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Wednesday, 14 October 2015
Page: 7610

Senator SMITH (Western Australia) (13:09): During the break I had the opportunity to visit the far north of my home state of Western Australia—indeed the far north of our country—where I was able to see firsthand how wilderness preservation can sit very comfortably with resource-and-energy development and in the process set Indigenous communities on a path of prosperity and greater independence.

This afternoon I rise to talk about the sense of optimism that I saw on that trip across the Kimberley region just a week ago. Indeed optimism has returned in spades to the Kimberley region, which is in my home state of Western Australia. At Kununurra I witnessed the first chia crop in the history of the Ord being harvested. I visited Broome, where cattle producers are receiving the highest prices ever for their export cattle. At Noonkanbah Station outside of Fitzroy Crossing—people who know a little bit about the Indigenous history of the far north of Western Australia will know the history around Noonkanbah Station—it was great to meet an icon of that historical record, Dickie Cox, while I was out there meeting with the Indigenous community. Much is happening across the Kimberley and across the Fitzroy Crossing valley.

I was also pleased to meet with the Yungngora people, who are working with Buru Energy to unlock one of the largest gas reserves in the nation, the Canning super basin. There is a great sense of optimism seen in the development of Australia's biggest prawn farm, Project Sea Dragon, a $1.45 billion project, on the border of the Northern Territory and Western Australia, which will revitalise Wyndham Port. Optimism is seeing the development of a new abattoir on Yeeda Station which has secured lucrative export contracts with China. It is an optimism that has been brought about by the commitment of this government to northern Australia.

This is a government that has succeeded in negotiating free trade agreements with Japan, Korea and China, agreements that will ensure jobs, prosperity and business success for our northern regional communities. This is a government that has committed $5 million to conduct an examination of the economic feasibility of the development of stage 3 of the Ord River project in Kununurra. This is a government that is spending $100 million to improve the cattle supply chains through a northern Australian beef roads fund.

At the end of this month I am looking forward to travelling back up to the far north of my home state of Western Australia to travel the Tanami Road with the state roads minister Mr Dean Nalder and the Northern Territory government representative, to see for ourselves not just the very tardy condition of that road—and I think calling it a road is a bit of an exaggeration. Have you travelled on it, Mr Acting Deputy President?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Whish-Wilson ): Yes, I have.

Senator SMITH: It is not a road; it is a track. But, if we think about the potential of that track becoming a sealed road, allowing heavy haulage and allowing it to be used as a freight route, we can understand much better the real economic opportunity that arises.

There is a mistaken view—I am sure it is not a view that you hold, Mr Acting Deputy President, but there is a mistaken view—that the Tanami Road project is important because it will open up export opportunities for pastoralists and our Asian neighbours. While that might be true, the real benefit is to pastoralists across northern Australia; the sealing of that road will open up opportunities for their produce in that south-east domestic market—what we know as the Sydney-Melbourne-Canberra triangle. There are huge opportunities in the development of that road for pastoralists in the north of our country to service the growing domestic food and agricultural needs of those in the south-east corner of our state.

But this coalition government is also improving regional communications with our mobile black spot program, and our rollout of a cost-effective, efficient national broadband network. In the last few weeks we saw the launch of the satellite which will provide much-needed high-speed broadband access to regional communities, and more importantly to remote communities across Australia. This will do two primary things. Firstly, it will provide much-need broadband access to young people living out on pastoral communities, in isolated and remote communities, so their parents can provide the right educational support to them. Secondly, it will provide that important broadband access for businesses in northern Australia, so they can communicate with one another and so they can explore trade opportunities with businesses in the south-east corner of the Asian region.

Of course, this is also a government that is working with Indigenous leaders to improve the social and economic lives of those in our remote and most isolated communities. It is because of this government's removal of the mining tax and the carbon tax that pastoralists are becoming more competitive in the international marketplace. It is the policies of this government—policies which support live exports, support rural industries, support free trade, support investment and support jobs for Aboriginal workers—that there is a new and recurring sense of optimism throughout the Kimberley region of my home state.

I am proud also that it is the Liberal Party, as it has always has been, providing the strongest voice and support for regional Western Australians, their families and their businesses. For we understand the rewards that come from hard work and determination. We recognise the challenges that lie ahead. We look forward to ensuring the viability of this valuable industry and in working with industry and communities, not against them, to develop a strong and vibrant northern Australia.

Last week, as I said, I was fortunate to spend some time in the Kimberley. It became apparent during my discussions with pastoralists, Indigenous community leaders and local government officials that everyone has an idea about how best Australia's north could be better developed. What we need, of course, is to make sure that we are listening to those on the ground in the North. The people with the best ideas, the people with the best approach to developing northern Australia are not bureaucrats based in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne or, dare I say, Perth but indeed local people in local communities living and working across the north of Australia. It is important that we make sure that the strategies we are developing are ones that are developed in cooperation and in support of their aspirations so that together we can unleash the economic opportunities for our North to make sure that the talk that has often been talked is met by reality.

The development of northern Australia will require that governments at all levels create an investment environment that will attract the significant capital ventures that new projects require. That means getting the balance right between removing red tape and ensuring investment in sustainable industries. And, if I could be a little bit contentious, it does mean revisiting whether or not the balance that has been struck between environmental conservation and economic development in the Kimberley is indeed the right balance and whether it is a balance that sets people free or a balance that traps people. By people I specifically refer to the Indigenous people living across northern Australia and I will come to that in a brief moment. It was very apparent to me that many Indigenous communities and people in Indigenous communities across the Kimberley—I cannot speak for other parts of northern Australia—are starting to argue constructively and put their case that they would like to see greater local decision-making over their future economic opportunities. That is something that should be welcomed. With rising levels of prosperity for Australians generally, but with increasing economic opportunities for Indigenous people across the north of the Kimberley, we must also be prepared to empower them to make those decisions that are best able to set them and their communities free and, importantly, set their children on a path of prosperity and progress for the future.

During the trip across the Kimberley I was pleased to meet with a number of very inspirational people. I thank Lynette Shaw and her partner, Nelson, for the very generous amount of time that they gave to me in talking about issues that were important to them and their community. In closing, I might emphasise one of those. Lynette said to me with great passion that it was important that we explain how better to use Indigenous land use agreements, so that local communities can make agreements that help commercial business opportunities in their communities. I look forward to travelling across the Kimberley again in the next few weeks.