Keynote Address to the 2014 Pilbara Pulse Economic Summit

Speech

WTS017/2014

23 July 2014

Karratha Leisureplex, Karratha

Thank you for the warm welcome Kitty  

It is a pleasure to be here and I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners, the Ngarluma and Yindjibarndi people.

Before I begin I would also like to acknowledge my Parliamentary colleague, the new Member for Durack Melissa Price, who does a sterling job fighting for the West in Canberra, and the Member for Pilbara, Brendon Grylls, a dedicated member of the Nationals team and a man with a passion for regional Western Australia and its people, and in particular, the economic powerhouse of the Pilbara.

I understand this conference series kicked off in 2010, and has grown to the point where hundreds of key business, government and community leaders have travelled from across WA to attend this year's event.

I am very pleased to have been invited to join you.

Today's line-up of expert speakers is testament to the continued growth and long-term economic potential of the Pilbara region and the important role it will play in the development of Northern Australia.

There is no question that we need to make the most of the North's strengths, not only here in the Pilbara but right across the Top End.

We have to put in place the best possible regulatory and economic environment to support business and identify critical infrastructure for long-term growth.

We need to create an environment that encourages strategic public and private planning and investment.

Northern Australia is already a big contributor to the national economy, with 55 per cent of our exports shipped through our northern ports and an agricultural sector worth over $5 billion.

I always find it exciting—breathtaking—to visit the iron ore, gas and other projects in the north. Last year I saw again first-hand the enormity of the iron ore export industry when I toured the Port of Dampier.

On a global level, it is staggering to consider that Dampier comes in as the world's second largest bulk export port with Port Hedland taking out first place.

Port Hedland recently published their export figures for the June quarter, with just under 105 million tonnes of iron ore moving through the port in that timeframe.

Australia enjoyed good first quarter export statistics this year because the north west had a benign cyclone season. What happens here clearly impacts the whole nation.

These figures indicate recent improvements to efficiency and productivity measures, and later today I will be in Port Hedland to celebrate the opening of the eight kilometre realignment of the Great Northern Highway.

The realignment will further improve safety and efficiency by separating heavy vehicles accessing the port and industrial areas from tourist and commuter traffic.

The completion of the upgrade is part of our record $50 billion investment in priority national transport infrastructure that will serve us into the 21st century.

This has been a joint project with the WA Government and I am pleased to say that we have invested $190.2 million in federal funding for this second stage in the upgrade.  

In total, we have committed $526 million in works along this important highway—the longest in Australia—linking Perth to the Kimberley Port of Wyndham. We are also investing $174 million in the upgrade of the North West Coastal Highway to improve the connection to coastal centres.

Now, before I move on, I should mention the recent visit to Rio Tinto's West Angelas mine by the Prime Minister and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe—the first Japanese Prime Minister to visit the Pilbara in 40 years.

Mr Abe had a firsthand look at the iron ore operations that built much of Japan.

As the Prime Minister noted, the iron ore industry of the Pilbara is the result of the partnership between Australian mining know-how and Japanese capital and technology.

Against a backdrop of the signing of the free trade Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement, the tour was also a reminder that Australia would not have the iron ore and gas industries we boast today if it were not for the strong trade ties that we have built since Sir Robert Menzies signed Australia's 1957 commerce agreement with Japan's then Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe's grandfather.

This was a remarkable achievement coming just a decade after the end of World War II. The negotiations were led by Jack McEwen, one of my predecessors as Leader of The Nationals—himself a soldier settler at a time when bitterness towards Japan was still strong. Within another decade, Japan had become Australia's number one trading partner—a position it held for 40 years.

McEwen and Menzies had a vision for a strong and prosperous Australia—they understood the importance of our regions in building our wealth through our agricultural and mineral resources sectors.

In the same way, the development of Northern Australia is a top priority for the Coalition Government and the release last month of the first step—the Green Paper on Developing Northern Australia—is our next step in delivering on that commitment.

And that is what I want to talk to you about this morning.

As Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of The Nationals, I am proud that we have honoured our pre-election commitment to build on the Coalition's 2030 Vision for Developing Northern Australia.

The Pilbara, the Kimberley, tropical north Queensland, the Northern Territory, and the regions in between, are often regarded as Australia's ‘last frontier’ with all the connotations of a wild and uncivilised countryside.

Everyone here this morning knows that is far from the truth.

 Northern Australia boasts a rich and diverse culture, unique landscapes and iconic tourist destinations, vast natural resources and modern, vibrant cities like Townsville and Darwin and regional centres like Karratha which are growing at a rapid rate.

