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Thursday, 13 May 2021
Page: 89


Senator McMAHON (Northern Territory) (17:07): I rise to welcome and commend the statement by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development on rural and regional budget outcomes. This is a good budget for the Northern Territory—a great budget for the Northern Territory. But, let's face it: every federal budget is great for the Northern Territory because, without it, we would flounder and we would not be able to provide the great services that we need to provide to Territorians. Years of economic mismanagement by successive Labor governments have left us broke. So, unfortunately at the moment, we rely almost solely on the federal government for infrastructure and for running many of our vital programs, such as health, education and remote policing.

Despite the inability of some senators opposite to either understand or appreciate the positive commitments by the coalition government to the Northern Territory's economic future, the 2021-22 budget has a huge amount in it for Territorians. The only road to nowhere is the one between the ears of some senators opposite, because within this budget is a long list of infrastructure expenditure which is already underway, and the biggest obstacle to the rollout of these commitments is the inability of their political mates—the Gunner Labor government—to keep up with the funding we provide. If the Northern Territory government could in fact keep up, if it had the capacity to deliver with the current funding available, then the coalition government could make money available for projects that are vital for Territorians, such as improved roads and other vital infrastructure that allows us to travel around our 1.4 million square kilometres. But the Northern Territory government doesn't have the capacity. They don't have the capacity and they don't have the competency to deliver many of these projects. In fact, they are going to add an additional 44 public servants to the 21,000 Territory public servants just so they can try and keep up with the amount of projects being funded by the federal government.

If we look at infrastructure spending, the federal budget has allocated more than $323 million for road infrastructure in the Northern Territory. This includes $150 million for the NT national network highway upgrades, which will result in safer travel and reduced travel times and boost employment across the Northern Territory, building on the $46 million provided earlier for priority sections of the Stuart, Victoria and Barkly highways. There is more than $173 million for gas roads around the Beetaloo Basin to support the gas industry—but not only the gas industry, because these roads are also used by pastoralists, used by people for remote Indigenous communities and used by people providing services to those cattle stations and remote communities. There is more than $4.3 million for the Alice Springs to Darwin corridor.

Then, if we look at Our North, Our Future, there's $189.6 million in the 2021-26 package which supports the government's JobMaker plan and the Modern Manufacturing Strategy, which is something that we in the Nationals are very passionate about. This will also support the gas-fired recovery program and the Ag2030 agenda to boost Australia's agricultural production.

New measures for northern Australia include piloting of a regions-of-growth approach worth $9.3 million over five years. The regions-of-growth pilot program will provide specialists to help connect businesses to economic opportunities in areas such as advanced manufacturing, critical minerals development or in agriculture. A northern Australia development program worth $111.9 million over five years will help businesses scale up and diversify and build resilience through the northern Australian development co-investment grants program.

If we look at regional connectivity—so important to us in the north—the government has provided $130.4 million to improve connectivity in rural, regional and remote communities, further driving Australia's regionally-led recovery from the COVID-19 impact. The pandemic has shown many Australians the value of regions like the Northern Territory, both as economic powerhouses and as desirable destinations to live, work and raise a family. This government recognises that regional communities need improvements to their connectivity in order to take advantage of this so-called 'regional migration' of people moving out of the cities and into the regions. And we in the Northern Territory certainly welcome the people that have chosen to make the Northern Territory somewhere where they live and work throughout this pandemic.

We also welcome schemes such as the reinsurance pool, a $10 billion government guarantee to make insurance affordable and accessible for those who live in areas that are plagued by floods and cyclones. This pool is going to reduce insurance premiums across northern Australia by over $1.5 billion. This will go to households, strata title and small businesses over 10 years—again, vital in the Northern Territory, where we're subject regularly to both cyclones and floods.

If we look at a summary of the infrastructure spend in the Northern Territory, bearing in mind that the Northern Territory has one per cent of Australia's population, in the current budget year for infrastructure we have a 2.5 per cent share of the budget; in the forward estimates we have a 2.1 per cent share; of the 10-year pipeline we have a 2.3 per cent share; and over the last 10 years we have had a 2.2 per cent share. So, in every single aspect of that infrastructure spend, we are getting well and truly double what we should be entitled to compared to our population and the national average. This shows this government's commitment to the people of the Northern Territory and to the people of rural and regional Australia.

I will just say to those who seek to be critical of this budget: from a Northern Territory perspective, this budget has been endorsed and in fact praised by our Chief Minister, Michael Gunner; the employment minister, Paul Kirby; the Leader of the Opposition, Lia Finocchiaro; and major industry groups such as Group Training Northern Territory, Master Builders Northern Territory and the Chamber of Commerce Northern Territory. Hospitality and tourism have endorsed this budget and very much welcomed the announcement on student visas. Whilst we look forward to jobs creation, one of the issues that we have at the moment in the Northern Territory, particularly in the agriculture, tourism and hospitality industries, is actually getting people to work in these industries. So we very much welcome the announcement of an increase to the number of hours able to be worked by our international students, to allow these students to fill gaps for tourism and hospitality. And we obviously have our schemes for the agriculture sector as well, to attract Australians to come and work in agriculture in the Northern Territory. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.