Transcript iv MIX 104.9 Darwin

KATIE WOOLF: Now, joining me on the line this morning here in Darwin, actually, is the Minister for Northern Australia and Agriculture David Littleproud, good morning to you.

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

KATIE WOOLF: No, minister before we get into what’s happening in Darwin at the moment, or what you’re in Darwin for, I just want to get a little bit more detail on this historic joint announcement with the United States and the United Kingdom this morning. We know that the Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed that Australia would use British and American technology to build its next fleet, replacing the existing Collins Class submarines. What does this mean for Australia and, indeed, for Northern Australia?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, this means we’re going to be a lot safer. This is historic. And what the Prime Minister’s been able to achieve in utter secrecy but with our coalition friends in the UK and the US will leave a legacy for generations. And it what it says to the world is that we are a peaceful, free, loving country and we want to maintain that. But if anyone wants to harm Australia or any of its allies then we will work together to make sure that we return the globe to a safer place where peace and prosperity reigns. And what the Prime Minister has done is sign an agreement not just around the technology that is game changing but also a broader agreement with the UK and the US to have a strategic alliance to make sure the world understands that we want to advance the cause of peace and prosperity, but if that changes and someone wants to challenge that, then we will stand united to make sure we return the world to that. So the subs, in particular, we will pivot away from that contract. And I’ve got to say, the reason we pivot away is because this technology wasn’t available to us. The US wouldn’t share it with Australia until now. And the fact that the Prime Minister has been able to achieve that is mind blowing. No-one else in the world has been given the keys to this. So that is why we’re going to have to pivot away from the subs that we were making. And they were the best technology we had at the time, but this now is going to keep our service men and women safe, will bring them home after – if they have to go to war and defend our country, we hope they never have to, but this is a significant game changer.

KATIE WOOLF: It does certainly send a message to China. And obviously we know that the Northern Territory and, indeed, the top end is incredibly strategically important. Do you think that this announcement is going to have much of an impact for us here in the Northern Territory, but particularly Darwin and Katherine?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, look, I think you’ll see that there’ll be some further announcements, and I’ll leave that for the Defence Minister and Prime Minister, but strategically not just from the Australian Government but also obviously from the UK and US governments, the US has already made significant investments in the top end and I think you will see that we’ll continue to work together, and those announcements will come obviously in due course and after strategic alliances are formalised and we start to understand what that will look like in terms of boots on the ground.

KATIE WOOLF: All right. Let’s move along and talk about the announcement that you made yesterday actually about a new business development grants program. It’s dedicated to Northern Australia. It’s going to hopefully open up a strategic corridor across the north in early November. I mean, what kind of businesses are we talking about here?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: We’re looking for anyone with an ABN that wants to grow their business and expand it and do transformational things with infrastructure and equipment. So it’s a fifty-fifty grant scheme, and for small businesses, that’s from $50,000 through to $2 million, and for larger businesses we’re looking from $3 million through to $10 million. This is about trying to actually just put a little bit of grunt behind those businesses that are here, but also those that want to come. We want to try and stimulate their decision to make that next step. I mean, they’re having the courage and conviction to put their own money out there to grow Northern Australia, and this is just a way to turbo charge that. And we don’t want it to be sitting around. We want this money out the door by February. It’s going to be competitive, obviously, a competitive process. But it has to be able to demonstrate that it’s going to create jobs and it’s going to grow Northern Australia. That’s the return on investment that I’m looking for on behalf of the Australian taxpayer. Because if we can do that, we’ll actually get more tax revenue, we’ll be able to pay for more schools, more hospitals and the like. So this is just complementing everything else we’ve done with the NAIF, also what we’re trying to do with insurance, a $10 billion insurance underwriting scheme to bring some competitiveness back in. And we’ve got a bit of work to continue to do around infrastructure, which will, you know, fill in supply chain gaps. But this is really just giving businesses, mum and dad businesses right through to big businesses, the confidence to take that final step to come north.

