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Monday, 2 March 2015
Page: 1753

Ms MacTIERNAN (Perth) (11:40): Yes, I second the motion. We are obviously pleased to see this development take place in Townsville, and there is a great deal of bipartisanship about that particular project. But I do have to say that, in discussion of northern development, I think we need to clearer eyed. As has often been said, there has been a great deal of perhaps intellectual adventurism that has gone on in our discussion of northern Australia which has really not brought home the bacon. There has perhaps been too much emphasis on the grand and the big project as the thing that is going to turn around the future of northern Australia, and that has resulted in nowhere near the development that perhaps could have taken place. We need to move away from some of the more grandiose projects towards some more fine grain understanding of the environment and the population with whom we are dealing and come up with a response to northern Australia that may be less conducive to the grand press release but is far more conducive to sustainable development.

There is no doubt that northern Australia is, as said recently by a couple of authors in the conversation—Andrew Campbell and Jim Turner—a very special part of the world. It has amazing heritage and values. Yes, there is enormous scope for development, but the focus on dam building and big infrastructure interventions is not really the way that is going to develop this.

A government member interjecting

Ms MacTIERNAN: I am more than happy to talk about that but, as I said, it has to be an intelligent conversation. The CSIRO have some very interesting things to say about that. For example, they estimate that through investment in genetics and technological innovation and science around forage quality, nutrition and growth the productivity rate for the beef industry can be increased by 40 per cent to 50 per cent. Having a group of scientists from the CSIRO beavering away doing the research, getting the quality of the product and finding out how we match the soils in the northern region with the sustainable availability of water is not quite as glamourous but it is indeed what is going to bring home the bacon more.

In Western Australia, we are not saying that it is all agriculture—though I was very pleased to see that we have a bipartisan or tripartisan view on the point that northern Australia will not be the food bowl of Asia—but there is certainly enormous opportunity to develop our agricultural product. The CSIRO contribution here that we could get a 40 to 50 per cent increase in our beef productivity is very worthwhile.

We have to be looking at more vertical integration. In the Kimberley, we see extraordinary work being done in places like Kilto Station, Yeeda Station and Fossil Downs Station. They are finding out where their good soils are, where the sustainable water supply is and, without giant damming systems, are able to provide a level of forage quality that sees that they can turn off finished-off cattle—cattle that can be slaughtered at abattoirs that are currently being built out of Broome.

We note that there are abattoir programs across the top of Australia. We can get more value-add from our beef products. We can create more jobs for the communities up there, particularly the Indigenous communities. These are jobs which they have expressed great interest in and which help them develop their assets in the north of Australia. We need to consider the Indigenous population in the north. In Western Australia, the Indigenous population is 40 per cent in the Kimberley and 12 per cent in the Pilbara. I think perhaps a lot of the work that has been done in Northern Australia has not taken into account, as much as it should, the need to integrate those people and to ensure that the Indigenous economy is integrated with the broader economy.

One of the things that we have to see is a lot more investment in the science. We have got to be prepared to consider the evidence that has come before us from the CSIRO that, if we set up huge dams, there are going to be a lot of downstream consequences. For example, the impact that that will have on the fishing industry alone will be severe. You cannot take large streams of nutrients out of the system and not expect this to have a consequence.

We need to look at the cost-benefit analysis. We could build these great dams at massive expense. But if we invested that same degree of money into more fine-grain projects, would we get a better outcome? The importance here is to recognise that this is a unique area and that the sorts of responses that we might have seen that worked in the 1950s in the Snowy Mountains scheme are not necessarily the responses for Northern Australia, and that Northern Australia has particular natural advantages that we need to exploit. It should be an area, for example, where renewable energy is an incredibly important part of the energy mix.

We look at the Pilbara where there is a great need for additional energy resources. Yet it is only now that we are coming to see that we need an integrated—and I am very pleased that our Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia really pushed this idea—power solution for the Pilbara. It gives us the opportunity to hang off large-scale renewables, exploiting the climatic conditions of the north to create a benefit.

I want also to include a bit of a plug for the inclusion of Western Australian universities in the growNORTH initiative. I am very concerned that Western Australian universities have been kept out of this at a meaningful level. They need a seat at the table in the formation of partnership. I have been talking to the chairman of the Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia about this. We do not just want to be junior partners. Three universities in Western Australia, Murdoch University, Curtin University of Technology and the University of Western Australia, have agreed to come together to form one entity so they can participate jointly in this.

As I say, underpinning this—we need to get the science right on this. We need to get the science right on the climate. We cannot ignore the climate. We cannot ignore the weather. We cannot ignore the additional challenges that are coming our way. We need to make sure that we can adapt to those. We are not going to be able to do that without an intelligent engagement with the science, and we want to see Western Australia being part of that scientific development.