Joint media conference with Queensland Minister for Resources Scott Stewart

SCOTT STEWART: Good morning, everyone. It's great to have the freshly minted Minister for NAIF and Minister for Resources, the Federal Minister, Madeleine King here with us in Townsville now. She's been in the job for two weeks. She's come to Townsville because, like me, she knows that Townsville is the capital of North Australia.

When she was given the portfolio I jumped on the phone and introduced myself but also invited Madeleine to come along and see our great city and so she's taken up that offer very quick and very early because we are seeing some NAIF projects happening in our city. But it's also been great to spend some time with her this morning talking about all things resources and she gets it. She understands the importance of the north-west minerals province, she understands the importance that Townsville and our port plays to that, but she also understands the importance that our diversity of our resources have right across our State.

So it's great to spend some time with her and we are looking at developing a very close working relationship about how we can really get things happening here particularly in North Queensland and really actioning our new economy minerals approach and about getting those minerals out of the ground using our manufacturing opportunities to develop those opportunities that we can then export not only domestically but around the world. So it's great pleasure that we introduce Minister Madeleine King to Townsville. 

MADELEINE KING: Thanks. Thanks so much, Scott. And it's a privilege to be here and thanks so much for reaching out so quickly after I was sworn in just two weeks ago in Canberra as the Minister for Northern Australia and the Minister for Resources. And it's my really great pleasure, as the Minister for Northern Australia, for my first visit to be here in Townsville, the largest city in Northern Australia. I know there's going to be some arguments across Northern Australia as to which is the actual capital but I'm not going to get involved in that right now otherwise I'm going to hear from a few people in Darwin and other places around the country. 

But the truth about Northern Australia is it has enormous potential, enormous economic potential and it is my role over this term of government, as the Minister, to make sure that economic potential is realised and we're seeing it, you know, no better in action than here in Townsville where the national - the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund is funding great redevelopments, just like this here in Townsville airport. And I thank those at Townsville airport for welcoming us here today. $50 million on these magnificent refurbishments that really make Townsville truly the gateway to Northern Queensland. And as everyone knows that travels through here very often it's a very welcoming place and lots of friendly people and I can't wait to keep coming back. 

The NAIF is already supporting really important social infrastructure with James Cook University, with the technology hub and also student accommodation and other projects right through the region. And I look forward to learning more about that today while I'm here talking to university leaders but also business leaders who want to have a chat about how we can all work together to work on improving the economic development, not just of Townsville, but of also all of Northern Queensland which is going to be of enormous importance to the Australian economy into the future. 

Minister Stewart has mentioned new economy minerals and this is going to be the future for this country. We have - I have great faith in our traditional resources industry and I'm a very keen supporter of coal and coal exports, obviously iron ore from my home state in Western Australia but also the gas industry here in Queensland. But the new resources, the new economy minerals will be of vital importance and investing and having the Australian Government invest in facilities, common user facilities, that can really unlock the potential of the region is going to be really very important into the future and I just can't wait to get started. 

I'm glad to be starting here in Townsville today. In a couple of weeks there's going to be a big State of Origin match over in Perth, Western Australia. Obviously I'll be backing the Maroons. So really looking forward to that. That's a big gamble for me because the Prime Minister, as we all know, is a Blues supporter. Townsville, Queensland, I am with you and I'm looking forward to that game very much. So with that, I'm happy to take questions. 

JOURNALIST:  How long will your trip be?

MADELEINE KING: I'm just here for the day today. I was in Gladstone yesterday for a full day with the national - the Cabinet, the Commonwealth Cabinet, and meetings after that as well but I hope to be back here very soon. 

JOURNALIST: Will you be taking time to meet Phillip Thompson today?

MADELEINE KING: I'm hoping to. Philip reached out to me just last night or yesterday, sorry. But we might not have time. But if I don't have time today because I have a full schedule, and I've said this to the local member, I'm more than happy to catch up when we're both in Canberra at the end of July.

JOURNALIST: Northern Australia is quite vastly different, depending on where you are. How do you plan to get to know the issues in each of those areas and actual service the communities that need different things?

MADELEINE KING: Yeah, look, it's really a challenging geography, Northern Australia. Exmouth in the west all the way up to the north of Wyndham and Kununurra, to Darwin and across, right across Northern Queensland to Cairns and back to Townsville and even to Gladstone and Alice Springs right in the middle there, right? So you're right to identify it's an extraordinary mix of people, extraordinary mix of opportunities, and, you know, that's my job, to get to know it better. And you know I've done a lot of work in Northern Australia in the past. I've been the Shadow Resources Minister for some time and before I was in that role, I did a lot of committee work that took me through Northern Australia and before I was in Parliament, I also spent a lot of time up in the north as well. But, you know, I'm here to learn and I want to learn and I want to help. 

JOURNALIST: There were a lot of North Queenslanders that were quite sceptical of your appointment to Minister of Northern Australia, including Bob Katter. He often drew comparisons that is you were from a place too far down south to be the Minister for Northern Australia. What's your response to that criticism?

MADELEINE KING: I mean Bob's entitled to his criticism. That's fine. I look forward to working with Bob into the future and I've no doubt Bob will let me know exactly what he thinks at any time, which he has done in the past, and I'm sure he will continue to do in the future.