KATIE WOOLF: I mean, there’ll be plenty of people, plenty of business owners listening to the show this morning, as I know that they do, wondering if they’re actually going to be eligible. I mean, what type of grants are we talking and are we talking about infrastructure or just, you know, any kind of idea? What are we looking for?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, it is, it is around infrastructure or equipment. But it’s also about helping taking some of those new ideas, those concepts to fruition, to actually put them into practice. So that’s why we’ve tried to keep it as broad as we can. And to those businesses that are here already, we’re trying to – we’re not just saying come up to the north and targeting those people that aren’t here; we’re saying to those businesses that have already had the courage of their own money, we want to try and take your business to the next level. So this is about making sure and effectively we will be saying that if you want to invest fifty-fifty with us in a piece of equipment or infrastructure or in terms of bringing a concept of business to life, then we will partner with you. But we want to see results. We want to see a return. We want to see jobs on the ground and we want to see Northern Australia reach its full potential.

KATIE WOOLF: Now, Minister, earlier in the week as I understand you were in Central Australia. I know that Tourism Central Australia has been crying out for help now for weeks. We’ve had Daniel Rochford on the show on numerous occasions. They’re really struggling with lockdowns and the situation with COVID. They’re calling for the federal JobKeeper scheme to be reinstated so that the region’s struggle tourism and hospitality industries can really be kept alive. Is this something that you discussed earlier in the week with Tourism Central Australia and is the Federal Government looking at doing something in this space?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, look, and it’s a real concern. And I’m hearing that in Darwin as well as I get around here. And so we’ve created an emergency payment, and so that’s equivalent to the JobKeeper. But what the limitation on that is that it’s paid to those hotspot areas that are defined in lockdown. But what we’ve got to understand and I think we’re having discussions in Canberra about is the secondary effects for tourism, in particular. And we’re seeing that here in the Central Australia and also in places like Cairns. So as a government we’re looking at that and how do we look to make sure that those secondary effects of lockdowns in Sydney and Melbourne by Premiers down there what impact that’s having up here and how do we try and iron that out. There are discussions happening, and we understand that, and I think there’s an appreciation that, yeah, we have to look at this. And obviously the Tourism Minister and the Treasurer are fully aware of it and cognisant of it. And it’s how do we put a process in place that protects the Australian taxpayer but helps those that need it at the moment.

KATIE WOOLF: Well, yes, I mean, you’re spot on in the sense that it’s certainly being felt in the likes of North Queensland and also here in the Territory, but really, you know, acutely, I think you’d to have say, by Tourism Central Australia. I mean, is there going to be some kind of announcement on the cards?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, that’s not in my remit, but I know that we are having discussions and we’re looking at it. And I know that Sam McMahon’s been pushing for this, as has Warren Entsch over in North Queensland, to have it looked at. And I think the Treasurer is obviously looking at it and trying to work through the process – how do we extend that emergency payment and how we can do that and make sure that we protect it. So there is discussion happening, but it’s not in my remit to make any decision or announcement, but I do know that the Government is making room and decisions about that soon.

KATIE WOOLF: Now, Minister, we are fast running out of time, but there’s a few things that I do want to get through. Did you hear the Chief Minister’s announcement yesterday about the road map forward for the Northern Territory around COVID, and what did you make of it?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I didn’t see it in detail, I’m sorry. But I do understand that he’s deviated from the national plan, and that’s frustrating. I mean, the Prime Minister is trying to show leadership and bring everyone together, but what we’re getting now is a real education in our Constitution and federation. The states and territories have the power on this, have the sovereign power on this, and we respect that. But what we’re trying to do is say let’s have some consistency across the country. Because lines were put on a map 120 years ago, and modern Australia has moved past that. And at some point, at some point we’re going to have to live with COVID. It’s not going to go away. And so at some juncture we’re going to have to have an environment where Australians can continue to move around Australia and not be pulled up at the border. Now, vaccination is the first step in that, and out of that we’re going to have to understand – we’re going to have to take that big step outside at some point. And I think that the Premiers and Chief Ministers go to these national cabinets, they all sit there with the Prime Minister and they agree to these national plans, they send the PM out and when he looks left and right behind him, there’s no-one standing with him. And that shouldn’t be how a modern Australia operates. So –

