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Wednesday, 11 November 2015
Page: 8282

Northern Australia Investment Forum

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:26): My question is also to Senator Sinodinos, the Cabinet Secretary, in his role representing the Minister for Trade and Investment, Mr Andrew Robb. It relates to the Northern Australia Investment Forum, which Mr Robb has been hosting along with, I might say, Senator Colbeck and the Northern Australia minister—

Opposition senators interjecting

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Just a moment, Senator Macdonald. Order!

Senator Cameron: You like to dish it out but you can't take it!

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Cameron! Senator Macdonald, apart from who the question is addressed to, could you commence your question again.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: In case people did not hear it, I am saying the question relates to the Northern Australia Investment Forum, which Mr Robb and, indeed, Senator Colbeck—

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order, on my left!

Senator Brandis: Mr President, on a point of order: as you have often observed and ruled, interjection is disorderly but this is more than interjection. This is like a football crowd! This question is inaudible to me, sitting as close as I am to Senator Macdonald, because of the football-crowd barracking coming from the other side.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Brandis. Senator Wong, on the point of order.

Senator Wong: Mr President, I have another point of order. First, obviously, perhaps the Attorney should stop defaming footy supporters. But, more importantly—

The PRESIDENT: That is not a point of order.

Senator Wong: Sorry, Mr President. The clock was reset. Was that at your direction?

The PRESIDENT: I asked the senator to start the question again. Not only could Senator Brandis not hear Senator Macdonald but also I could not hear Senator Macdonald. I remind all senators—on both sides—that interjections are disorderly and just remind you that you are televised and the people of Australia listen to us through radio. Senator Macdonald, could you start the question again.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I indicate the question relates to the Northern Australia Investment Forum, which Mr Robb along with Senator Colbeck and the northern Australia minister, recently, hosted in Darwin. I asked the minister if he could explain to senators—particularly those on the other side who, clearly, have no idea and no interest in northern Australia—what the Northern Australia Investment Forum was all about. In doing so, he will be able to assist the members of the Australian public in understanding what an important event the Northern Australia Investment Forum was.

Senator Cameron: You like to dish it out, but you can't take it!

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron!

Senator Jacinta Collins: Was it a good event, after all that?

Senator Cameron: You've got a big glass jaw!

The PRESIDENT: On my left!

Senator SINODINOS (New South WalesCabinet Secretary) (14:30): I can say candidly: that was a question written by Senator Macdonald! I thank the senator for his question.

Senator Cameron: I raise a point of order, Mr President. The minister should be pulled into line. He should not slap Senator Macdonald down like that.

The PRESIDENT: That is not a point of order, Senator Cameron. There is no point of order.

Senator SINODINOS: It is the only time I have been able to do it. I thank Senator Macdonald for his question. He has been a lion of the north, has Senator Macdonald. He has been a great representative of North Queensland. I know he was there on Sunday to participate in the forum, as was my good friend and colleague Senator Colbeck, as well as Mr Robb. The forum concluded yesterday in Darwin—which we now call the 'gateway to the north'—wrapping up three days of productive discussions about opportunities in Northern Australia, covering the northern part of Western Australia, the Northern Territory and North Queensland. Productive discussions involved the Minister for Trade and Investment, the Minister for Resources, Energy and Northern Australia—the first minister for northern Australia, I think, since Rex Patterson in the 1970s—and a number of parliamentary colleagues and stakeholders.

It is clear that foreign investment will be key to the future of Northern Australia. Mr President, you will recall the government developed a white paper on Northern Australia, released in June of this year, which set out a generational blueprint for the development of Northern Australia. The forum is one of many steps being taken by the government to foster northern development and deliver our commitments and objectives in the white paper. We have already made infrastructure announcements around roads, critical water management systems and regional aviation. Also, we are now making changes to a number of policy settings across portfolios, including in trade and investment. Other steps include the $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility.

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:32): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the Cabinet Secretary for that explanation and I know people of Australia will be very interested in the response given. I ask the minister if he might further elaborate on that answer by telling us: what was the purpose of the investment forum and what are the expected outcomes from that forum?

Senator SINODINOS (New South WalesCabinet Secretary) (14:33): The key purpose of the forum was to outline the development road map for the north as a way of encouraging international investors in particular and foreign capital to contribute to the growth of the north. We were showcasing investment-ready projects and asking for investors to match the capital that, potentially, the Commonwealth, through the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, can put into projects. Just a few of these included—from your home state, Senator Macdonald—Davco, featuring their concept for an abattoir in Townsville for live and boxed meat exports; the Ella Bay Integrated Resort Development in Innisfail, which no doubt Senator Colbeck will be visiting in due course; IFED, with its integrated agriculture proposals for the Gilbert River in the Gulf Country; and Seafarms, who are showcasing their sea dragon aquaculture project on the Western Australia-Northern Territory border. I know the Minister for Trade and Investment and the minister for energy and resources— (Time expired)

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:34): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I again thank the Cabinet Secretary for explaining, particularly to those people opposite, who do not seem to be interested, about what is happening in Northern Australia. I ask the minister: are there any other forums proposed that relate to Northern Australia that the Labor Party might be interested in?—although I suspect they have no interest in Northern Australia whatsoever.

Senator SINODINOS (New South WalesCabinet Secretary) (14:34): It will not surprise you that there are further formal and informal discussions to be held with individuals and interest groups from around Australia and around the world. We have, for example, already conducted a beef roads forum in Rockhampton and will be conducting subsequent fora in Darwin and in Kununurra. The $100 million beef roads program was announced in the northern development white paper, and it will dovetail with $600 million worth of priority roads projects and the $8 billion national highways program to create a system of supply chains that will span the breadth of the nation and provide producers and communities with greater certainty and profitability. So the Northern Australia Investment Forum is just the beginning, Senator Macdonald. It was held in Darwin, as I said, the gateway to the north, and it will build on the free trade agreements, which are opening up big new markets for Australian exports across all sectors of industry.

Senator Ian Macdonald: You should get out of Sydney and get up there and see what it's about!

Senator Cameron: What a big wuss—a big glass jaw!

The PRESIDENT: Senator Macdonald and Senator Cameron!