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Wednesday, 27 October 2010
Page: 898

Senator IAN MACDONALD (1:28 PM) —The importance of Northern Australia to our country is certainly a matter of great public interest, though perhaps a matter that is not quite as well understood by most Australians as it should be. Few Australians would know that almost 50 per cent of Australia’s export earnings come from north of the Tropic of Capricorn, from a part of Australia that houses a little under five per cent of our population but contributes enormous wealth to our country—particularly in the minerals export area but also from some fairly significant agricultural and other industries. For instance, our beef industry in Northern Australia is world class, and exports to the world as well as feeding Australia. Some of our more significant tourist destinations are across the top of Australia, from the Barrier Reef to Kakadu and the Kimberleys.

The wealth from sugar is little appreciated these days but, as the price of sugar keeps increasing on the world markets, the wealth coming into Australia from that crop, as it has for over 100 years now, increases in Northern Australia. It particularly increases in Northern Queensland, in the areas from Mackay up to Cairns. Every day courageous, pioneering farmers are looking at new opportunities for food production in the north of our country. Rice has been tried in the north before and failed for various reasons, but I am delighted to hear that in the Ord River area just recently another successful enterprise is working on increased rice production, having learnt about and researched growing rice in an area that would not always be seen as a natural rice-growing area.

Another new crop being looked at is chia, again in the Ord, a crop that could revolutionise cropping but also the way we eat and our health. That is also being done in Northern Australia. As, according to the experts, the south of our country gets drier—and the north is predicted to have at least the same rainfall and water ability—the importance of Northern Australia for the food security of our country and indeed the world becomes greater and greater.

Northern Australia also houses a large percentage of Australia’s Indigenous people, particularly a large percentage of those who are living more traditionally. That means that in Northern Australia we have to be extra sensitive in how we develop and provide social and hard infrastructure in those areas.

I am delighted to note that at the last election, of the nine federal electorates—and there are only nine in that part of Australia, which comprises the half on the top of the Tropic of Capricorn—seven are now held by the Liberal-National Party. The Labor Party—which, before the election, held most of those electorates—lost very substantially in the north, and the couple of seats they have retained they have only retained against huge swings in those areas. For example, in Capricornia, one of the few seats still held by the Labor Party in the north, the swing against a sitting incumbent member was in the order of eight per cent.

Certainly part of the reason for our success was the very substantial, exciting, energetic candidates who ran for us in those areas, but another part of the reason was the fact that the Labor Party completely misunderstood or did not care about the issues that support Northern Australians and indeed Australia. I am particularly referring to the Labor Party’s stupidity with all of its versions of the emissions trading scheme—it is hard to talk about one in particular because there were so many under the previous, failed, Minister for Climate Change. And it was not only that; we then had the carbon tax issue and the resource rent profits tax.

Labor Party people do not understand the importance of these industries to the rest of Australia. Clearly they never understood the importance of these industries to people they claim to represent—that is, people working in the mines, the people who very often are forced to join the CFMEU and the AWU in mining areas. Whilst these people are ostensibly supporters of the union movement and the Labor Party, clearly, if you look at the figures, you will understand that these unionists are sick and tired of the stupidity of their union bosses and particularly the way the unions, almost without reason, supported the Australian Labor Party at the last election. They do it because they have always done it, but the members of the unions are starting to vote with their feet their disgust at the way the unions are not representing them and certainly not representing Australia.

That resulted in huge swings to the coalition in those areas very dependent on mining. For example: in Durack, the new seat in the top of Western Australia which contains much of our wealth from mineral activities in this country, our incumbent candidate in a new electorate, Barry Haase, had a magnificent six per cent swing towards him; in Solomon, up in the Northern Territory, an area which really understands mining, border protection and Indigenous issues, there was a swing of two per cent towards the former Deputy Mayor of Palmerston, a fabulous new member, Natasha Griggs; and, in Leichhardt, Warren Entsch returned to the parliament with a massive 8½ per cent swing towards him, and in a seat which contains a large number of Indigenous voters and people who understand the mess that our country has got into under the economic stewardship of the Australian Labor Party.

