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Monday, 3 March 2014
Page: 1300

Mr EWEN JONES (Herbert) (13:07): In rising to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2013-2014 and cognate bills, I want to spend most of my time speaking about positive things and speaking about the future. To start with, I would like to centre my comments on the development of northern Australia. Truly one of the great moments in political life in Australia is when you have a Prime Minister who has the vision to stand up and say that, although there are 142 seats below the Tropic of Capricorn and there are only eight seats north of the Tropic of Capricorn, the country has to go to the north. What I want to see with the development of northern Australia is for us to get the development right—and, to get that right, we must work in partnership with science.

Cast your mind back to 2009 and the oil spill from the Montara oil rig in the Timor Sea. Green groups were up in arms afterwards about how they would ever find out what had gone on, the destruction of the environment and the damage that would go on for generations and generations. Before they commenced operations, the owners of the Montara oil rig had the foresight and vision to do a survey of the area in which they were going to drill. They grabbed the Institute of Marine Science, based in Townsville, to do a full survey of what was there. So when they did have the oil spill they were able to go through it afterwards and have a look at what damage was actually caused—and there was no damage.

We need to make sure that we have information to hand. If we are going to have development along our coastlines, if we are going to develop in places in the Timor Sea and the Torres Strait, and if we are going to expand our ports along the Queensland coastline, we must make sure that we engage with scientific organisations such as the Australian Institute of Marine Science and we get our baseline science and our mapping right so that we understand what is at stake, how it is going to be built, when it is going to be built and what the consequences of that will be. When talking about the environment I have always said that everything we do has an effect on the environment. The fact that we are in this place now speaking affects our environment. It is how we manage that effect which makes us the people we are. So we must handle that expansion and development of northern Australia in the right way.

If you ask anyone in Australia what the biggest river system is in this country, invariably people will say the Murray-Darling. That is the obvious answer, but it is in fact not correct. If we are truly to develop northern Australian, we must make sure that we do not repeat the mistakes of the Murray-Darling. We must make sure that we use the science correctly and speak to people like Dr Damien Burrows at JCU and the CSIRO in North Queensland. We have 25 river systems in the north of Queensland and we had the baseline science on about five of those river systems. The Murray-Darling starts in both the Snowy Mountains and in Queensland and it flows into the Great Australian Bight. In Queensland, we have river systems that not only flow into the Great Australian Bight but also flow into Lake Eyre, the Gulf of Carpentaria, the Great Barrier Reef and the Pacific Ocean. The Fitzroy and Burdekin river systems are two massive river systems, both carrying much more water than the Murray-Darling.

We must ensure that we understand what is going on. If we are to develop agriculture and the resources west of the Great Dividing Range, in places like the Gilbert River and all those places out west, we must ensure that we have our baseline science right. It would be pointless and sheer folly to replicate the mistakes that have been made over the last 200 years on the Murray-Darling. It would be sheer folly to plant a $20 million mung bean crop if it was to destroy the billion dollar prawn fisheries of the Gulf of Carpentaria. We must make sure that we understand what we are dealing with here. When we are talking about the development of agriculture in the north of Australia, we must make sure that we understand the consequences of what the water is doing, how we are to store it, where it is to be stored and for what it is to be used.

I see the development of northern Australia as that key turning point in the north's future. I also see it as a fair bit of pressure on northern Australia and a fair bit of pressure on the members of parliament in the north of Australia. We have a Prime Minister who had the vision to actually put this forward, we have a Treasurer who understands where the country must go, we have a Minister for Trade and Investment who is actively out there pushing our case for us and we have a Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party and Minister for Foreign Affairs saying that this is a great idea. There are four members of cabinet, at the very top, who are saying that this should happen. If we as the members of parliament for the north of Australia miss this opportunity, it will be gone forever. I see this as a huge opportunity for us, but it is also a huge risk. It is an opportunity that we must grab and we must be very aggressive with it.

In relation to the development of northern Australia, I feel that we must include our nearest neighbour, Port Moresby. The previous mayor of Townsville—the mayor of Townsville when I arrived in Townsville in 1994—Tony Mooney, would always say that the closest capital city to Townsville is not Brisbane but is in fact Port Moresby. Papua New Guinea and Port Moresby have been great friends of Australia for an awfully long time. It has been 72 years now since the battle of the Kokoda Trail and the fuzzy wuzzy angels. Papua New Guinea has been there for us for an awfully long time. Our relationship has ebbed and flowed. I truly believe that the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Peter O'Neill, wants the best for his country and wants our relationship to grow.

One of the issues that we have at the moment is the two-way visa issue between the two countries. Papua New Guinea is in the process of cancelling visas on arrival. What used to happen is that you would be able hop on a plane in Cairns and fly to Port Moresby and get your visa at Jackson Field airport on arrival. That does not happen for people from Papua New Guinea when they arrive in Australia. Mind you, it does not happen for any country. We do not have 'visa on arrival' for any country. But the perception is there that we are putting up roadblocks for people from Papua New Guinea—those who have business, education and cultural exchange work to do—to come to Australia. We must address that basic perception.

