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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Page: 1365

Mr EWEN JONES (Herbert) (18:40): There has been much discussion about the leaked draft paper on the development of Northern Australia. I have touched on a couple of these issues in other speeches in this House. Today, I would like to expand on what we have to do to make this natural evolution of Australia a reality. My leader, Tony Abbott, has often said there is nothing new in politics and that it has all been experienced before. It is very much like the lines in the Beatles song All you need is love: 'There's nothing we can do that can't be done'. What we have here is an opportunity. People will always tell you that opportunity knocks but once. My belief is that opportunity knocks all the time and that we just have to answer the door.

There are three areas of interest to me in the development of the North: getting the base right, water security and energy security. If we get these right in the first place, we can do anything. For the purpose of this debate, I will restrict my comments to North Queensland, but this applies across the top of Australia. As my good friend and mentor Senator Ian Macdonald always tells me, you have seen nothing until you have seen the top of Australia. By 'getting the base right', I refer mainly to the science.

For example, we have nearly 25 river systems in the north and west of my state. They run into the Pacific Ocean, the Murray-Darling and Lake Eyre. We know very little about most of these. If we are to be the food bowl of Asia, we must ensure that we do not end up with another Murray-Darling basin, with the problems that we have there with water, salinity and crop selection. We must complete good baseline research to set us up to ensure that we get the best result with the least consequences. Damien Burrows from TropWATER at James Cook University is already active, and should be, in conjunction with the university. He has the brief to tell us what could be done and what impact it might have. From there, good decisions can be made. Damien is very good to me. He speaks to me using little words, as well as pictures. He tells me what every Australian should all ready know: anything we do has as an impact. What we have to do is risk-manage that impact. We have to see if we can live with those consequences.

You will see that throughout my contribution I am referring to people and organisations that already exist. We do not need to reinvent the wheel here. James Cook University—JCU—is the only Australian university to include in its charter the need to be relevant to the tropical world. That is why I was proud to be able to go to the 2010 election with a commitment for the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine—AITHM. It will be based at James Cook University's Townsville and Cairns campuses. Nearly half the world's population lives between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. The establishment of the AITHM is essential not only for handling the risks that confront us, but also to provide the base for the scientific research which will provide real income streams into our country as our neighbours develop. Issues such as infant mortality, malaria, cholera, TB and the like have to be addressed as they are already impacting on hospitals and health services in the Cape, Cairns and Townsville. We can be a major part of the solution here for basic health matters in all tropical countries. Or we can miss this opportunity. Again, the people central to this are already in place. We have, at James Cook University, a school of medicine, a school of allied health and even a school of veterinary science, which are all headed up by people with a passion and an intimate knowledge of what is needed here. Ian Wronski has been pushing for this for an age. If we get this established, we can lead the world in tropical medicine and health.

This will play into our direct world in that our Aboriginal and Islander peoples were the ones most susceptible to H1N1 virus, or bird flu. With places like Papua New Guinea having real issues with drug-resistant tuberculosis, malaria, cholera and other diseases, we must be vigilant and proactive on this front. Certainly we are not, and we regularly see cases presenting at the hospitals in Cairns and Townsville which require enormously expensive treatments. The real pressure is on the Thursday Island Hospital. The member for Leichhardt is no stranger to making the points relating to the lack of attention paid by this government to the health concerns of our people and of our closest neighbours, Torres Strait Islanders. Former Mayor of Townsville Tony Mooney would always say the closest capital city to Townsville is not Brisbane; it is in fact Port Moresby. That is how close it is.

With the Australian Institute of Marine Science, or AIMS, we have an organisation which can look after the front of Australia. We have major port developments along the Queensland coast. There is to be major dredging at Abbot Point to facilitate the export of coal. I am in favour of development, and it must be stated that the industry has the correct permits and all the approvals in place. But we are talking about a lot of dirt here. Surely we can get AIMS and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to have a quick look at what we are proposing and act as honest brokers in this process. Is it possible that we could build a jetty instead of dredging and achieve the same result? It is certainly worth having that discussion.

We have the Gulf of Carpentaria, an important prawn and fish breeding ground. We have dugongs and turtles. We need to be sure that these industries and natural inhabitants get the best consideration before we go too far. We already have projects up and running. We have cassava plantations in the Burdekin supplying an Asian market. We have Wagyu beef production in the tick-free areas around Hughenden and Corfield. We are doing these things now. Those are just two of the things that we are doing.

We should not be afraid to have this discussion, because we have, already in place, the people who can make it happen. We need appropriate infrastructure to get this to happen right. I would draw this chamber's attention to a report commissioned by the Mount Isa Townsville Economic Development Zone in conjunction with Infrastructure Australia, the MITEZ 50-year infrastructure plan: interim report of February 2012. To a large extent it establishes the blueprint for what we have to do here. It addresses the ports, rails and roads. It looks at the current fragmentation of the supply chain west of Townsville. It addresses the unsustainable reliance on taxpayer funds for infrastructure. It makes suggestions on investment models and tries to outline a plan whereby private and public sector investment can achieve a real return.

