Address to the National Press Club, Canberra
***Check against delivery***
After defeating Darius Ill in 330 BC, Alexander the Great went on to the Indus Valley, left and returned, left and never visited again, creating the vacuum which was the first-noted iteration of the troubles of Afghanistan.
It was not much past the shadow of Bucephalus leaving, with Alexander's Bactrian Princess Roxana, that the remnant emigrant Greek Bactrians rose-up and routed the post-Alexander Seleucid Empire and made their own Macedonian enclave.
In this garden of divergent disruption was territory that was the moth to the flame of those who avail themselves of the cover of chaos in the vacuum between empires. Between the immensity of mountains and the tribes from iniquity was perfected resistance then practiced over the next millennium.
Conquest, defeat; defeat, conquest, brutality, guerrilla freedom fighter, atrocity, zealotry. The Persians, Greeks, Mongols, Sikhs, British, Soviets and now us, we have all had our time.
But the purpose was just and the outcome achieved because we did not go in to conquer Afghanistan but to extract and obliterate the evil that had taken root within, an evil taking sanctuary once more in the space between the mountains and the tribes, in the vacuum between powers but we hope never returns to its former capacity.
In 1998 with the bombing of the US Embassies in Africa came further intelligence of the substantial growth of the seed that had grown to become the corrupted, barbaric, zealotry standing in proxy for Islam in Afghanistan.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his deputy Osama Bin Laden's religious interpretations were license for something that was as far away in logic as it was in distance and time to the ninth century Islamic scholarly works in algebra, trigonometry and chemistry, a time which was for Europe "The Dark Ages".
All religions have their savage epochs but this was twenty-first century pre-enlightenment barbarism that made its intentions further cataclysmically evident when it drove two planes full of innocent people into the World Trade Centre, another plane into The Pentagon and in a metaphor for what was to happen next, the passengers of Flight 93 heroically stormed the cockpit of the fourth plane to offer their lives to save others.
But to think that this time and these incidents were the totality of the events is a misunderstanding of what had grown in Afghanistan. The training camps of extremism had been operating since long before the mastermind attacks on the US embassies in Africa and continued long into our engagement in Afghanistan.
But our sustained engagement in Afghanistan destroyed, deterred and hopefully mollified the extremist terrorism which it once grew. If others had not sought out and closed with the enemy then the enemy would have come to our cities here on Australian soil.
Thirty-nine thousand Australian servicemen and women who served, hundreds who were maimed, 41 who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and now tragically hundreds more who in torment have taken their own lives since, must receive the respect from their nation which is their due. The Veterans Affairs portfolio, under both Darren Chester and now Minister Gee, must bring these servicemen and women home not just in body but in mind and with full acknowledgement of the solace carried by so many of their families.
As people can wreak chaos so can pathogens as COVID-19 tragically destroys lives and economies. A pathogen that was not proscribed to a remote territory in a remote valley in a distant country. A pathogen whose nature took as no threat the powers of nations and was blind to philosophy, love or rhetoric. It knows nothing but has ambit claim and range. We have only logic and reason to inspire what can curtail an otherwise mutating catastrophic intrusion into the world that has taken so long to deliver the economy and balance we take as our right.
The same logic draws from history that inaction would wreak havoc worldwide, possibly for centuries, as a highly virulent flu with the world bereft of any mechanism of management. Maybe overstated, or maybe so, but do you want to roll the dice? A mutation away from a vastly more devastating near apocalyptic episode. Some are so brave when blind to the crushing possibilities. Maybe the next mutation that, polio-like, kills the kids first, would bring a morbid epiphany.
In 2005 I gave a speech to rural doctors predicting that a pandemic would come in the next fifteen years that would create massive intrusions into the operating of society by proscribing rights, introducing quarantine and restricting movement. I noted clearly that it would cause severe political and social angst.
