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Doorstop – Parliament House, Canberra

4 April 2019

Subject: Major Project Status for Asterion’s cannabis project


In a doorstop at Parliament House Canberra, the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews and the Minister for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government John McVeigh answer questions on the granting of Major Project Status to Asterion’s cannabis project at Toowoomba.

Karen Andrews: So, this morning I’m announcing that Asterion has been awarded Major Project Status to develop a cannabis growing and processing facility that will be based adjacent to Wellcamp Airport at Toowoomba. So this is a medicinal cannabis growing and processing plant. Currently, medicinal cannabis, legal cannabis, across the world, is worth about US$9.3 billion. When the Asterion facility is up and running, it will inject close to AUD $1 billion into the local economy. So Toowoomba, Queensland and Australia will benefit from the exports that will be achieved for establishing this facility right next to the Wellcamp Airport. The facility will inject also jobs into the Toowoomba region. The predictions are that there will be about 800 full-time positions with an additional 300 part-time positions. So, it will be not only growing the economy but making sure that there are jobs available for the good people of Toowoomba. So, let me invite the Member for Groom, Dr John McVeigh, to speak about the impacts on the Toowoomba economy.

John McVeigh:  Thank you, Minister. This is a significant day in the history of Toowoomba and the Darling Downs. It’s a very exciting day. A $450 million development through this Asterion medicinal cannabis growing and processing facility, represents one of the largest projects in our region's history. The fact that this will present opportunities for $1 billion worth of exports when it's up and running is significant for regional Australia. So, I'm really thrilled the federal government has seen to grant this Major Project Status that will allow the company to proceed through all of the requirements for final approvals et cetera and to get a clear path through to the opportunity to achieve that. This will represent over 1000 jobs – 800 full-time jobs, some 300 part-time jobs – once it's up and running. So that is a major boon as well for Toowoomba; certainly for regional Australia. I'm excited that Asterion will be partnering with the University of Queensland, the Queensland Food and Agriculture Innovation Project, to look at the research requirements for cannabis growing, obviously, the medical research as well.

So, there's no doubt about it. Toowoomba is now leading the charge in regional Australia. And this project, drawing on our horticultural strengths, our research strengths, that are already in place, and the fact that we will see over 1000 jobs – many of those based in research, medical research, horticultural research, that means a significant boon for our future. So, well done, Minister.

Karen Andrews:  Thank you. Thank you. I guess if I can just add to that by saying that when Asterion is at full production capacity, they will be producing about 500,000 kilograms of medicinal cannabis - 500 tonnes of medicinal cannabis, and about 20,000 plants will be grown at that facility. When you look at the $1 billion in exports that Australia is likely to achieve from that and you compare that to the US $9.3 billion capacity of the industry, this will put Australia in a world leading position with the production and processing of medicinal cannabis plants. Does anyone have any questions?

Question: What role have the Wagners play in this? They must be pretty chuffed.

John McVeigh: Well, I can confirm the Wagners are very excited and the Minister and I have spent some time talking about projects like this given her recent visit to Toowoomba. But in terms of the Wagners, the Wellcamp industrial park development that they’ve led, particularly with the airport, they are very thrilled to be landlords for this new development. And of course, our part of the world has tremendous transport linkages – their airport, in particular, but also Inland Rail and of course, the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing straight down to the Brisbane Port. So, this is really drawing on our strengths.

Question:  [Inaudible question]

Karen Andrews:  Clearly, the security is going to be an issue which is why when we looked at this project, we considered whether or not that it needed to be given Major Project Status. By awarding it that status, it means that there will be coordination across many of the departments that are involved. So clearly, security is going to be one of the things that we’re going to be very mindful of, particularly when you have a facility that's growing up to 20,000 cannabis plants for medicinal purposes. So clearly, security is going to be an issue.

Can I also say that this year is an enormous opportunity for Toowoomba to take the lead in the production of medicinal cannabis. So, it's much broader than just looking at actually the 800 full-time jobs and 300 part-time jobs. It’s looking at maximising opportunities throughout the Toowoomba region.

