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Monday, 2 March 2015
Page: 1750


Mr EWEN JONES (Herbert) (11:30): I move:

That this House notes that:

(1) this Government is committed to delivering a White Paper on Developing Northern Australia that will set out a clear and well defined policy platform for unlocking the potential of the north, including consideration of the recommendations of the final report of the Inquiry into the Development of Northern Australia;

(2) providing customs and border security at Townsville Airport is in line with one of the recommendations in the Development of Northern Australia final report;

(3) the extra benefits to trade and tourism are important to opening Townsville to the international market and continuing Townsville's strong economic position in Northern Australia;

(4) this Government is committed to creating more local jobs and opportunities for the North Queensland community; and

(5) this continues the Government mantra of being open for business, and under new management.

Townsville is a fantastic city. What we did recently with the announcement of Townsville's international airport goes to a couple of things that I want to talk about here. First and foremost it says that the government does not create wealth. Government sets the circumstances around which business can employ and business can create wealth. What we have done here is allow the market to decide if Townsville can sustain an international airport—and not government red tape.

This decision says two things about our government. First, it says that the government, under the leadership of Tony Abbott and Warren Truss, acknowledges that money is tight. Even though our department of immigration and border control has saved us billions and billions of dollars by stopping the boats, their budget is always under pressure. This decision to allow Townsville to recommence being an international airport was not a specific election promise. The money had to be found. Minister Scott Morrison—when he had the job—and now Peter Dutton above all respect the taxpayers' dollars. We had to earn it. This is a government which does not drive down the street throwing $50 notes out of the windows.

Secondly, it says that, if you have a good idea, we are open for business. Not one minister turned me away. The PMO has been fantastic in assisting me get this up. It would not have happened without the cooperation of the ministers in charge of border control, Treasury, trade and investment, finance, and infrastructure, and without the PMO playing a crucial role in pulling it all together. I could not be prouder of my leadership team or of being a member of this government representing a city which wants to do more for its citizens each and every day.

Before the last election and ever since I was elected, I have always said that Townsville has to be an international city, if we are going to develop the north of Australia. The largest city north of the Tropic of Capricorn—across the country—is Townsville. We have nearly 200,000 people. We have a fine university base. We have a diversified economy. Townsville is a national hub for this. We must be an international city. We cannot simply look west to the North West Mineral Province and hope for our future. Where is our region? Our region faces the north, the east, the west and the north-west. We are perfectly positioned for the Asian century. We are perfectly positioned to be that conduit and that hub for the development of northern Australia.

I have always said that if you draw a right angle triangle using Townsville as the hub, as the axis point there, you have Papua New Guinea to the north of us and Fiji to the east of us. In that 90 degree arc of a circle you have the Melanesian world. That is where a large percentage of our aid goes, and it is a large area of concern for Australia. It is somewhere Townsville has a very serious role to play.

In Townsville we do not necessarily talk so much about tourism; we talk about visitation. We do not care why you are coming to Townsville. We do not care if you are coming to Townsville to get a tooth pulled. You come to Townsville and you stay a night and you spend a night in a restaurant. We get your investment in our community that way. If we look at our region and you look at places like Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji and all the way round that Melanesian world, Townsville can be that hub when it comes to training, vocational education and training. We have our university. We have our health sector, with the fantastic Townsville hospital, which can play a role in that region. We simply cannot continue to look to the North West Mineral Province west at Mt Isa as the future for our country. What we must do is open up these new markets.

Townsville airport came up with the idea and they actively chased and chased and chased. It got Jetstar and AirAsia interested in international flights. That was our point of differentiation. We had to make sure that we had a plan, that we were not just chasing a tick and a flick and that we had someone who wanted to do it. There is more work to be done, but the people at Townsville Airport Ltd like Kevin Gill and Isabelle Yates have, since before the last election in 2013, been non-stop in trying to make sure that we dot our i's and cross our t's. We have spoken extensively with the Sunshine Coast Airport about the way they have managed it with flights to New Zealand.

