Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Page: 13681

Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (19:20): I rise to highlight the importance of northern Australia, and the resource boom going on within it, to our country's current economic prosperity. In doing so, I also draw attention to a wide range of issues that are emerging from the boom in northern Australia and a bold idea that will address those issues. The boom creates a cash bonanza for both state and territory governments through royalties, and now for the federal government through the mining tax. But let us not forget that this boom makes and will make significant contributions to government coffers through income tax, through GST, through the carbon tax and through fuel tax.

All the taxes that apply to an economy are boosted when the economy is booming. The mining boom is benefiting regional Australia, but there are some impediments to continued growth and development and harmony in regional Australia. I would like to highlight some of those issues that are developing, some just beginning and some already out of hand. The labour shortage is already very much evident in mining regions. Businesses outside the resources boom cannot afford the salaries needed to compete for labour. An Access Economics study released yesterday forecast 66 mining projects creating 40,000 new jobs between now and 2020. The same report also showed that 35,000 non-resource jobs would be vacant in two years. Recent reports in the media include: plans for fly in fly out, or FIFO, policing; talk of FIFO retail and bank workers; claims of FIFO workers already at fast food outlets like KFC at Mount Isa; and rental costs of $1,800 to $3,400 per week for basic homes in places like Moranbah. In regional Queensland, in areas where the resource sector is booming, costs of living have moved beyond the ridiculous and no-one but miners can afford to live there, including people providing essential services.

That is one issue. Let us look at another: our old friend red tape and its new companion, green tape. To open a new mine and the required infrastructure takes 3,104 permits and approvals, according to Gina Rinehart, Chairman of Hancock Prospecting Group. That is just on a mine site. Many other major job-creating development projects also face similar green and red tape. Such red and green tape only makes Australia less attractive to investment in the resource industry and other industries. Make no mistake: the resources sector is a competitive global industry and global mining companies take these regulations into consideration. Other factors they take into consideration are also starting to tip the balance out of our nation's favour. The carbon tax and the mining tax are costs that our global competitive competitors do not have to pay, which means there will be higher returns on investments in other countries.

There may be a solution to all of these problems, or at least a mechanism for solutions, in the development of a separate economic zone for Northern Australia. This is not a call for a separate state—although many North Queenslanders want that—but the establishment of a special economic zone to allow more effective control of growth and a better means of maintaining communities, services, and standards of living. Northern Australia contains half the land mass of the nation but less than five per cent of the population. It is also home to most of the resources sector. Regulation, programs, funding and incentives can be applied within this economic zone to make it more attractive to both population and investment. Innovative strategies applied to the zone could create a better balance of work, opportunity, population and services. The concept is a zone extending from south of Bowen in North Queensland—or it could be lower, I think—to south of Port Hedland in WA, capturing most of North Queensland, the entirety of the Northern Territory, and the northern half of WA.

To encourage economic development within that special economic zone, financial incentives would have to be offered: for example, zonal rebates on personal income tax, the abolition of payroll tax and stamp duty, and the effective abolition of fringe benefits tax and fuel excise through rebates. A new agreement between the states, the Territory, the Commonwealth and local governments could also be brought in to remove double-layering of onerous regulations on job-creating projects, and the success of 457 visas and similar schemes in meeting labour demands shows that a similar, dedicated scheme could pay dividends in the north. I think this is a big idea that needs to be discussed more and more. (Time expired)