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Developing Northern Australia Conference


23 November 2020

KEITH PITT: Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon and thank you so much for the warm welcome. Can I just say, my first good decision today was not to wear a jacket. I think my second good decision was the Beef 2021 tie for next year – there’s not a lot of Rockhampton people in the crowd [indistinct].

Of course, I acknowledge all of my colleagues: Senator Canavan, Assistant Minister Michelle Landry, Shadow Minister Senator Watt; other members and senators that happen to be here, mayors, counsellors, members of the advisory groups, everyone associated with the north and each and every one of you.

I thought about how I should open this conference - and I point out, it’s not my first conference. I was in Cairns a few years ago.


KEITH PITT:  Our first invitation, thank you very much.

I’m actually going to speak about pineapples of all things. A few heads have gone down in the crowd already. I want to point out what Michelle Landry has done with the humble pineapple. Famous for pineapples in Rockhampton, and I can tell you Michelle has taken that produce to Canberra. Senator, every member and senator, stood up at the press conference with pineapples, put them in the local papers, put them in the state papers, put them in the national papers, put them on the national television. And yep they’re prickly on the outside and a bit thorny on the top, but the point I want to make is no matter what the symbol is of your region, or what it is that you do with it or how you use it to promote what it is that you do every single day, the key is in your advocates. Members and senators in the federal parliament are your best asset, they are your best asset. Because quite simply, they are in the face of all of us every single time there’s a sitting. Every time you’re talking to them, you’re talking directly to us. You're talking directly to the cabinet, to the ministers that make decisions, to the individuals who are in their offices. Every single one of them works hard, regardless of which side of the aisle they’re on. They all work hard, and you have such a short period of time to make a difference. And I want to acknowledge the work of Michelle and others, particularly here and throughout the north.

There has been significant and substantial changes across a number of years. There absolutely has. Whether it's the beef roads, whether it's investment in the rise of strategic importance, whether it's the work of the NAIF. Over $2.4 billion committed already. All of those things have made a difference for the north, for you as individuals, for your businesses, for your areas, for your councils, for your organisations, for your universities. So, I want to acknowledge the work that's already been done.

But quite simply, ladies and gentlemen, we're not finished. There's a lot more to do yet. And the thing I love about the north is its people. Two things. Firstly, they are incredibly resilient. I went into the north after Cyclone Yasi, about two weeks after. Couldn’t find a road sign to save myself. For those who live up that way, you know what it was like, hardly a leaf left on a tree, blew the grass out of the ground, blew over four track harvesters. And yet, quite simply, every individual, as we all do when these things happen over a period of years, was out working hard, helping the neighbours cleaning up. We are resilient people, remarkably resilient, but we also know acceptance. We know the things we can't change, but we want to drive on with the things that we can. And that's why I'm so pleased to be here, not only with you, but the fact that you are all here in person, apart from those on Zoom, obviously. But the fact that we've managed to get together as individuals and groups to represent our local areas and put forward those projects, I'm just so pleased to have that opportunity.

But ladies and gentlemen, what a year it has been. If you asked me at the start of this year what I thought would be the biggest issue, well, a worldwide pandemic was not it. But once again, we have shown our resilience, whether it is the resources sector, who continue to maintain their operations, whether it's agriculture, who’ve managed, got by, performed, continued. And whether it’s our entire nation, who has continued to uphold our reputation as a strong trading partner, as a trading partner that is reliable, as a trading partner that has the ability to continue to deliver the things that we do all around the world.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are a trading nation. Northern Australia’s future is in trade. The more trade we do, the more jobs we can deliver, the more opportunities there are for us, for you, for your businesses, and in particular for your children. So, it’s my great pleasure to be here to speak about the north and our Northern Australian agenda. So, whether it is the money we put forward in COVID and whether it is the decisions we have to make, which I'm sure people will look in retrospect and say: well, you should have done X and Y or Z. But the reality is your government made decisions based on the information we had, and delivered, in my view, what was necessary. And we will continue to do that because there is one way through the post-COVID period. There is one way for us to move forward and that is continue to deliver in our economy. Northern Australia has an enormous part to do in delivering for our economy, driving jobs, adding to Australia’s GDP and continuing to enhance Australia’s reputation.

So, inside my portfolio, what is it we are doing? Well, we’ve committed money to what’s called Exploring for the Future 2. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but can I tell you it’s $125 million on resource exploration. Money that in the decades to come will ensure once again that Australia continues to maintain its reputation. They tell me that inside Geoscience Australia, who has responsibility for this, we're doing two deep dives, and that doesn't mean much to me. But if you look at a map of Australia, you take a three-quarter inch paintbrush and you paint two stripes- well, that's the area they’re looking in more closely than others. And what does that mean for you? Well, Exploring for the Future one, it meant that Geoscience Australia identified over a trillion dollars’ worth of potential resources for this country. That is the Commonwealth, it is yours, the peoples. It is to be utilised for your benefit, it is to ensure that your kids have jobs and you have jobs for the future. So, we’ll continue to invest in the future, whether it’s through that program or others.