Again, this is not groundbreaking stuff; this is a discussion we should be having. People are out there having these discussions right now. As a parliament, and certainly as an alternative government, we should be engaging with these people much more than we currently do. Again, the wheel has been invented. We can cherry-pick ideas, for goodness sake, for great national results. Add the Productivity Commission to these discussions and we will have everyone we could possibly want to get great plans made.

I will say this until I am no longer in this place: we live on a dry continent but we have, in the north of Australia, access to so much quality water it is beyond a joke. The Fitzroy, Burdekin and Ord schemes, to name but three river schemes in the north of this country, provide a freshwater resource for everything we could want to do. With water, we can grow anything and live anywhere. If we want our business plan to be right for the future of Australia, we should look at what our markets want internally and externally. We have to hit our markets with certainty, and our price and quality must be right. There is no point being the best car manufacturer in the world if no-one wants to buy the cars we produce. Similarly, there is no point producing a crop which no-one will eat or use.

Energy security and certainty is another measure we need to address. Energy security should be broken up into four parts, as far as I am concerned: production, industrial usage, transportation, and residential and commercial usage. Currently the north of my state gets power from Gladstone. It costs the state government something like $600 million a year to get North Queensland its electricity. I would like serious consideration to be given to establishing a baseload power station to the west of Townsville and a establishing a link to the national grid from that. Consumers currently using diesel generation to the west of Townsville could then weigh up the cost of accessing the baseload power using the life of their enterprise and current cost of generation. That to me just makes sense.

My line of thinking extends to what we can export to the rest of the world—most notably, our neighbours who are growing. If we were to establish a coal-fired power station at Pentland, at the top of the Galilee Basin—which is rich in thermal coal—and integrate the MBD algae project from James Cook University into its design, we could provide cheap, coal-fired power with zero carbon emissions. Indonesia, as its middle class emerges, is looking to establish thermal coal power stations on its islands as people strive for more services. If we could export this technology to Indonesia and to countries like Indonesia that are experiencing such growth, we could have a massive export earner here.

We cannot talk about energy security without talking about Labor's carbon tax. We cannot be internationally competitive with the world's biggest and only economy-wide carbon tax holding our manufacturing industry back. We have to get rid of it. Yes, we have to do our bit for the environment, and industry has been working more cleanly and efficiently for over a generation. We must support innovation and expertise and not send industry overseas. Energy security for the transport sector means much more than diesel. We have to look at the tracks on which we run our trains and think of ways we can better use our rail lines and ports and improve road conditions and the mileage we get from the trucks we use. The transport sector is also about to come under the wrath of the carbon tax. We must be more efficient but not more expensive.

Households can be more efficient, and we need to look at how communities provide heating and cooling. For example, we could look at how the water-based cooling used at James Cook University could be integrated into town plans and properly designed settlements and towns. By using the water for cooling and heating outside of peak times, they have significantly reduced the university's reliance on baseload electricity. We should be developing this as a base for a modern settlement and getting everybody's cost down. This goes for shopping centres and office buildings as well. We can export these models around the world. In fact, Adelaide would be absolutely perfect for it.

The trick here is how we pay for it. We all know that this government has blown a huge hole in the national savings. There are lots of things you can do when you are delivering $20 billion surpluses and you have $70 billion in net savings and zero net debt. Conversely, there is very little you can afford when your outgoings are so much higher than your income—sooner or later you have to make the payments. But, just like business, we simply cannot stand still and not do anything; standing still is actually going backwards. We have to be looking at where we can get a return on our investment from. We have to be creative with the partnerships on funding of infrastructure and projects. We have to be looking for dividends in the short, medium and long term.

Developing the north of the country and the north of my state fits all these models. You will note that I have not addressed mining. That is because they already think about these things. They already look to the long term. They already do their sums. Instead of belting them with new taxes, we could do worse than sitting down with them and getting some advice.

From rice at Giru to iron ore at Kimberley, we can do the lot. We have the people in place up there. What they need is the people down here to look at this seriously and have some vision, take some advice and get on board. Sure, I am proud of the place I call my home. Sure, I will easily admit to having a vested interest in the development of the north. But so would, or so should, every person who has a child or a friend who may want a job or a home in the future.

All these things can happen, and that is just to the west of Townsville; we have not even thought about what we could bring to such countries as Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands to the north of us and how important this region is to the future of the world. We have not discussed what could happen in the Northern Territory, north of Western Australia, and into the Torres Strait and the Arafura Sea. Let us be very clear about this. This is not a boom. This should be slow, positive, sustainable growth. Let us be innovative and creative. Let us develop the north. You know it makes sense.