Transcript iv ABC Alice Springs

STEWART BRASH: Well, this morning we’re going to find out more about the NAIF – the North Australia Infrastructure Facility – because it’s going to provide $13.5 million in loans to redevelop a food storage and warehouse facility here in Alice Springs. Now the facility will service over 100 local stores covering an area of 1.4 million square kilometres. Minister for Agriculture and Northern Australia, David Littleproud says the project will improve food security for remote and regional Indigenous communities in Central Australia, and it will help ALPA – the Arnhem Land Progress Association – build a state-of-the-art ammonia refrigeration facility and improve the existing warehouse to meet future demands. We’re joined by David Littleproud who is the Minister for Ag and Northern Australia as well as Deputy Leader of The Nationals. Good morning to you.

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

STEWART BRASH: Hey, tell us more about this proposal? What will this NAIF funding do?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, effectively it’s a partnership to construct a 3,200-square-metre state-of-the-art refrigeration process that will also be even more energy efficient – 40 per cent more efficient – using renewables, but also making sure that it builds on the food security of Central Australia. It will create 60 jobs in the construction and 20 in operation. So these are brand new jobs that will come to the Alice, but also, more importantly, make sure that the quality of the produce that comes from particularly Melbourne and Adelaide are a better quality. So the people in Central Australia will have just as good an opportunity to have the best food and fibre as do those in metropolitan Australia. So a really practical investment but an important one in the development of Central Australia and Northern Australia.

 

STEWART BRASH: Do you know where precisely in the industrial area the warehouse will be?

 

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Look, those are being finalised and the proponent, in fact, as I understand it, has negotiations underway around that. And there’s some commercial-in-confidence arrangements, so it’s not for me to make that grand announcement – we’ll allow the proponents to do that. But we've simply given them the confidence to be able to now finalise those arrangements and to be able then to get on with the job of construction.

STEWART BRASH: And is this purely cold storage or is it bigger than that?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: It will be cold storage. I mean, I think with the size of the site it opens up capacity and opportunity for further expansion, and that’s the exciting thing. When you put this and overlay this into the other opportunities that are happening here, and particularly in Alice and Central Australia that I’ve seen over the last 24 hours and the opportunities of growth through the resource sector in particular, there are going to be hundreds of new families that will have to come to this part of the world. And we need to be able to give them the amenity that anyone in met poll tan Australia enjoys now, and that will be underpinned by infrastructure like this that will give them that security and surety.

STEWART BRASH: It’s an interesting development, and we know during Covid that the lockdowns of biosecurity regions in Central Australia and the territory in general, we saw real issues over food security, over communities getting access to food, which is one thing which obviously this is part of that equation. The other thing which is a long-running issue is food cost. It’s all very well to have good quality food available, but it’s also got to be at an economic cost which people can afford. Will this make food cheaper for people in bush communities?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Look, I think – I don’t want to overplay it. It will obviously feed in to controlling prices without it getting out of hand because if you’re able to have that cold storage capability that means that the food can last longer and that builds the quantity of supply. That’s important. So I think this will be underpinning that in maintaining costs –

STEWART BRASH: But it won’t lead to lower costs per se?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: I don’t think we’d want to go down that rabbit hole. I think that would be a long bow. And much of the costs have been predicated particularly for fresh produce around seasonal conditions. And we’re actually seeing, in fact, there’s been a study by the Treasury only recently around the fact of inflation where fresh produce, in fact, has gone down in price over the last 12 months.

STEWART BRASH: Yeah, but I could go to Yuendumu and it would cost me six bucks to buy a head of broccoli, or even more for fresh food. So, what I’m saying, it’s good to have the food available but it’s got to be available at a price. And I know there’s been talk about transport subsidies. I mean, is that something the federal government could look at? I know Arnhem Land Progress Association have spoken about that in the past. Is that a possibility? Things to subsidise food out bush?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Look, and we’re hearing that in a number of places. In fact, I heard that up in the Gulf and, in fact, in Townsville only last week. We are doing some subsidisation for those living in Tasmania. So those are the types of the things that I think when we think about Northern Australia that we’re going to have to explore as a federal government and state governments come with us on that, state and territory governments come with us on that, in looking at that. And we’re trying to do that underpinning infrastructure now. But is there further steps we need to take? Well, those are ones that I think are conversations that should be had. We shouldn’t be afraid to have it. I don’t want to raise expectation, but I think there is a cogent argument when you look at the fact that we do subsidise a lot of freight between the mainland and Tasmania. And so we should have that conversation as well for Northern Australia.

STEWART BRASH: Considering – and we talk about primary health care and we talk about vulnerable communities. But also people are eating healthy food to start off with, that’s where we’re behind the 8-ball. Can I ask a question, though, David Littleproud, ALPA is the Arnhem Land Progress Association, and they’re very well regarded. But not a Central Australian organisation who are getting this NAIF loan. Can you tell us more about that decision?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, basically the proponents of any development that can come across Northern Australia doesn’t necessarily even have to be in Northern Australia. They want to make – they need to be able to demonstrate they want to make an investment for the betterment of Northern Australia. We’ve had plenty of proponents who actually don’t even live in the northern part of Australia. In fact, from metropolitan Sydney and Melbourne that have come forward and put proposals. But these are investments that we need to make. We’re simply matching capital, and the precious capital with the opportunities that underpins that fundamentals of driving Northern Australia which we’re talking about, which is about, you know, better produce, cheaper produce, trying to make sure that we’re solving some of those fundamental issues.

So where the proponent comes from isn’t really our concern because so long as they have the intent of wanting to undertake these projects and they have the capital to match with that NAIF, or any other program that we have, then we’re happy to partner with them.

