Press conference, Mackay

Great Barrier Reef, Developing Northern Australia Conference, Northern Australia industry and resources, cost of living.

NITA GREEN: Thanks, everyone for being here. My name is Nita Green. I’m a Labor Senator for Queensland and I’m also the Special Envoy for the Great Barrier Reef. So, it’s a privilege to be here in Mackay today with our Minister for Northern Australia and Resources, Madeleine King, and also our Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Education, Anthony Chisholm. 

We are all in town today, along with hundreds of stakeholders, for the Developing Northern Australia Conference. It’s a fantastic opportunity for the Labor Government and members of the Labor Government to be here to listen to people about what the Northern Australia agenda should be under our Government. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to speak to many people. This is an important conference for our region and for North Queensland in particular. It’s good to have it back in North Queensland. I know we do lend it out sometimes to our friends in the Northern Territory and WA. But it’s good to have it back in North Queensland because this is a conference about the future of North Queensland, the jobs available in North Queensland, and, most importantly, how we partner together to achieve what we need to deliver the best outcomes for people living in our beautiful region. 

I’d also like to mention that today I will have the opportunity to address the conference and speak a little about the role of the Special Reef Envoy. It’s a fantastic opportunity that I have, and it is very clear to me that this region is an important part of that story in protecting and maintaining the Great Barrier Reef. We know that up in the Whitsundays we have parts of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park that people are working on every day; jobs are being supported by the reef; tourism operators; people working on conservation. But we also know that this is a huge catchment area when it comes to water quality. So, I’m looking forward to working with people in the catchment areas, with our cane farmers, with people in the sugar industry and talking about how we with partner together to maintain and protect the Great Barrier Reef. That’s what I’ll be talking about today and I’ll be listening to our stakeholders. I would like to hand over to Anthony Chisholm. 

ANTHONY CHISHOLM: Thanks, Nita, and it’s good to be with you in Mackay and it’s good to see a show of support from the Federal Government for this important conference here in North Queensland. 

I actually got into Mackay yesterday and spent the day with the regional development group here in Mackay. What was clear to me is that their priorities match federal Labor’s priorities. So, they want to see an investment in health and better mental health services in this part of the world. They want to see diversification of industry. They want to see some more for tourism and their traditional strengths, but they also want to see an opportunity for growth into the future and that’s what federal Labor is about. So, it’s important that we show that we’re here to listen, we’re here to work with these governments. They don’t want to fight for political sake. They want to see a Federal Government that’s prepared to work with them and put the best interests of regional Australia at the forefront of what we do. I think it’s pleasing that Madeleine King is here as the Northern Australia Minister because what it shows is that we’ve got a Federal Government that understands how important this part of the world is, but we’ve got a big agenda to work with this community and communities right around Northern Australia to ensure that they can prosper into the future as well. 

So, my message to the people of Mackay and surrounding areas is that as a Federal Government that we don’t care how people voted, we want to work with everyone to ensure that we can be the best Government for everyone in Australia. And the commitment from three of us here today shows that we want to work with this community and everyone in Northern Australia to build a better future. 

MADELEINE KING: Thanks, Nita, and thanks Anthony, and thanks for your wonderful welcome here to the sugar city that is Mackay. It’s a really great pleasure to be here in Northern Queensland again. I’ve travelled a fair way from Western Australia, but it’s always a great pleasure to be here in Northern Queensland and Northern Australia to speak with local people and also in the Developing Northern Australia Conference to sit and listen with the various groups and the councils, leaders of Northern Australia, that will be here over the next couple of days to talk about how we work together to unlock the economic and social potential that is here in Northern Australia. What we know right across Northern Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, that Northern Australia has one of the youngest, most vibrant multicultural populations in the country. And it’s that energy that comes from that youth and vibrancy that will be what fuels the ongoing development of this part of the country. 

Everyone knows how challenging the geography and the weather is of Northern Australia is, as we’ve seen, and that’s something that governments have to help in overcoming so that we can get that economic development which works for the benefit of all of those living in Northern Australia. 

Those that have worked here for many, many years are pioneers as I see it about this part of the country. The challenges they face are quite remarkable, but they persevere, and we have wonderful towns like here in Mackay, that have prospered over many, many years using the natural resources, the sugar, the mining, and now we need to talk more about diversifying that, as Senator Chisholm said, so that we can prosper long into the future. These industries will be around for many years to come but it’s important that we start to think about what other industries we develop so that there are more jobs and more prospects for all of the population of Northern Australia and all the people who want to come and live in Northern Australia, because why wouldn’t you? It’s a beautiful part of the world. It has some of the most magnificent scenery you’ll see. It has its challenges with weather, but everyone really enjoys those good times which is really important. 

