our $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility will make concessional loans to accelerate and bring new infrastructure projects online in northern Australia.
Tomorrow I will be releasing the criteria for comment as to what are the type of projects that concessional loan program could be used for.
The facility is intended to be a key catalyst for further infrastructure investment in northern Australia, and to increase the productive capacity of the north.
It’s an integral part of the Government’s strategy for the northern Australia and builds on our success in using concessional loans elsewhere in Australia.
CRC on Developing Northern Australia
We are also progressing the establishment of a $75 million Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) on Developing Northern Australia.
The CRC will be a vehicle for investment in new research and development facilities in and directed to the north and will focus on agriculture and tropical health among other areas.
Major projects approval agency – Darwin
The government is committed to establishing a single point of entry in Darwin to help facilitate major project approvals for the Northern Territory.
The Major Project Approvals Agency’s Darwin office will be operational from January next year.
It will provide tailored information and advice that will help proponents to identify all of their projects’ regulatory approval obligations.
While the Darwin office is yet to open, the agency is already supporting investment in northern Australia, for example by providing its services to Project Sea Dragon.
As Andrew mentioned, this is a $1.5 billion major aquaculture project with a footprint that crosses the border between the Northern Territory and Western Australia.
The agency is working closely with the Northern Territory and Western Australian Governments to ensure that a regulatory pathway for this project is clearly mapped.
These services provided by the Major Projects Approval Agency are free-of-charge and are available for projects investing more than $50 million. The agency can also assist projects below this threshold and recognises the significant economic impact that smaller projects can have in a local area.
I would encourage any major project investors considering projects in the Northern Territory and in northern Australia more generally to speak with the Major Project Approvals Agency representatives here at the Forum.
Regional business linkages
The Australian Government has also committed $2.5 million to foster business-to-business links with Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste.
This will draw on our existing strong connection with these countries to promote economic growth and poverty reduction and deliver new opportunities in our region.
As the Government is committed to developing northern Australia, in the White Paper we are implementing a separate round of measures worth some $1.2 billion. This includes:
- a $600 million roads package to improve key roads;
- $100 million to improve northern cattle supply chains;
- $200 million to facilitate greater investment in northern water infrastructure, which is part of a broader $500 million commitment to new water infrastructure;
- nearly $50 million towards simplifying land tenure arrangements, including additional support for native title bodies;
- $15.3 million to position Australia as a leader in tropical health, and;
- Over $5 million for analysis of potential northern freight rail projects.
This is in addition to the $5 billion concessional loan program and to the $5 billion committed to northern Australia as part of the Government’s $50 billion nationwide investment in transport infrastructure.
Having a long term implementation strategy over the next two decades will provide certainty for investors and it’s events like this that help build the links to produce outcomes for years to come.
Finally, I just want to say that our new Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, is absolutely committed to this project of developing the north. Working with Andrew and I, Richard, Paul and many of my other ministerial colleagues, and of course our Local Members who know so much about their own communities and their needs, this Government will hopefully see northern Australia fulfil its wonderful potential.
Thank you very much.
 Deloitte Access Economics Investment Monitor September Quarter 2015.