But the thing is I'm absolutely committed to this portfolio and committed to Northern Australia. I know my hometown is in Western Australia and in the south but I used to work in this area for a former minister for Northern Australia, the Honourable Gary Gray. So I've had a bit to do with it in the past and quite a lot to do with it in the past, actually. So I really reflect on that experience of what the Gillard and Rudd Governments did for Northern Australia when we were last in power federally, and that's the kind of experience I bring to this role now that we have a Labor Government again. 

JOURNALIST: Minister, on commitments the previous Government committed over $4 billion ($5.4 billion) to the Hells Gates Dam up here, what's your stance on that and where do you see that project going?

MADELEINE KING: Certainly. There's a business case being done right now on the Hells Gate Dam. It has been deferred for a little bit of time. I'm going to wait for that to come in. 

JOURNALIST: Just on that, that money was committed by the previous government regardless of what the business case was to move along with that project. Is that something that's now up in the air with that funding for that project?

MADELEINE KING: Look, as the Prime Minister said when we came into Government, we are reviewing all the commitments, both our own and also those of the former government. We've got a budget process going on in October. This - we will wait for this review to come in and this business case to come in and that's when we will settle on what happens to which projects.

JOURNALIST: If the base for that business case doesn't stack up, would the Government be looking to keep that money in the region?

MADELEINE KING: Look, I'm really going to wait. I'm not going to hypothesise on what may or may not come off the business case. I think it's really important we have those kind of systems where you can assess and, you know, make an independent assessment of what is the best way to spend public money on really massive infrastructure projects such as this dam. So I am going to wait. I'm not going to guess what might happen off that review and its outcomes.

JOURNALIST: On another promise, does Labor plan to follow through with NQ Spark and has any concerns been raised about the placement of the facility?

MADELEINE KING: Look, I am not familiar with that particular project. I'm more than happy to look into that and get back to you at another time.

JOURNALIST: We've also got hydrogen hub funding which the Labor Government committed to and matched with the LNP at the last election. How is that progressing along, too, and I guess if you can talk a bit about that development for Townsville into a hydrogen hub, too?

MADELEINE KING: Certainly. And the Minister also explained to me very exciting prospects for hydrogen and new resources minerals in this region. I will be working with the Queensland State Government to progress that and I'm two weeks in the job, I'm understanding these projects more and more as each day goes by. But we'll be supporting the ambitions of the Queensland State Government and the local Townsville Council and other councils right around Australia.

JOURNALIST: Obviously down south we're seeing the power crisis, you've said, you know, that coal and fossil fuels are in your background. So I guess where do you think renewables fit into North Queensland's future?

MADELEINE KING: There's enormous potential for renewables in this part of the world and right around the country for that matter, and especially in Northern Territory, which, you know, has an awful lot of space and an awful lot of sunshine. What needs to go with renewables and what we haven't had investment in adequately is the right kind of reliable transmission systems, but also the battery storage and that's what this country needs to build too. It's what this region aims to do and I know Minister Stewart is very much enthusiastic about, you know, building batteries here as is the Federal Labor Government. We've committed to a battery manufacturing hub in Queensland. 

So renewables absolutely play a part, a very important part and an ongoing part in the energy mix. It will need to come with investment in transmission and also in battery storage.

JOURNALIST: Just on another topic as well. I'm not too sure how across it you might be. We had a big City Deal here as well in Townsville. Previously it's been hamstrung between the three levels of government. For you, would that be a priority in moving that one through?

MADELEINE KING: Yeah, absolutely. The Townsville City Deal is a really important concept, a means with which to improve the infrastructure and accessibility of Townsville. There have been tensions in the past. My ambition and that of the Minister for Infrastructure, Regional Development, Catherine King, is that we will work with the State Government and the local governments to make the City deals work.

JOURNALIST: Phil Thompson's previously put up his own ideas on how the City Deal money should be set out. Would you be consulting him on that as well?

MADELEINE KING: As I said before, I'm really happy for the local member to get in touch and we'll aim to meet with him when that is possible. I'm happy to hear from anyone, to be frank. The main thing is I'm committed to consulting and so is the other Minister King to make sure we get the right outcomes for the region and for Townsville. 

JOURNALIST: So what's next for you? Where else are you headed? Are you going to other parts of northern Australia?

MADELEINE KING: Not on this trip. Gladstone yesterday all day, Townsville all day today, I return to Brisbane and then home to Perth after that. But I hope to be back soon. I'll be a regular visitor. You'll see me again. 

JOURNALIST: Especially in Queensland is a region that definitely voted more for the LNP in the election. Is it an area that the Government is currently looking at as well as putting a lot of attention into because you guys want to win a few more seats up here?

MADELEINE KING: Absolutely. I mean, of course. This is our ambition and we know Queenslanders are quite happy to vote Labor in State elections and that has served them well. They've got a very strong Queensland State Labor Government under the leadership of Annastacia Palaszczuk and we have ambitions to be more in Queensland, to make sure the people of Queensland know that a Labor Federal Government acts for them and works for them and always acts in their best interests.

JOURNALIST: There was a lot of focus locally here in the campaign, although it's on a federal issue on crime, the LNP made a lot of commitments based on crime in the campaign. Is that something the government's going to be looking at more now, especially considering youth crime has been a large problem in regional areas across the country?

MADELEINE KING: Yes, I understand the problem with youth crime. As you say, it's right around the country. It is the intention of the Federal Labor Government to work with State Governments, to find solutions that work for all the communities where youth crime is an issue and there are many of them and that is our intention.