Today, I’ll be delivering a speech at the Developing Northern Australia Conference. I’ll talk about how I see the Northern Australia portfolio operating into the future and it’s really about a collaborative effort across the three states involved and the Federal Government. And what we want to do, and as Senator Green and Senator Chisholm have said, is to listen to the people here at this conference today and not just today, but across the next term of this Government, to get the best outcomes for the people of Northern Australia so that we can continue to develop it and develop it together, and to be here. I think the commitment the Labor Government is showing today by being present is something that will continue right through this term because we’re committed to Northern Australia. We’ll be happy to take questions. 

JOURNALIST: So, obviously, this is bringing everyone sort of together, but what are you specifically hoping will come out of this conference? Like, what’s next step after this conference? 

MADELEINE KING: Well, conferences are really useful because they gather ideas and they let more ideas out into the open and I think that’s what we want to be part of that. So, I think next steps come after we’ve heard from everyone. I don’t want to pre-empt strict policy agendas right now because we are a new Government. We need to assess what’s happened in the past and we need to listen to people, and find out what they think is best and work with them to make sure that the best pathway is followed.

JOURNALIST: And I spoke to the shadow minister this morning, and she was saying she was looking forward to meeting you because she sort of said that you guys have been kind of quiet on your plans for Northern Australia. But is that the purpose of today to sort of come out and say what you hope to see and sort of maybe get some clarity on your plans for Northern Australia? 

MADELEINE KING: Yeah, well, my speech today will set out what my thoughts on it, and they’re not the end of my thoughts. There’s lots to pick up. And, as I said, it’s important not to – in my mind anyway, not to set a strict agenda before you’ve consulted with more people. So, that’s what I intend to do. Obviously, we had a number of policies and commitments leading into the election which we will fulfil. But as the broader agenda, that has to be worked out, I think, with a few more people because I don’t want to close anything off. I want to make sure we are open and collaborative, work with all three states. I think it’s really important to bring the ministerial forum back into the prominence with the relevant ministers from WA, the NT and Queensland and myself as the federal minister, so we can work together to make that a really regularised interaction and to have the departments work together a bit more efficiently as well. 

JOURNALIST: And I mean, you were talking about sort of looking for other ways to expand, which is great, but are you also going to be looking at the issues that are here now and also the cost of living pressures, the coal taxes, the tariffs, all of that sort of thing, are they going to be addressed as well at this conference? 

MADELEINE KING: Well, I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of sessions around these things. The cost of living right across the country is clearly a massive challenge. And we’ve been talking about it for a long time. But that cost of living challenge right across the north is amplified even more so, and it’s a thin market, less people, the challenges of distance. So, it is a massive problem and again I’ll be working with my fellow state ministers to see what solutions might be out there to address those cost of living issues. We can’t solve that overnight. I wish I could, I really do, and I really do appreciate the challenges local people in Northern Australia face. 

JOURNALIST: And one of the other things the shadow minister was saying is that she wants to see more Northern Australia’s — Northern Australian people sort of being part of this because she thinks a lot of them come from sort of out of Northern Australia and aren’t actually here, in it all and seeing it all. Do you think this conference is going to help with that? 

MADELEINE KING: Well, my understanding is that people at this conference today are from Northern Australia. And we’ve got Senator Nita Green who is most certainly from Northern Australia and there are many regional mayors and councils that are from Northern Australia. I’ll be meeting with reference groups and so forth that are all from Northern Australia. So, I think, and there’s the Northern Australia CRC, so there is a lot of people from Northern Australia that live there, that are engaged in this. The truth is Northern Australia is part of the whole country and it’s important that the south of the country, where a lot of the capital is, make sure it supports Northern Australia. And that’s what I want to make sure happens. That the people in the south, particularly in Canberra, need to hear the voices of the north. 

JOURNALIST: And, so, what’s the future direction of the northern resources industry under a federal Labor Government? How will it differ from Liberal? 

MADELEINE KING: We support the current traditional resources industry, absolutely in terms of up here, coal mining and also in Gladstone, the gas export industry, also it’s important supply into the southern markets. We absolutely support that, and I’ve been very clear on that. This country, though, has an extraordinary opportunity in terms of the critical minerals and rare earths that exist right across the country, but in the Northern Territory there’s a lot of deposits that are being discovered seemingly, it feels like, every other day. But also, in Queensland, we want to start making more things here with the battery manufacturing concept and investment into that and value-adding and resources fund. We want, you know, turbo charge our local investment in our local resources to make sure we use most of those resources here, work with our international partners to supply them because this is now a geo strategic issue around critical minerals and rare earths. So, that’s the future. The traditional resources industry and the mining engineering and tech services. I mean, Mackay is a shining example of that to the whole country — the mining services sector employs thousands of people, very good, very secure, well paid jobs. So those industries continue, as well they should, but we have new, very exciting resources economy going forward. 