The issue here is about cost recovery. The issue here is that, although we have customs and immigration people based at our port in Townsville, they are working full time and the airport is too far away to get them to come over for intermittent flights. So the federal government has had to come to the party and say, 'If it becomes prohibitive when you are talking about a discount route, if the costs for ground control'—to quote David Bowie—'are more than the costs in the air, it simply becomes non-commercial and you will fail.' Townville has failed in that regard before, when it had Strategic Airlines doing flights to Bali. What the federal government has done is come in and said, 'We will back Townsville to make sure that you are in a competitive space.' It is not just Townsville Airport that has pushed for this. We as a city have pushed for this. There are people from Townsville Enterprise, including David Kippin, Trish O'Callaghan and Tracey Lines Lyons, who have been non-stop in their support of this. It is the thing that has brought our city and our region together. Townsville's Chamber of Commerce has been right behind us, all the way through. They have been as supportive as they possibly can. Our point of differentiation is that we are the hub for Northern Australia. We are the ones who have airlines that want to do business there. We have pitched the idea to our northern mayors. We have the support of government. And no-one can say that we cannot do this.

This has not been easy and there is still more work to do. We must look at these things on a cost-recovery basis. Eventually Townsville must become a stand-alone international airport. We cannot continually put our hand out and ensure that we will get these things. Again, I must come back to that basic point when Tony Abbott stood up on 7 September 2013 and said: 'Australia is open for business.' What this decision has done for Townsville is reinforce that position: business is open. We are capable of doing this. I have had northern mayors such as Jenny Hill, Roger Bow, Bill Lowis from the Burdekin, Alf Lacey from Palm Island and Frank Beveridge from Charters Towers come down here for meetings. At every stage during those meetings, including with Joe Hockey, Andrew Robb and Mathias Cormann and Warren Truss's office—all the people involved in this decision—it has been: where to from here? At every stage it has been: what can we do to help you in this space? Yes, money is tight. And, yes, everyone comes down here with their hand out. But we had a plan and we stuck to it. Those are the big things for Townsville.

From here it goes to: where to next? We do have flights that are booked. We have an airline that is ready to go. Townsville must continue to grow. We must develop our airport hub, with a particular emphasis to build on businesses like Flying Colours Aviation, which do respraying of aircraft. They could have set up anywhere in the world, but they chose to set up in Townsville. We can be a mighty power when it comes to turbo prop services support in our region. The Townsville Airport must make sure that we continue to push forward. We will have a city with a mayor, the Chamber of Commerce and the Townsville Enterprise right behind us in that regard.

We have three new state members who must get their head around what has got to happen in this space. We also have a federal member who is very keen to ensure that we keep pushing forward. Like I said, the big thing about this issue is that we recognise that we have made a good start—but it is just a start. No-one—be it Townsville Airport, the Townsville Enterprise, the Chamber of Commerce or me—is saying that this is 'mission accomplished'. What we are saying is that it is step 1 for the growth of Townsville. If we are to develop the north of Australia, if we are to be its hub, then Townsville must be front and centre in that space. We are the biggest city in this space. We are an important regional city centre. We have a university, an army base, a diversified economy and a great port—and so an airport is essential. For us to be able to push through in that space means that we will be able to develop our industries, provide that income and be able to bring our regional incomes, our regional mayors, into Townsville to make sure that we understand what they are chasing.

Andrew Robb has often said that the projects are out there but we must lift our eyes beyond the obvious and look for the things which can be built. If we can do that, if we can attract the interest, if we can chase those big projects and get the private income that goes with it, we will be able to sustain this development all the way through. That is something we take very seriously, and something we should as a parliament take very seriously. Andrew Robb and Tony Abbott have both said that Northern Australia is not the last frontier; it is the next frontier. We will never be the food bowl of Asia, and I think Barnaby Joyce is 100 per cent correct on that. What we will do is service niche markets. We will service them with product, with quality and with assurance when it comes to product certainty, and we will be able to play in that space.

The decision around Townsville airport is the first one we have been about to get through and it something about which the whole city and the region should take great pride. It shows that we are a government that is open for business and open for ideas. I thank the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Landry ): Is the motion seconded.