Question: My understanding was medicinal cannabis plant being grown in Queensland, there locations are being kept secret. So this is quite a departure from that isn’t it?

Karen AndrewsLook, we've made it very clear, through this announcement, where the facility is going to be located and we’re doing that because it is such a wonderful opportunity for Australia to make sure that it is demonstrating its capacity to produce and process medicinal cannabis products. So, that is now clearly very well-known where that facility is going to be. It’s adjacent to the Wellcamp Airport and it’s there so that we can maximise the export opportunities.

Question: Why was Toowoomba chosen over [indistinct] two other sites? Parks around the nation claim you had said: we could grow this here. Why was Toowoomba chosen? Does it have a particularly good climate for marijuana, or what is it?

Karen Andrews: Well, Toowoomba was chosen for a number of reasons. Asterion was chosen for a number of reasons. Without going into the absolute specifics, but what I can say is that when we look at awarding  Major Project Status, we look at what potential benefits are going to be for Australia in developing those projects. Now, the proposal came to us that it would be based in Toowoomba. Clearly, to have such a significant export industry located next to an airport is a significant advantage. So that was one of the things that helped with the decision to make sure that Toowoomba was there. But Toowoomba is also a regional hub. It's growing significantly. It has strengths in agriculture, in high tech agriculture. We have the university, the University of Southern Cross there. We have opportunities to look at strengthening research and industry capabilities there and also we have the University of Queensland located in the vicinity as well. So there were lots of things that pointed to Toowoomba, not just the climate.

Question: Minister, what do you think of the Wagners and their ability and what they’ve done? Because they thumbed their nose at a lot of people and they went out and they constructed their very own airport. Something which many people said couldn’t be done in Western Sydney. Despite decades of inactivity by the state government, they did it on their own. Have you spoken to them personally and what do you think about them?

Karen Andrews: I haven’t spoken to the Wagners personally in relation to the announcement that I’m making today. What I will say is that Australia is an entrepreneurial nation and we have some people here who, given some opportunities and taking and grasping those opportunities, they have managed to grow and develop various businesses and in so doing, they’re actually providing significant employment opportunities. We need people who are prepared to take a chance, to be prepared to go out there and develop those opportunities. So congratulations to all of the Australians who have that entrepreneurial spirit. Let’s generate something with it.

Question: Just finally, what’s it going to be worth to the Budget – taxes, revenue?

Karen Andrews:  Well, when we’re actually announcing Major Project Status, what we do is look at a whole range of factors. Our support is to make sure that we try to streamline the processes so that that organisation can get up and running and to inject money that we need into our economy. So what we’re saying is that we’re going to provide the resources through personnel to make it easier for this business to steer its way through the complexities of the red tape that sadly still continue to exist. That’ll be the support that the Commonwealth Government is providing to them and the returns on that are an estimated $1 billion going back into the Australian economy.

Question:  Have we got a potential date that this might commence? When we might start to see exports - when will that be?

John McVeigh: So, Asterion have obviously developed their plans and the Government has looked at that. I know the Minister is familiar with the plans for the greenhouse development, obviously, the processing facilities, and they'll have significant security in place not only for straight security reasons but for product quality reasons as well. It's a 40-hectare site so those plans are ready to go as Asterion finalises its case. I would hope that we see construction certainly underway within the next six months or so, but obviously, that's up to them finalising their implementation plans. And again, to see this project being supported by the Wagners, as the developers on the land, the greenfield site, which allows them to do this in a world-class way, I think is testament to them and testament to pioneers right throughout regional Australia, as the Minister said.

Question: Indistinct]

Karen Andrews: Well, obviously, we’ll be tracking how this project actually plays out but clearly, there's an opportunity for the growth of the medicinal cannabis industry here in Australia. So we will be looking at opportunities. That’s why we’ve granted it Major Project Status. So, we’ll be looking at opportunities to expand, if possible, near that site but also look at other opportunities around Australia.

Thank you very much. Thank you.