JOURNALIST: I’ve got a question for Senator Green. So, obviously, you do mention the intentions to work with cane growers when it comes to protecting the future of the reef. Obviously there has been some pushback from the agricultural industry about restrictions. How do you intend to, I guess, take feedback from farmers, and go forward to have a mutually beneficial result for both parties? 

NITA GREEN: Well, it’s a really good question. And in the context of Anthony Albanese’s leadership, as the Prime Minister, I think people want to see an end to toxic politics and politics for the sake of politics, division for the sake of division. The truth is that we have cane farmers, people working in agriculture that are doing really good things right now to help the reef ecosystem and they are doing really good things right now to improve water quality and runoff. I want to celebrate those people. It is true that the former Government tried to politicise this issue. They raised a Senate inquiry, as you would recall, to try to beef up the issues in this space. But what I would like to see is that partnership and that collaboration and champion the people who are doing really good work every single day to improve their water quality on their farms. There’s many, many farms that I will be visiting in addition to being under the water and snorkelling and seeing coral. The reef as a portfolio and an area of interest doesn’t just finish at the shoreline; it’s something that’s really, really important to people throughout the region because of the catchment area. So that’s what I intend to do. And I know that there’s good farmers who are doing really good work and I want to champion them, talk about the good work they’re doing and make sure that we can put an end this toxic debate about farmers versus science. It’s not happening and the people that try to make this a political issue are not serving the reef and they’re not serving the farmers either. I’m going to put a bed to that. It is under Anthony Albanese — Anthony Albanese — sorry I’ve got a dry throat. It’s under Albo’s leadership that we are taking a new direction in ending politics for the take of politics, division for the sake of division, and that’s why I’m looking forward to meeting lots of different stakeholders today across the spectrum. 

JOURNALIST: What consultation has happened with the stakeholders, today, and what are the future plans for consultation? 

NITA GREEN: So, a couple of weeks ago I met with the Queensland Farmers Federation and my plan through that meeting was to find out those types of projects that actually go to be on farm and see the good work that people are doing. So, we’re lining up some of those opportunities in the next couple of weeks. I’m really looking forward to heading out into Tully and Innisfail and a couple of places in Bundaberg to look at some of the projects around water quality and water restoration. So, that’s the work that I have been doing and that I will continue to do. I know there is a session tomorrow, that unfortunately, I won’t be there for, on catchment and on water quality, so that is one of the things I’ll be looking to get feedback from that session. But really, today and tomorrow is about meeting stakeholders for the first time in this new role of mine, making sure that they know that I have a very collaborative approach, making sure that they understand that as an ambassador for the reef I’m an ambassador for them as well, because I want to see the best water quality results, not only for the reef but also for our farmers. 

JOURNALIST: And up until this point, obviously, there has been some burden placed on agriculture to be able to reduce what they’re doing and what impact that’s having on the reef. Are there other industries that you’re looking to as to what measures could be implemented there to reduce impacts on the reef? 

NITA GREEN: So, in terms of water quality, one of the biggest things we need to do is make sure that any type of runoff is controlled, regulated and the opportunities that farmers have to actually save money and have better nutrient quality, they’re getting those opportunities. So, definitely, our agricultural industry is the place that we’ve been looking at most intently when it comes to water quality and reef runoff. But there’s other industries that we can talk to as well. And we want to make sure that our tourism industry is operating in the most sustainable, renewable way. There’s some exciting possibilities in the tourism space. But what’s really exciting is the opportunity to speak to transport operators, people who are working in our mining industry, people who are working in our primary producer industries so our cattle farmers further up north, because these are the people who live and breathe the land. They are certainly the people who know the land the best and they can work with us and find opportunities for themselves to save money, to save opportunities to be ahead of the game and export their technology to the rest of the world when it comes to the great things they are doing on their land. 

I will mention, I think it’s important to understand, that you know, this week is NAIDOC Week and the other thing we intend to do as a government more broadly, but particularly myself in the reef space, is to talk to our Indigenous rangers and our Indigenous leaders, Traditional Owners, because they’re the other group of people who understand the land better than anyone else and when it comes to the reef, they actually understand the sea country better than anybody else. So there’s also a really important space for us to work with Indigenous leaders, with Traditional Owners and rangers and develop their skills and make sure that we’re incorporating their views and their understanding of these areas into what we’re doing and the programs that we’re funding.