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Wednesday, 2 March 2016
Page: 1615

Northern Australia

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:48): My question is to the Minister for Northern Australia, Senator Canavan. Recognising that with less than five per cent of the population of Australia, northern Australia produces something like 50 per cent of its exports, I ask the minister how the development of northern Australia will support growth in the nation and in the national economy as Australia transforms from the resources boom.

Senator CANAVAN (QueenslandMinister for Northern Australia) (14:48): I thank Senator Macdonald, my fellow senator from the north, for his question. At the outset, I would like to recognise all the work that Senator Macdonald has done over the years to help deliver the government's plan on this agenda. I am very thankful he has done that work because there is a lot to do in this space now, given the government's agenda. He is also right to point out how important is the contribution of the north to our nation's growth, because it is uniquely placed to help deliver the transition we need to get beyond the resources boom.

Senator Macdonald is right that only about six per cent of Australians live in the north, but it does deliver from our northern ports more than 50 per cent of our exports. It also delivers more than 11 per cent of our GDP from just six per cent of our people. It is also well placed to help this transition because it is uniquely geographically placed in our nation. By 2050, half of the world's population will live in tropical regions across the globe. Of course, the north of our country is the tropical region of Australia.

We believe that the natural advantages that the North has should be reinvested in and that the government should focus on them, because driving growth in those areas will help drive growth across our nation. We are doing that through establishing a $5 billion low concessional loan facility and investing $600 million in roads across the north to help improve connections between communities and an additional $100 million specifically in our beef supply chains to get down costs in our beef sector. Through all of these investments we will make a stronger and more prosperous north and create more jobs in the north. A stronger north of our nation means a stronger nation overall.

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:50): I thank the minister for that information. Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Could he advise how the coalition government's Northern Australia white paper is unlocking the potential of people and businesses across the north during this time of transition from the mining boom?

Senator CANAVAN (QueenslandMinister for Northern Australia) (14:51): The senator is also right to point out the other advantages that the north has. Apart from the measures I have already mentioned, the government is focused on taking advantage of these areas, particularly in areas like education and tourism in our north. They are already strong industries in our north and in many parts of our country but they are things we can build on, too. That is why we are investing $15.3 million in tropical health and medical research initiatives across the north as part of our white-paper plan and $75 million in establishing a new, industry led cooperative research centre to develop Northern Australia. Of course, on Monday the government announced $13.6 million through the Northern Australia tourism initiative, which will deploy a team of experts across our north to provide one-on-one business advice, particularly to tourism businesses. Tourism is going to be a particularly important industry now that our dollar is lower.

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:52): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. In addition to the Northern Australian white paper, the government has recently released the defence white paper. Can the minister outline how the defence white paper will attract and involve investment in Northern Australia?

Senator CANAVAN (QueenslandMinister for Northern Australia) (14:52): Senator Macdonald is right. Building our defence resources and facilities in our north is a key part of our white paper and our plan for Northern Australia. We want to improve our defence facilities and increase our Defence personnel presence in the north. The white paper released last week by the Minister for Defence delivers on that commitment because we will make a significant investment over the next decade to upgrade Defence bases and facilities across our north, including Darwin, Cairns, Townsville, Alice Springs and Katherine. Right across our north we will be delivering a more capable force for Australia's security. This means we will be better able to detect, and rapidly respond to, threats to our maritime borders; protect our communities, cities and remote regional areas in the north; operate into the region from Northern Australia to support our region's security; and respond when help is needed.