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- GOVERNOR-GENERAL'S SPEECH
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- GOVERNOR-GENERAL'S SPEECH
- MINISTERIAL STATEMENTS
- GOVERNOR-GENERAL'S SPEECH
Monday, 6 May 1996
Mr O'CONNOR(3.44 p.m.) —Some projects are just too important to our regional and national economies to become bogged down in party political argument. Today I rise to support just such a project, one that will create thousands of good, long-term, highly skilled jobs and contribute billions of dollars in badly needed export earnings. It is a project that is clean, green, makes maximum use of existing infrastructure and will expand our trade links with the rapidly growing economies of Asia. I am talking about the redevelopment of Avalon airport as a dedicated airfreight hub for the export of fresh produce to Asian markets.
There is an old saying that every idea or vision has its moment in history—and Avalon's time is now. Avalon's potential development has been known to the Geelong community for some time. In 1994 the then Labor government financed a study through the Office of Labor Market Adjustment which identified opportunities for the export of perishable foods to Asia through Avalon. This study was followed by another which identified the basic infrastructure requirements, such as cool stores, building facilities and handling equipment, to induce airfreight operators to utilise the airport. That develop ment was costed at between $4 million and $5 million.
Our confidence in the potential of Avalon's development as a dedicated hub for the export of perishable foods is based on some very simple and logical propositions. Avalon is situated at the juxtaposition of major national transport assets. I refer to the port of Geelong, Australia's largest bulk handling port; the national standard gauge line, which passes in the vicinity of the airport; the Princes Highway, which links western Victoria with the capital of the state of Victoria, Melbourne; and Avalon airport itself, which was built as a military airport capable of taking the largest of military air freighters.
In addition, Avalon is ideally situated to draw production from its western district hinterland, from South Australia, Tasmania and the Riverina in New South Wales. The Geelong region also possesses a highly skilled work force and surplus labour, due to the restructuring of TCF and motor vehicle industries in the region over the past decade.
The region also contains quality educational institutions and a training infrastructure to supplement a major development. I refer here to Deakin University, the Gordon TAFE, the Werribee Food Research Institute and the RMIT in Melbourne. The Geelong economy possesses a strong manufacturing capacity to accommodate the demand for goods and services that would be generated by any large-scale development.
However, the central driving force in our vision for Avalon is the knowledge of expanding Asian markets for aquiculture, floriculture and horticultural produce from Australia. That potential was acknowledged several years ago by the previous Labor government when Ministers Crean and Button launched the government's food industry strategy with a modest $5 million package designed to encourage the production value adding and export of food from Australia, particularly to Asia.
In January this year, in its food Asia 2000 strategy, the government committed a further $20 million to increase food exports to Asia to $7 billion by the year 2000. So our vision for Avalon is based firmly in the reality of a burgeoning market for perishable food produce to Asia over the next decade.
The Geelong community's renewed lobbying thrust grew out of a meeting between members of the Habitat Trust and me, held in August 1995 to discuss a greater profile for Geelong in the state government's freightway transport study for the metropolitan area of Melbourne. Following those meetings, I established a lobby group consisting of me, the member for Lalor (Mr Barry Jones), members of the Habitat Trust, the Mayor of the City of Greater Geelong, the Secretary of the Geelong Provincial Trades and Labour Council and the President of the Geelong Chamber of Commerce. The group was formed to push for the creation of a dedicated airfreight hub at Avalon.
In the latter months of 1995 and early 1996, we successfully lobbied senior economic ministers in the previous Labor government, who expressed support for our vision for Avalon. Those ministers included the ministers for regional development, industry, science and technology, primary industry and resources, trade and the Treasurer.
In the past there have been several main impediments to the development of Avalon along the lines we propose. Firstly, previous airfreight arrangements have seen the consideration of airfreight as an adjunct to bilateral passenger arrangements between Australia and Asia; secondly, the lack of essential infrastructure at the airport itself; thirdly, the desire of the present state government to protect existing airfreight operations out of Melbourne airport; and, fourthly, an inability to put food production, airfreight and financial interests together in a serious attempt to exploit Avalon's potential.
The catalyst for achieving the latter has been the decision by the previous Labor government to seek expressions of interest from investors willing to exploit this golden opportunity. I am pleased to say that those interests have been assembled and that detailed discussions have already taken place. This gives me grounds for some optimism that the Avalon development will proceed.
Our plans were given a further boost by the previous government's decision to free up airfreight arrangements to allow bilateral discussions with our Asian neighbours on dedicated airfreight, and by a proposal to establish six regional freight hubs to further stimulate the export of perishable foods as part of the government's Food Asia 2000 strategy. Those initiatives fell broadly into line with the goal of the Geelong lobby group to establish Avalon as an airfreight hub dedicated to the export of perishable foods, and to free up inadequate airfreight arrangements existing at the time.
Our Avalon vision is breathtakingly simple and logical. It is to establish at Avalon an integrated, seamless production and distribution hub for perishable food exports to Asia, produced in a clean, green production zone in the environs of the airport and from its hinterland, including Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales.
For Geelong, this development offers a unique opportunity to exploit a burgeoning market that we know already exists and is destined to grow dramatically in the next decade. Over the past decade the Geelong community has borne a heavy burden with the restructuring of its key motor vehicle and TCF industries. We see in Avalon an opportunity to forge a new economic direction, to exploit new markets and to build upon human and physical assets which abound in the region.
We estimate that at stake in this development is the creation of around 5,000 jobs in the region and its hinterland. It is a development of major national economic significance for several reasons. The employment gains to the Geelong region are enormous. The gains to the national economy are substantial in terms of our exports and external balance, economic growth and jobs growth, and the Avalon concept is based on the exploitation of new and developing markets to our near north. It will propel Australian agriculture in new directions and will involve transfer of state-of-the-art production and distribution technologies by investors who are already excited at this proposal.
In short, Avalon airport and the port of Geelong are the centre of the most unique and strategically located integrated transport system in Australia. Drawing from a four-state hinterland, Avalon is a national economic asset with enormous potential economic benefits to Australia and to our international trading position within the APEC region.
Preliminary discussions have already been held with the new government and I am pleased that all indications are that they understand and appreciate the economic benefits to the nation of this development. However, with all these great opportunities there are some threats and my appeal today goes to the Victorian state government to not proceed with the development of the hazardous chemicals waste dump at Point Lilias, some four kilometres from Avalon.
Avalon's real economic potential lies in producing from massive `food factories' under plastic in the immediate environs of the airport. The seamless distribution hub concept relies heavily on massive production around the airport. Avalon's marketing strength internationally will rely on creating and maintaining the airport and its environs as a clean, green production and distribution zone.
The development of Avalon can and should be a bipartisan political endeavour and I am sure that, with goodwill, sensible consideration will be given to the national economic significance of Avalon. (Time expired)