Here is my next prediction: it will happen again as the world of a travelling population moves towards ten billion people, moving back and forth between hemispheres, countries and religions, all of which are arbitrary lines of nonsense to a virus.
So as man went to the moon and we learnt far and wide beyond that excursion, let's learn far and wide for our future beyond the experience of this pandemic. Studious understanding of this will be the plan that can save billions in the future.
For the alternate management of COVID-19, Labor has hung their hat on saying that in the past they would have done things differently. So where is the speech from early 2020 clearly outlining this alternate path, or is this merely the gift of 20/20 hindsight in which we could back every Melbourne Cup winner?
If they have this prophetic gift, grace us with it now. Mr Albanese apparently could predict the 1980s advent of Vienetta ice cream as a child in the 1970s. Why limit this portentous gift to confectionery? The Nostradamus of Ice Cream must be heard to enlighten our path forward.
Tell us the number that they believe we should open the lockdown at. The part of the Doherty study they don’t agree with.
In the complex brew of current circumstances, the biggest threat to this nation is the dramatic shift in geopolitical power and political philosophy which is happening in our part of the world because of the Chinese Communist Party. Very importantly not the Chinese people, who are closest to this autocratic behemoth.
So what are we to do in Australia? Our present circumstances here in Australia are vastly less consequential to the former regular venue of these historical challenges of projected power: Europe.
Australia must become as strong as possible as quickly as possible and be ruthlessly pragmatic in how we achieve this task. Never as a threat but as a deterrent, noting that the circumstances of the comparable power equation have definitively drifted against our favour. ANZUS in its 70th year is, in my view, more crucial than it has ever been.
Genuine democracy and the associated general franchise of common and equivalent individual rights and freedoms in our region, the rights of private ownership, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and so much more – are under pressure from unilateral totalitarianism, or its close cousins of the same.
Your children could lose the liberties and freedoms granted to you as a birthright, granted to us who indulgently never really stopped to recognise what an incredible gift that is when held in a genuine form by such a small group of people, in such a small period in the human clock. Never really appreciated because we are so easily distracted by other things.
We must be strong across all fields in Australia and infrastructure is the vital catalyst for nearly all component parts of this quest.
Cities don't build transport corridors, transport corridors build cities. This nation does not have a city or town over 100,000 people in over 4100 kilometres between Perth and Darwin, although one of the largest ports in the world is Port Hedland.
The largest city away from the coast is Canberra and this has taught us that what seems eminently sensible now did not grow organically but was instead led by government.
Seed infrastructure is essential to inspire or accelerate the growth of cities off the coast. Infrastructure purely on a numbers game to attract investment, when the numbers are not there, works to the favour of the status quo.
What is hailed as a bold, essential step in a capital is so often derided as pork barrelling in a region when decentralisation, or as Minister Bridget McKenzie insists I use in my nomenclature, regionalisation, should have an equal weight in the consideration of investment.
There are so many suggestions about alternate income sources but in circumstances post-COVID-19, which has left us the nation’s biggest debt in history, then we must not merely aspire to, but substantiate.
In a world moving towards ten billion people, food plays a major part and has a bigger future. Minister Littleproud has a role to play that is probably more substantial than any Agriculture Minister prior to him.
We must build the infrastructure to capitalise on this agricultural opportunity. To grow it you need water which needs dams, you need the town or city to attract the vet or the agronomist, the school their children attend, the hospital they have a baby in.
With a population close to 15,000 near the massive Fairbairn Dam, Emerald in the Central Queensland Highlands is an example of dams supporting agriculture, and agriculture inspiring decentralisation. This attracts social infrastructure which further attracts local industry, supporting local mining, earning further export dollars and attracting yet more people.
This initial investment in 1972 of Fairbairn Dam, when the population was merely 650 and at the same time Collinsville had 200, would never have stacked up if the purists had their way. Emerald would not exist as it now does. It is not chicken and egg, it is the seed and the tree. The Productivity Commission and so many other analytical bodies are good at predicting the "here and now" but less capable of assessing potential.