And just today, the Office of the Chief Economist identified that there are $39 billion worth of resource projects, all tracked, ready to go. Some 54 projects across the country, many of which are in the north, and as much as I’d like to say it’s bright and shiny, and gold is a very big part of that. We’ll go on to be the biggest exporter and producer of gold in the world in the next 18 months. And why? Because the price is high, because we’re efficient, because we have a workforce that’s out there and readily available, because people like you are ready and willing to invest your money into these types of enterprises, to take the risks to borrow, to employ, and to drive our country forward.

So, ladies and gentlemen, there are a lot of opportunities in the north. The $2.4 billion which is currently committed for the NAIF is expected to drive some 8,000 jobs. Earlier in the year I made announcements around changes to the NAIF which are proposed, and we’ll put those forward on the legislative agenda in the new year, and we’ll continue to work through that process, including, of course, consulting with the Opposition and making sure that we can get that through both the House and the Senate. And the reason for that is I want the NAIF to be, quite simply, more slipstream, more agile with a greater ability to fund small projects in particular, and, of course, if necessary, to make decisions without the state’s right of veto.

I'm an electrician, I’m an electrical engineer, I come from business, I make practical decisions. 260 days on average for a state or territory to make a decision as to whether the Commonwealth can fund a particular project on the Commonwealth balance sheet with no contribution from a state or territory, well, I don't think that's acceptable. So we're looking to ensure we can make changes around the NAIF, particularly for those big projects to change the definition of what can be funded, and to drive more jobs and a stronger agenda into Northern Australia.

So, ladies and gentlemen, the budget, the economic recovery plan for our nation included some $4 billion worth of expenditure. Now, one of the great challenges for me as the Minister for Northern Australia, is I don't have a giant budget, I pinch everyone else’s. So, for every activist, every lobbyist, every individual here that’s in there talking to Canberra, talking to local members, I’m the same, I’m trying to pinch other ministers’ money to drive the Northern Australia agenda as far as we possibly can. This is how you get more infrastructure, this is how you get comms infrastructures, this is how you get roads across the areas where we need them. But we will be very strategic in our plan.

For those who have seen it, Karen Andrews’ manufacturing plan, over a billion dollars committed to try and ensure we can get scale inside manufacturing, six key areas, and that includes agricultural and beverages, it includes mines to minerals, for example, in terms of critical minerals and downstream processing, because the opportunity for our country is now. It is now.

The reason we are looking at a gas-led recovery is because of competitive gas prices, means competitive manufacturing sectors, which means internationally competitive manufacturing sectors, which ensures more jobs onshore and more manufacturing in this country and not elsewhere.

Now, for those of you in the crowd who are looking around right now, the feedback that I've been getting the last six months is our onshore manufacturers have been overrun with enquiries. Whether it's the group down in Brisbane who are actually just out making mower blades and bits and pieces, but have the biggest set of punch presses in the country, overrun with Australian companies looking for support, looking to be able to deliver those things that they need to keep their businesses running. And I think that has happening across the country. And as I said earlier this morning, we have an absolute, an absolute tidal wave of people looking to move to the regions. Now I encourage each and every one of them, in every area, in every council, every local government area, do everything you can to attract that talent to your region because they are buying houses site unseen, they are looking to get out of Dodge and they don't want to be in a big city anymore.

And would you believe for the first time in my memory, we actually have people looking to silo to the regions because they can, not shift to the cities because they can. And I think that's a great thing for our nation, it’s a great thing for opportunity.

So, ladies and gentlemen, we'll continue with the gas-fired recovery. We'll continue to invest in things like Big Rocks weir.  And of course, the Adelaide river off streams storage. And I am looking now to develop our next phase in terms of the Northern Australia Agenda. So, the refresh program package is slowly coming to fruition. For those of you that haven’t noticed, there's been a bit on in recent months. But we are moving our way forward in terms of driving that agenda in our next stage to ensure we do meet those commitments. We've already delivered 45 of the 51 measures set out in the white paper on developing Northern Australia. There's more to do of which you will all be an incredibly important part, because ladies and gentlemen, quite simply government cannot do everything in terms of the north or anywhere else.

We can help to set the structures to make you and your businesses successful. We can ensure that we deliver gas which is effective in terms of cost, affordable and reliable electricity, a workforce which is readily available and trained, all of the things around approvals that you need, particularly around the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act. For me, once again, why would you need to have two runs on basically the same legislation in the state and federal level? It's why we are looking to set up bilateral agreements with WA and other states to ensure we can get these projects underway.

And as I said briefly, the Office of the Chief Economist has identified a pipeline of projects in the resources sector, over 300 currently being assessed right now; over 300. Billions of dollars’ worth of investment, tens of thousands of jobs. And Northern Australia will be an enormous partner, because quite simply, what is good for you is good for the north; what is good for the north, is good for Australia, and that is in all of our interests.

Ladies and gentlemen, with that I’ll say thank you so much. Good afternoon, god bless, and safe travels.