STEWART BRASH: And would it be seen that any bush community store, albeit ones run by Mai Wiru or community stores out bush or independent stores, they will buy their produce from this ALPA facility?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, that’s the intent, that we’re going to build capacity and be able to build capacity by having better storage that will mean that produce stays fresher longer, and that then gives the opportunity to build supplies up for those – this is a hub and then feeding out into those nodes of those smaller communities. And that’s the opportunity that lies in front of us with this investment.

STEWART BRASH: Do you know how soon this will all be done?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Look, I can’t give you an exact start date, but my understanding is that once the commercial of in-confidence piece is finalised in the coming weeks and month, well, then, effectively there will be then the starting of construction. And obviously there’s a lead-up to the completion of that. That will depend basically on the council approvals and all those types of approvals that are required. But the intent is to have this as a shovel ready – the project is ready to roll. We’ve money up. Their money will be utilised first. That is the condition of the NAIF, but we are now giving them the investment confidence to finish the final arrangements to go ahead with the construction.

STEWART BRASH: One of the issues which I’m sure people have raised with you in the Northern Territory is the massive impact of the second year of Covid has had on our tourism industry both on the top end and the centre. And in many ways, worse in the centre, because per capita the tourism industry has far bigger proportion of our economy than it does in the top end. There’s no JobKeeper, there’s not a lot of targeted support for businesses suffering in Central Australia because we haven’t had lockdowns, except for 48 hours, in Central Australia. Is there anything more the federal government can do for those operators who are tuned in this morning and they’ll be going, “You know, we need some support. We are going” – and we were told last week one operator saying she knows of at least eight companies that won’t be with us next year if there is no forthcoming support.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, and that’s a partnership; it’s not just Federal Government, it’s State and Territory Government we need to work with this. And I heard that right across Northern Australia last week as well. And the secondary impacts, while we haven’t had the Covid cases here in the territory, the lockdowns, as you’ve articulated, even in Queensland, the secondary impacts are that we’ve taken away the Melbourne and Sydney tourism markets and that’s taken away precious dollars. And I think this is where the conversation is now moving towards at national cabinet – is around what other impacts and how do we look at those secondary impacts and be able to find some way to support these businesses. Because you are right – we are getting to a juncture now where I think there is a need for us to work with our state colleagues to get solutions around that. We’ve always said that we’ll look after the employee and the states and territories will look after the business. Now the measures that we’ve taken have been targeted to hotspot areas looking after employees. So –

STEWART BRASH: But we’re not a hotspot but we’re suffering due to in the declarations, yeah.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, exactly. Exactly. And that’s exactly what I’m about to say – that’s worked in trying to make sure that we didn’t get broadscale lockdowns, but the unintended consequences are the secondary effects, the secondary effects of our communities out here that we now need to look at and look at differently and about how that support mechanism with the states should be tweaked to make sure that we can support them as best we can. And, invariably, we all have a role to play in this – put your arm out and get a jab, because if we can do that I can tell you Delta will come at some point but if we’ve got those vaccinations then lockdowns are going to be fewer in the future and we can have people move around and get out from underneath the doona and get back to normal.

STEWART BRASH: Yeah. On a political nature, let’s just go to the CLP. Now, you know, the CLP have chosen Jacinta Price over Sam McMahon at the top of the CLP Senate ticket. That means Sam McMahon won’t be sitting the next parliament with the Nats. Now Barnaby Joyce was quite concerned over the turfing of Senator Sam McMahon. Did you share that concern over the loss of Senator McMahon over Jacinta Price?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I’m obviously concerned Sam won’t be there. She’s done an outstanding job. She’s had outstanding achievements for the three years that she’s been there – more than many would achieve in a political lifetime. But ultimately there’s this beautiful thing called democracy, and when you sign up to politics you sign up to the rules of democracy. And sometimes when you don’t have the numbers you’ve got to swallow that bitter pill. Those are the rules of engagement. And it could happen to me, it could happen to anybody. The CLP membership has made their decision. It shouldn’t be a decision for myself or Barnaby; it’s a decision for the CLP membership, as it is in my own state of Queensland. If someone came in and told us how to vote, we’d probably vote the other way just out of spite. So we’ve always got to let the primacy of the membership make their decision. Sam’s done an outstanding job, and I know Jacinta personally and I think she’s an outstanding Australian who will do an outstanding job for the territory and take up that legacy that Sam has left behind.

STEWART BRASH: There have been suggestions that Jacinta Price, when she entries the Senate, will sit with the Liberals. Will you demand Jacinta Price sits with the Nats?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, again, coming up here as a Queenslander – I know it’s the same in reciprocation – if you came to Queensland and told us what to do, we’d tell you to take a running jump. So we won’t be coming in to the CLP and knowing the personalities in the CLP and being a Nat from Queensland, I’m not coming up here telling them what to do.

STEWART BRASH: Traditionally they’ve sat with the Nats, though, haven’t they, the CLP Senator?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Obviously we’d like the senator to sit with the National Party. We think that she’s a talent and will probably progress quickly and further through the National Party means than through the Liberals, but that will be a decision for her and the CLP to make. We respect that decision, but we would encourage them strongly that we think Northern Territory and, more importantly, the whole of the territory population will be better off with Jacinta being a National Party because we’re a rural-based party. We look after the bush. We’re not worried about big capital cities. They’ve got plenty of politicians running around looking after them. We just think it’s a better fit with the Nats, but that will be a decision for Jacinta and the CLP.

STEWART BRASH: David Littleproud, thanks for your time this morning. We’ll catch you next time.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks.

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