Rare earths, as I’m persistently informed by Minister Keith Pitt, are a massive opportunity as an additional mining industry. Keith tells me we must not just dig them up and put them on a train to a port, but process them in Australia and use them to inspire the growth of the economy near the mine. We must borrow from the Emerald example and plant the seed infrastructure that broadens the economy, spreads the population and lifts the living standards.
Critical minerals are critical if you want to live in this century. There are roughly fourteen critical minerals in your iPhone. When it comes to the amount of rare earths needed for Defence equipment, according to a 2013 congressional research service report, a single F35 needs over 400 kilograms and a Virginia-class submarine requires more than 4,000 kilograms. Right now there is a near monopoly in the post-extraction production facilities and it is not an Australian monopoly.
And, just like the nuclear industry, Australia has most of the base material but very little of the manufacturing capacity.
It is in our interest to be a major global source of the metals that result from downstream processing of critical minerals. It is in the interest of all like-minded democracies that Australia is at least an alternate key provider.
We have proved our reliability during the pandemic to the world, with a resources sector that has not only maintained its operations, but broken all export records last financial year.
It is this type of reliability the world will need in coming years to underpin the common purpose of an advanced standard of living from the devices that the world demands.
It is in Australia's economic interest that the jobs and economic boost that comes from this growth sector occurs here in Australia, or it will be lost to other nations.
The big winner will be Australia in general and regional Australia in particular. Processing hubs in locations such as Gladstone, Dubbo, Mackay, Middle Arm at Darwin and Busselton which will utilise the skills of existing heavy industry workers.
This is not a case of "just transition" but a case of expansion and growth. We are not a clumsy nation, we can do multiple economic tasks at the same time, maintaining our existing industry and building on our strengths.
Naivety is the enemy in becoming internationally competitive. The fundamentals have to be right.
Affordable, reliable electricity and gas, a skilled workforce and a government regulatory system that doesn't whisper, "Don't bother starting".
The green tape, red tape, other tape that make the preamble the economic nemesis, choking investors' enthusiasm and whittling away any new small entrant of their funds.
We will continue to invest in the Outback Way, an upgrade started by this Coalition Government. We will push on with this, the sealing of the third road East to West across our nation from Winton to Laverton in Western Australia.
By so doing, we will connect the critical earth precincts north of Alice Springs and the gold precincts around Laverton. It will create greater transport capacity for the massive beef industry along this new corridor and allow a greater connection for the current few, who live there, to a basic article of 21st century living, a sealed road.
To move food you need the rail, roads, ports and ships that are built not just for the task at hand but for the future. You have to move opportunity around in a nation adroit to spread substantially from the South East to the Inland from the East Coast to the North West Coast.
Currently opportunity, expertise and population has proportionally moved little to where it was planted as colonial capitals over 200 years ago. It won't change unless we provide a similar infrastructure impetus to the same seeds as we planted here in Canberra early last century.
The exponential growth of agriculture needs irrigation. A dry hectare at St George in Western Queensland produces $60 of wool while an irrigated hectare produces $9000 of cotton. You don't have to be Pythagoras to arrive at the conclusion of what is required. A brief lesson in the economy that underpinned ancient Egypt is good reading as a starting point.
Agriculture is now at record volumes and responsible for more than a third of the increase in the latest GDP figures in the National Accounts. It is a huge part of our economic history and has a global role to play in our economic future, so we must build the seed infrastructure to maximise our future economic benefit.
We need water from where there is an abundance to irrigate where the west of Queensland does not have enough.
Today I announce that the North Queensland Water Authority, currently based here in Canberra, is moving to North Queensland, to Bowen, adjacent to where we are building Urannah Dam, and the same region where we are building Hells Gates, where we will start on the long-term nation building task of expanding irrigated agriculture by moving a portion of the abundant resource of water west.
