Transcript iv 104.9 FM with Katie Woolf

KATIE WOOLF: But we are going to take a bit of a change of pace right now and joining us on the line is the minister for federal- well, the Federal Minister for Agriculture and Northern Australia, David Littleproud. Good morning to you.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Good morning. Good to be with you.

KATIE WOOLF: Great to have you on the show, Minister, and good to hear that you've been announced as the Minister for Northern Australia. Were you pretty pleased when you found out that you'd been appointed to that role?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: I am. It's been quite exciting. I did have agriculture and emergency management, and I've seen a lot of trauma over the last couple of years. It's been great to be part of that. But it's now good to be part of something that's exciting, that's fresh, that's new, and the opportunities in the North have been untapped. And I think it's now, particularly since COVID, Australians are waking up to the fact that living in capital cities in the south isn't all it's cracked up to be, and the opportunities that are up here are ones that I think will get that entrepreneurial spirit of Australia that built Australia back on track. And being able to have that opportunity to be the Minister for Northern Australia is a great honour.

KATIE WOOLF: Well, it's certainly one that we here in the Territory think is incredibly important, you know, making sure that Northern Australia, particularly the Northern Territory, is high on the agenda. We now know that the newly appointed chair of the NAIF, for the first time ever, a Territorian in Tracey Hayes. I mean, are we going to finally really see a real push for the Territory?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, definitely. I actually met with Tracey yesterday, and have a great deal of confidence in some of the reforms we put through, that she'll be able to drive them. And she's very energetic and enthused about the opportunities that are here. There's been over $700 million committed through the NAIF to the Northern Territory, about 1.2 and about 1.3 for Queensland and WA. And that's why I'm up here, is that obviously the main Office of Northern Australia's here in Darwin. I want to make sure that those guys are working with the NAIF and also the Northern Australia Research Centre to make sure they're coordinated. I think there's been a lot of silos, and now's the opportunity to bring it all together and really have a strategic direction that they get a return on investment to the Australian taxpayer, which I know it will.

So there's been $3.1 billion worth of commitments through the NAIF, about 20 projects. But we think, obviously now there's another $2 billion that will have some commitments over the next 12 months and I think the Territory is looking to play a role in that. I'm trying to catch up with the Northern Territory Government as well while I'm here because they also have a role to play. But it's going to take some courage and conviction from our state and territory governments as well. They own the resources, such as water and the minerals that are in the Earth, and so we need them to have some courage and conviction to think outside the square a little bit because that can sometimes be a barrier. We've got the chequebook, we just need them to work with us, because that's where the opportunities are. And I think that's what will not just drive Northern Australia, this is what will drive our nation's economy is Northern Australia if we get it right. And having someone like Tracey there is a big advantage to make sure that you have a strong voice at the table in those investment decisions.

KATIE WOOLF: Minister, what is top of the agenda for you upon taking that role of the Northern Australia portfolio?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well it's as simple as getting stuff done. I mean, the NAIF had been sitting there languishing for a long time, and now we're getting some real commitments and some real approvals. We've got it up to 3.1 billion. I want the other $2 billion committed as quickly as we can with projects, so that we can give investment conferences to business to come up and to continue to invest. But it's more than just the NAIF, and I think we've just had that as a signature piece. What we've also done is we've moved Northern Australia into the Department of Infrastructure because the NAIF is just one program about the- developing Northern Australia. If we use some of the other infrastructure programs that the Federal Government puts out to complement and supplement the NAIF, then we actually get a better bang for buck, and we can actually get a better coordinated approach in building the supply chains and the infrastructure to support those supply chains quicker. And this is about speed to market, and I think this is our window of opportunity.

So, you know, I'm going line by line with the NAIF as we speak, as well as the Office of Northern Australia, sitting down expectations and making sure that I'm expecting what I expect in terms of delivery. Getting stuff done is just as- it's so important at the moment. And that means delivery of those NAIF, delivery of the infrastructure programs, so there's something being built. And we're building infrastructure and creating jobs- not just in building infrastructure, but we're creating jobs in the operation of that infrastructure. You don't want to just build infrastructure that just sits there and doesn't create jobs or productivity or profitability that helps nobody. And that's why we need some smart decisions, quick decisions that gives a return of investment, and that's what Tracey's job is to do.

KATIE WOOLF: Minister, we are fast running out of time. We've got an incredibly busy show on the agenda this morning. Hey, just a couple of quick ones though. We know that Farmers NT or our- certainly here in the Territory, we've been having real issues when it comes to picking and packing heading into the mango season. Our farmers are really struggling to make sure that they've got that workforce in order to get these jobs done. It's something that we've been talking about for such a long period of time across this show. Are we going to see some movement in this space? And is there something that the Federal Government can do to try and make sure that they're able to get the workforce that is required to ensure that those mangoes don't rot on the ground?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, we've already done it. We've made 25,000 men and women available in 10 Pacific countries that the states and territories can bring across. Now, some states- and what we've also done is not just bring them across and quarantine here in Australia, we've now opened up the opportunity in country quarantining in Fiji and Vanuatu. South Australia's taking it up; the Territory hasn't. They still want to use the facilities here. So that's great, they can do that. But we can only stamp the visas as once they give the health approval. So the Territory Government, in fact, can solve this with the 25,000 men and women who are sitting in the Pacific. We're also just finalising the new agricultural visa that will extend to 10 ASEAN countries and maybe even beyond that.

So we're actually putting in all the opportunity to bring men and women in to do the work, but we need the health ticks and approval by each state, and that's the only impediment of us bringing in new people in. Every state and territory are own sovereign government. They have the ownership of the health protocols and in the quarantine, how they want it done. And if they make that decision, we'll back them, we'll stamp the visas. So we're just saying to the NT Government, here's your opportunity, let's get the mangoes off. And then, you know, once you finish up here, you can move across Bowen, and we can move these workers around interstate and across the country as well once they finish up here. So there's just some common sense there and some coordination, and we just need the states and territories to come with us.

KATIE WOOLF: David Littleproud, we are going to have to leave it there. Thanks so much for your time this morning.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me. Great to be in Darwin.

KATIE WOOLF: Thank you. That is the Federal Agriculture and also Minister for Northern Australia there, David Littleproud.

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