The growth rate here is in many ways demonstrated by Karratha's place as the busiest regional airport in WA and I gather you are set to undergo a major $35 million upgrade.

Nevertheless, it is true to say that despite its natural, geographic and strategic assets, we have not been making the most of the North…much of the country north of the Tropic of Capricorn remains underutilised in comparison to the southern states.

Northern Australia is unique among the developed countries, in that it sits at the intersection of the modern world's two most important regions of global economic and population growth—Asia and the Tropics.

The Tropical region encompasses everything between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn and currently includes 40 per cent of the world's population.

Consider this…by 2020, more than half of the world's middle class will be in Asia.

This seismic demographic shift is already driving an increasing demand for high-end primary produce including beef and dairy and access to reliable energy.

By 2040, Deloitte forecasts that Northern Australia may account for nearly 42 per cent of the Australian economy, with gross regional product increasing by an average of three per cent every year from 2020.

To ignore this region's need for investment and growth is to turn our backs on real opportunities for the future.

Australia's long-term security and regional stability depends on Northern Australia, particularly through our defence and border security activities.

The North's diverse communities are an integral part of the fabric of the region and Indigenous Australians are already involved in defence, mining, agriculture, environmental management and tourism, providing a strong foundation for further Indigenous economic development .

And on that note, I was interested to read that the Ngarluma Aboriginal Corporation has appointed a new Indigenous manager at the historic Mount Welcome station north of Karratha, with a vision of turning it into a working cattle station that the community can be proud of.

It is also important to note that Australia's long-term security and regional stability depends on Northern Australia, particularly through our defence and border security activities.

Which brings us to the Green Paper, which maps out the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for Northern Australia.

Importantly, the Green Paper also gives businesses, individuals and communities a voice and an opportunity to help shape Government policy and the long-term future of this unique part of the world.

It identifies six possible policy directions and the sorts of actions that could bring them to reality.

Broadly speaking, the six strands identified are:

  • delivering economic infrastructure;
  • improving land use and access;
  • improving water access and management;
  • promoting trade and investment and strengthening the business environment;
  • fostering education, research and innovation; and
  • enhancing governance

Along with seeking private views, we have established an expert Northern Australia Advisory Group representing the diverse communities of the north, business, industry and Indigenous interests.

The Advisory Group is chaired by Shane Stone, former NT Chief Minister and will report to the Prime Minister, myself, the Premiers of Queensland and Western Australia and the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory.

While not jumping the gun, I can say that the Government is focused on developing a food bowl; building an energy export industry worth $150 billion; and growing the tourist economy to two million international tourists a year.

We are also identifying options to accelerate investment in water infrastructure, as well as completing an audit of infrastructure investment priorities, both nationally as well as for Northern Australia.

The CSIRO has also completed a detailed assessment of agricultural resources in Queensland's gulf savannah country, focusing on the Flinders and Gilbert River catchments.

The findings show that upwards of 30,000 hectares of irrigated cropping could be sustainably developed to grow a wide variety of crops and potentially establish a footprint twice the size of the current Ord Irrigation Scheme.

In fact, we are working closely with the NT and WA governments to consider further potential expansions to the Ord development, with some investors interested in a return to sugar processing in the region.

Addressing the recent Northern Development Summit in Townsville, Trade and Investment Minister, Andrew Robb, said the world was awash with cash looking for investment destinations.

Andrew said everywhere he went he was being asked by potential investors for details on projects in Northern Australia.

But he also warned that we have a possible 20 year window and we need to identify, line up and assess the projects now if we are to take advantage of foreign investment interest.

Further growth and investment will, of course, have direct benefits across Northern Australia, but that prosperity will flow to all Australians.

Farmers and business developers in southern parts of the country will be eyeing the opportunities to expand and diversify their interests.

This has been part of our plan to put regional Australia at the heart of a national economic recovery.

It is crucial that you have your say in how we achieve these goals and I urge you to be involved.

You can provide feedback, suggestions or formal submissions to the Green Paper by 8 August. A link for online submissions is located on my Department's web site.

Your input will help to produce the White Paper which I expect to release later this year.

It will set out a clear, well-defined policy platform for realising the full economic potential of Northern Australia, including  a plan for implementing these policies over the next two, five, 10 and 20 years.

Conclusion

As I said earlier I am flying out for Port Hedland this afternoon and then on to Broome. I regret that I can't join you for the remainder of the conference however I wish you well with your discussions, and once again, I urge you to respond to the Green paper by 8 August.

Thank you.