KATIE WOOLF: I guess the real concern for us here in the Northern Territory at the moment, though, and we’ve been speaking about it quite extensively over the last couple of days, is the pressure that NT Health is under right now, even in terms of staffing Howard Springs, staffing Royal Darwin Hospital and staffing the Palmerston Regional Hospital. So if we were to see any kind of outbreak in the Territory it could have a massive impact. I think he said yesterday 20 ICU beds with ventilators. I suppose we just don’t have any kind of capacity for COVID to enter the Territory.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, that goes to the management of your health system even without COVID. I mean, the money that’s being paid to the Territory Government to manage and to prioritise the resources every year should be about making sure they do have that capacity. So the money is there; it’s been paid to the Northern Territory Government. It’s just how they choose to spend it. And unfortunately they haven’t made those decisions to spend it on a health system to keep up to the capacity. So we’ll –

KATIE WOOLF: Some of those beds, though, are being used at the moment for aged care, and we know that that certainly falls under the remit, as I understand, of the Federal Government. I mean, is there discussions in that space in terms of, you know, getting some funding or the capacity for further beds in the Territory for our aged-care patients?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, they are long-standing arrangements that we have with states and territories around aged-care beds, and the states and territories are remunerated for them. They’re long-standing arrangements. There’s nothing new in that. That’s business as usual. So this is what I’m saying is you’ve got a business-as-usual model here that isn’t working. And he’s right – if he gets COVID at the moment, because he can’t manage a business-as-usual approach, you’re going to have even more trouble if you’ve got COVID. And that’s the challenge that he’s got to actually live up to and get that capacity and get his priorities right. Now we worked through with the funding and obviously the Territory gets additional money in addition to the GST because of your population and the challenges you face up here. And that money continues to flow and that continues to increase, but it comes back to the management of that money. So, this is the challenge. But the thing is, if you want to continue to be locked down, you’ve got the real problem you’ve just articulated about the tourism industry. While you lock out the rest of the country, you lock down your tourism industries right here right across Central Australia. That’s the challenge. And that’s at some juncture we’re going to have to come out and we’re going to have to trust one another. We’ve got to get jabs in the arms and get out and live.

KATIE WOOLF: Minister, we’re just about out of time, but very quickly, are you meeting with the Chief Minister while you’re here?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, sadly, he’s cancelled our meeting this afternoon, as he did last time. But I’m keen to reach out and to meet with him. And I’ll be back up again. I was here a month ago and I’ll suggest I’ll probably be up within the next month as well because I can only travel between Queensland and the Northern Territory at the moment. So it’s good to get up here, but my phone is always on and the door is always open and we’ll obviously continue to try and meet with the Chief Minister. It’s important. The Territory is an important part of Northern Australia, and I think the exponential growth of Northern Australia will happen here in the centre.

KATIE WOOLF: Just very quickly: where are we at with the ship lift? What’s hold be things up?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, as we understand, we’ve committed. It’s now between the Northern Territory Government and the proponent. I understand that it’s still working through. I mean, this is a saga that has gone on for some time. So effectively the Federal Government has made its commitment, and that’s what we do through the NAIF. Then after that we leave the proponent and the state or territory government to finalise it, and we hand the money over once they’ve utilised their cash. So they haven’t utilised their money yet, so the NAIF loan hasn’t been triggered. So from our perspective it’s business as usual, but we’d expect that something happens sooner rather than later.

KATIE WOOLF: Well, Minister for Northern Australia and also Agriculture, I wish we had more time, but we’re going to have to leave it there. Thank you so much for having a chat with us this morning.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No worries. I’ll be back again. Thank you for having me.

KATIE WOOLF: Sounds good. Thank you. That’s David Littleproud.


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