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Thursday, 25 March 2021
Page: 3538

Mr SNOWDON (Lingiari) (12:27): It's my pleasure to speak, albeit briefly, in this debate on the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021. We on this side of the chamber will be supporting the legislation, although I want to raise two issues of concern to me. I won't go through the details of the bill; others have done that adequately. I note that there is recognition of members of the NAIF board having economic experience in Indigenous communities. It is my strong view that it should be mandated that there be a First Nations representative on the NAIF board. I hope that the government sees the merit of this and amends the legislation to ensure that that happens. Secondly, I note that they're seeking changes for the local government area of Ngaanyatjarraku, in Western Australia, to be considered part of northern Australia for the purpose of the NAIF.

I've submitted, and there have been discussions with the minister's office through the shadow minister, as I understand it, to have the Indian Ocean territories considered part of northern Australia. You might ask, 'Aren't they?' They are, but they're not considered part of northern Australia for the purposes of this bill. That, in my view, is a joke. Christmas Island is located at latitude 10.490291 degrees south and longitude 105.63275 degrees east. Check your maps! The Cocos Islands are located at 12.200603 degrees south and 96.85894 degrees east. These are both close to the latitude of Darwin, so how they could not be considered part of northern Australia is totally beyond me. By air, Christmas Island is a 3½-hour flight from Perth and the Cocos Islands are a 4½-hour flight from Perth. Christmas Island is 2,600 from Perth and the Cocos Islands are 3,000 kilometres from Perth. Christmas Island is roughly the same distance from Darwin. So why aren't these considered part of northern Australia?

We know that there is a national demand for investment on these two communities for a whole range of reasons. We know that infrastructure is an issue for both these communities. For those who don't know, the major industry on Christmas Island is phosphate mining, an industry that, in the wake of COVID-19, has experienced increased demand out of China, Europe and Africa. Christmas Island has limited handling facilities because it lacks a harbour and access to port facilities. It has a prolonged monsoonal swell season, which is current on Christmas Island, to the point where the ship bringing supplies in, which was due in November, didn't arrive until three weeks ago. Obviously better freight services development on Christmas Island is the type of project that could be available through NAIF. There are many other projects which are being proposed and thought about, such as the mountain bike project and opportunities for an ecoresort on Christmas Island. There are so many other things that people would like to do, if they were able to access the sorts of resources that are available to other parts of Australia. It is a unique place because insurance is a major problem, so getting lending from financial institutions is really difficult.

The Cocos Islands have similar infrastructure issues as Christmas Island. It's also subject to monsoonal weather events. This year the community had a major cyclone event which required emergency procedures on the major populated island, Home Island, to be activated when there was a danger of major flooding. The extreme wet season has also seen delays in freight reaching the island, as ships are unable to load barges to be towed to the island, resulting in food shortages and a lack of access to vital medical supplies. Alarmingly, in recent years, major sandbagging along the beaches of Cocos has become increasingly common as the community deals with climate change due to rising sea levels. Cocos, if you like, is the canary—in this case, the birdcage—of the islands, sounding the warning for the need for action on climate change. Again, this sort of development and infrastructure requirement that could be addressed through the NAIF process.

There are obviously proposals for other economic development opportunities, tourism infrastructure and other things. Already the local council, with the support of the community, is working with the potential developers to cater for a boutique ecotourism resort. Islanders in the Indian Ocean territories want to enjoy the same access to services, food and medical security as mainlanders. They want to enjoy the same access to concessional loans and other measures, which are being amended as part of this bill, through the NAIF process yet they're being denied it by this government, who refuse to accept that Christmas and the Cocos Islands, the Indian Ocean Territories, are part of northern Australia This is an opportunity for them to be considered part of northern Australia through this NAIF process. That is a shame and it should be changed. I invite the government to amend the legislation when it hits the Senate to include the Christmas and Cocos Islands, the Indian Ocean Territories, as part of the NAIF consideration.