This Government has commenced the discussions to create the entity, similar to what this nation had to develop in the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme, to start the long-term plan for this major agricultural irrigation expansion.
Inland Rail is a further part of the decentralisation, sorry Bridget, regionalisation plan – a 1,716-kilometre Brisbane to Melbourne corridor of commerce with the capacity to move trains 3.6 kilometres long at 110 kilometres an hour. We are building it.
Nationals’ leaders of the past set the vision, I negotiated the funding, Michael McCormack started the building and negotiated more funding, and now I will continue on pushing it through to completion for all of us.
It is not a dream. This week we announced $20 million of the billion-dollar leg from just north of the New South Wales border to Gowrie, near Toowoomba. 170 kilometres, 34 bridges, 900 culverts and 950 full-time employees.
This comes after over 13,634 pages of merely the environmental impact statement from 71 scientists, 90 degrees with a combined experience over 1,000 years. I hope that makes it clear why I say now "Just get on with it".
Today I have announced the business plan to continue the Inland Rail 646 kilometres further from Toowoomba to the industrial city of Gladstone.
We are laying the ballast on the Inland Rail for the heavy duty line between Narrabri and Moree. Construction is complete from Parkes to Narromine and well underway from Moree to North Star.
Australia has no Tier One construction firms, construction firms capable of doing multi-billion dollar projects by themselves. Most of Australia's major infrastructure projects, those worth over $500 million, are built by four foreign-owned Tier One construction companies.
The four Tier One firms include Chinese and Spanish companies, but the link between the New South Wales border to Toowoomba will be using Australian Tier Two construction companies.
Government must be instrumental in creating a Tier One sovereign capacity. We need to create a pathway for our mid-tier companies to evolve into Australia's next Tier Ones, companies to take on global, multi billion dollar contracts.
The big four accounting firms that do so much of the government's assessment work are not Australian firms. Government must allow business studies and other required analysis to be done by Australian engineering firms, Australian accountancy firms and Australian environmental assessment firms.
This must not be to the exclusion of international competition but mindful of the risk adverse, some may suggest laziness, that runs to the big international names before seeing if that opportunity could be offered to domestic firms that could do the job just at well and possibly at a better price.
The local council of Narrabri anticipates Inland Rail will double the size of their town with its connection to the Port of Newcastle. Inland Rail will be the seed for the construction of an inland port at Parkes. It will create jobs in manufacturing in Tamworth and steel production at Whyalla. It will create new opportunities in Goondiwindi and grow the cities of Albury and Toowoomba. The Inland Rail will enhance economies at the bookends of Brisbane and Melbourne.
Inland Rail should have been built years ago. It took this government to do it. If we spread the white-collar jobs such as engineering in planning as well, this would further incite the further growth in our economy away from the capitals.
Education must not just meet but beat the competition in our section of the world. Over a long period of time the world has been leaving us behind in PISA scores. If you can do a job on a keyboard that job can be anywhere on the globe and we must make sure our children have a job.
The 2018 PISA ranking placed Australian students 16th in the world in reading, 29th in maths and 17th in science. The danger of sliding further is that we would lack the basic building blocks of phonics and grammar, on the very subject matters tested for the better paying jobs. The capabilities required for such things as engineering and assessment of the construction of the Inland Rail.
These building blocks are essential for authentic, competent understanding of the complex. I am very happy about the policy direction that Minister Tudge is taking to deal with this head on.
In closing, back in September 2020 Norman Anderson wrote an article in Forbes Magazine about major infrastructure projects:
"A wonderful fact about infrastructure – water, transport, power, SG - is that each project benefits thousands of people, and when connected to networks the projects benefit millions.
Like great businesses, projects are often the brainchild of a single - often highly unreasonable - individual.
These people don't let go, walking the fine line - traced by energy, resourcefulness and persistence – between visionary and crazy.
The best projects offer not only a fascinating window into our future but tell us a lot about who we are - and who among us is going to make that future."
I could not have said it better myself.