What we must do is make the process as simple as possible. If possible, we should create special categories of visa for people to do business, for people to do education and for people on cultural exchanges to make us an easier to get to country for them. The people you talk to in Papua New Guinea—from the Prime Minister to the previous Prime Minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu, to people in business—will all sit there and say that they would do more in Australia but it was just too hard to get to. We must address the basic proposition that we are putting up roadblocks. I know that the foreign minister, Julie Bishop, is working very hard in relation to this process. What we must do is try to simplify the process, try to make it more online and try to make it more user friendly so that we can get to this country and exchange these things more easily.

I believe that Peter O'Neill is heading his country in the right direction. In a recent speech to the Institute of Company Directors on the Gold Coast, he spoke specifically about getting direct flights to Townsville. Whether we organise that as a direct flight or via Cairns is another thing. He also spoke about trying to get involved in the microeconomic form of business-to-business operations between the two countries, and specifically Townsville. I think that this is where we must go. If the relationship between the two countries is to grow, it must grow on a business-to-business basis. I think Prime Minister O'Neill has the bull by the horns here and has the right idea. We must be able to engage better between the two countries on a business-to-business basis, and I know that Townsville business and our Townsville Chamber of Commerce are working very hard to facilitate that.

Another pat on the back that you must give the Papua New Guinean government is for their attitude to corruption. Corruption is often spoken about as being a major issue between the two countries. Prime Minister O'Neill gave a recent speech to the governors of all provinces in Papua New Guinea and addressed the issue of corruption and how it must stop now that Papua New Guinea is on the cusp of a bright new age; that if they do not change the way they do their own business internally, they will never get the results that they should be getting internationally. If we can assist in any way, shape or form with the provision of the services that can assist with that, we should.

Townsville also stands on the cusp of being a major services hub. If you draw a right-angled triangle and have Townsville at the 90-degree axis, straight to the north of us is Papua New Guinea and straight to the east of us is Fiji. If you draw an arc from that 90-degree axis, you will basically get the entire Melanesian world within the circumference of that circle. You will get from Papua New Guinea to Bougainville to the Solomon Islands and around to Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Fiji. Townsville can be the hub for services because we have a great university, a major teaching hospital, the defence force, a police academy, TAFE and Australian technical colleges. We have all these services already there. What we must be doing is facilitating the growth of those other countries by inviting them to come and participate fully in the use our facilities. Whether we do that by using our aid money for these countries or by them getting the aid money and purchasing services off Australian companies, be that as it may, what I do think we will do is get better results by using Townsville as that hub. That will mean that we will have to have people there from Austrade, the department of immigration and people from Foreign Affairs to get these things done, because we are the natural hub for business in northern Australia and we will need to make Townsville a truly international city.

In the time I have left in this debate I would like to discuss the work between the two countries at a defence level. The PNG defence force needs a lot of work and assistance. In Townsville we have the largest Army base in the country. We extend services and do joint operations with services from Papua New Guinea, but we could be doing a lot more. We could be doing exchanges and providing assistance in relation to how the PNG defence force is actually operating, their chains of command and the way they can set up a truly operational facility. What we need to be doing is getting more active in this space, getting in there and assisting them with that. It would be on invitation only, of course, but what we must be doing is looking at the best result for the Australian taxpayer across the board. If you look at where the two countries come closest in the Torres Strait, what we have to do is look at the most effective use of taxpayer funded equipment by basing things such as the C27J or the MRH90 helicopter in Townsville and being able to use them for surveillance. That will also attract high-end engineering jobs, which will then attract the second-tier engineering jobs and those sorts of things to maximise the return for the taxpayer.

One of the criticisms I have of the previous government is that, in the rush to greater scale, they did not look at where the actual dollars were. They were neglecting saving the pennies and were just looking at the pounds. As my grandmother would always tell me, if you look after the pennies, the pounds will take care of themselves. We had situations where a contract had signed that everything would go down to Albury-Wodonga, to Bandiana, to be repaired and that they would get economies of scale and better results by sending stuff down there instead of getting the servicing done locally. How you get better economies of scale or better service by neglecting your local foundries and local engineering firms and instead putting a gearbox on a truck and sending it all the way to Albury-Wodonga to be repaired, or putting an engine on a pallet on a truck and taking it the 3,000 kilometres to Bandiana to have it rebored, then back on truck all the way back to Townsville, beggars belief. The Townsville business would produce better work at more affordable prices with a quicker turnaround and better use of the asset. This says so much about what was going wrong with the previous government.

What we must be doing is looking at how we maximise the benefit to the taxpayer and making sure that autonomy is given as close as possible to the relevant incident or occurrence. We can then get the best result for the Australian taxpayer. We must make sure we maximise those returns by shopping locally, by building the better relationships, by letting the bloke in the department who is heading up that section of the Army, Air Force or Navy go direct to his supplier and get it fixed locally, which means there will be a quicker turnaround for absolutely everyone. I thank the House.