In the electorate of Herbert, a seat that was notionally Labor following the last redistribution, the new member there—a very active member, a guy who will well fill the shoes of the former member, Peter Lindsay—had a very significant 2½ per cent swing towards him. In Dawson, the electorate based in Mackay and running into Townsville—in fact, the electorate in which I now live—George Christensen had a magnificent five per cent swing towards him. And, in the Central Queensland seat of Flynn, Ken O’Dowd had an almost six per cent swing towards him against an incumbent Labor Party candidate.

Those new members in that area will actually represent the interests of Northern Australia and in doing so will represent the interests of all Australians, who more than they perhaps realise are dependent upon Northern Australia for their food and the standard of living they enjoy through the wealth created from the activities conducted in the north.

In passing, I mention how perplexed I was at the way the Australian Electoral Commission redrew the boundaries of northern seats, particularly those in Queensland. For example, there is a substantial part of the electorate of Flynn that is based on Gracemere, a suburb of Rockhampton located about 10 to 20 kilometres from the GPO in Rockhampton, yet the member for the seat of Capricornia, in which Rockhampton is situated, does not now represent that suburb. Instead, Gracemere is now effectively represented by the members for Gladstone and Emerald and so on down the coast. Gracemere will be well represented—Ken O’Dowd is a fabulous member, and he will look after Gracemere—but one wonders what might have possessed the electoral commissioners to redraw a boundary like that.

To make matters worse—and for southerners this may not mean much but I am talking about a distance of 300, 400 or 500 kilometres—the electorate of Capricornia, which is based on Rockhampton, now takes in the Pioneer Valley behind Mackay, which is the principal city in the electorate of Dawson. Within 10 to 20 kilometres of the centre of Mackay, that farming area which is so much part of the community of the Mackay area is now represented—and badly in this instance—by a member based in the city of Rockhampton, which is some 300 or 400 kilometres away. That is absolutely crazy.

As you push up the coast, you find that the electorate of Dawson, which should have included the Pioneer Valley, does not include the Pioneer Valley but does include three suburbs of Townsville. They are now represented very well by George Christensen, but he is based some 400 kilometres away in Mackay. And so it goes on. One might be excused for thinking that perhaps the electoral commissioners had a brain explosion when they were looking at those electorates—it just does not make sense. I call upon the electoral commissioners to have a serious look at the stupidity of some of the electoral boundaries in that area.

In conclusion, I briefly refer to another very important fact about Northern Australia. It is the part of Australia that is closest to our nearest neighbours. If there ever is a threat to our country in the future, and hopefully there never will be, it is likely to come from somewhere to the north of Australia. For that reason, it seems to me, the people of Northern Australia have a greater understanding of border protection and defence matters than our fellow Australians south of the Tropic of Capricorn. That is why, following the election, I was delighted that the Liberal-National Party leader, Mr Abbott, not only gave me responsibility for northern and remote Australia, which I had had previously, but also extended my responsibilities by making me shadow parliamentary secretary for the defence force and defence support.

In the north we have Australia’s largest and best equipped—some might say best run—army base at Lavarack in Townsville as well as the Garbutt airbase, which is also in Townsville. In Cairns there is HMAS Cairns supporting the patrol boats in the north. In Darwin, there is Robertson Barracks, Larrakeyah and various Air Force and Navy establishments. Across the north, there is this preponderance of military bases and activities that are so important to Australia’s defence preparedness and so important in the training of our troops, wherever in the world they might be called upon to fight. These Army establishments also have a very significant impact on the local economies of the areas in which they are situated. So, across the board, defence has become a very significant part of the fabric of life in Northern Australia.

I predict without much fear of being proved wrong by events that, as Australia progresses, the part that Northern Australia plays in Australia’s success will become even more evident. The opportunities for wealth from mining, the opportunities for food security and the opportunities to have water at hand regularly—day in, day out and year in, year out—will be increasingly seen as a significant attraction of living, working and experiencing life in Northern Australia.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Kroger)—There being no further speakers, the discussion is concluded.