Keynote Address: State of the Region Conference: Regional Development Australia—Wide Bay Burnett
10 April 2014
Hervey Bay RSL
Thank you for the warm welcome Grant Maclean (Chairman).
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.
It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to join you for your State of the Regions lunch today. Thank you for the invitation.
It is particularly pleasing to be here not only as the Member for Wide Bay but also as acting Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development.
Not least among my many hats, and one I am honoured to wear, is Leader of the Nationals—the only political party dedicated the economic and social wellbeing of regional Australians.
Regional Australia is strongly represented in the new Coalition Government ministry and the Coalition Government includes the overwhelming majority of regional members of parliament.
Regional Australia is critical to the future of our nation and both the challenges and the potential of our regions need to be front and centre of our national consciences.
In a resource-hungry world, regional Australia holds the key to much of our future prosperity—and by that I don't just mean our traditional mining exports which have been in high demand ever since the export of ore from South Australia in the 1840s.
Consider this…by 2050, our Asia-Pacific region will account for almost half the world's economic output.
Along with that growth we are witnessing the explosion of Asia's middle class—particularly in China and India.
This seismic demographic shift is reflected in an increasing demand for high-end primary produce including beef and dairy and some Australian producers are already taking advantage of this growing market.
The Prime Minister's message to the world is that Australia is open for business—I want to ensure that regional Australia benefits from that business.
And on that note, I would like to commend RDA Wide Bay Burnett for the lead role and strategic and collaborative approach the committee has taken to promote employment, education and development opportunities for the region.
We are blessed with some of the most beautiful beaches and waterways in the world, we have Fraser Island and the Great Barrier Reef, we have a magnificent hinterland and an inspiring heritage—all of which attract tourists from around Australia and around the world.
However, as we all acknowledge, our region is undergoing substantial social and economic change and we need to take a practical, long-term approach to secure a sustainable future that promotes job opportunities while protecting our unique environment and regional lifestyle.
And we are a tough mob— despite the impact of recent flooding and other natural disasters, which still endure, local communities have emerged with resilience and determination to look to a positive future.
A key element in securing that positive future lies in tapping into the opportunities presented by the Queensland resource sector by taking advantage of the major airports in the region and positioning the Wide Bay/Burnett as a principal Fly-in-Fly-Out hub.
Your committee has undertaken extensive research and consultation with industry and local government on workforce development in the region.
The appointment of a Fly-in-Fly-Out coordinator has played an important role in boosting opportunities for job seekers to tap into meaningful employment in the resources sector and associated industries.
Given that our population growth has exceeded the state average over the past 20 years and is forecast to reach around 430,000 by 2031, it is imperative—as your reports have highlighted—that we diversify and that we grow a skilled, mobile, job-ready workforce to service remote mining operations.
I congratulate the committee on securing a Memorandum Of Understanding with GVKHancock to investigate the supply of labour to projects in the Galilee Basin and with Thiess QCLNG in the Surat Basin.
I understand that you are also in the process of developing an industry-endorsed plan for regional FIFO workforce engagement.
Unfortunately, many of the resource projects that we had thought would be employing thousands by now, have stalled; as they reassess their future in an era of very high costs, lower commodity prices and strong competition, but I commend RDA Wide Bay Burnett for its dedication and commitment.
Putting my Infrastructure and Transport hat on, I would like to stress that the Coalition is serious about fostering an economic environment in which industries can flourish.
We recognise that this involves our efforts across the board, and also knowing when to get out of the way, by removing unnecessary regulatory burdens, taxes and charges.
We have set the ball rolling in Parliament with last month's repeal day where we built a bonfire of regulation to encourage the expansion of private sector investment and engagement in infrastructure.
This is an important part of our efforts to reform how Australia develops critical infrastructure—but we also understand the need for the Government's own investments to remain significant.
The private sector is certain to play a major role in building the biggest infrastructure projects in our nation.
In regional areas, our infrastructure needs will not interest the biggest investors, and we will need to be creative as local communities to ensure our infrastructure keeps up with our expectations.
The new Coalition Government is making record investments in regional road and rail projects neglected by the previous government.
Our $35.5 billion Infrastructure Investment Programme over six years will build the vital national road and rail projects to improve efficiency, boost productivity and drive Australia's economy forward.
This massive investment includes $6.7 billion towards an $8 billion Commonwealth/State upgrade of the Bruce Highway, including $3 billion from here to Brisbane.
The upgrades will reduce congestion and better protect the Highway against regular and costly flooding and improve overall safety conditions for all road users.
We have also extended the Roads to Recovery Programme for local roads, locking in its future for a further five years with $1.75 billion of funding.
Further, we have committed $300 million to the Black Spot Programme, addressing road sites that are high risk areas for serious crashes, in addition to our new $300 million Bridges Renewal programme to restore dilapidated local bridges.
Looking specifically at the regions, I'd like to take this opportunity to give you a snap shot of the initiatives the Coalition Government is already delivering.
We are refocussing our efforts and resources where they are most productive, as well as injecting $1 billion directly into regional Australia through our new National Stronger Regions Fund.
This Fund will help build the social and community infrastructure so important to modern life, including community facilities and local services.
But we have also committed up to $342 million for some 300 community projects to clean up Labor's mess through our new Community Development Grants Programme.
In addition to our own specific election commitment, the Programme is funding many of the projects that were left uncontracted and in limbo by our predecessors.
Our commitment to regional Australia is resolute. Labor were big on announcements but woeful on delivering. We are delivering for the regions.
I am sorry I wasn't able to take part in your discussion sessions this morning—I understand they were lively and resulted in valuable food for thought on how this region can move forward.
I know the question you all want to ask is: What now for the RDA network?
Let me say that I recognise that local councils, businesses and community groups are the backbone of regional Australia and we will be working with them to ensure we deliver on our commitments.
As you know, the Government has pledged to support a committee-based network of community leaders who will foster strong communication between local communities and all three tiers of government.
We are currently considering how best RDA Committees can align with the Government's vision for regional Australia.
Some changes will be necessary because at least two states no longer wish to be involved.
I want to have a mechanism which enables regional stakeholders to identify the good projects that unlock growth and get them to the point where Governments and the private sector can invest.
With opportunities, there are also usually some challenges.
That might mean working together, rather than across each other's interests. It sometimes requires an approach where people and organisations work beyond their usual boundaries to achieve a result that benefits the whole region.
I know you share my vision of a prosperous and vibrant future for our region and I congratulate you on the outstanding work you have done to research the issues, seek practical solutions and build collegiate relationships with industry and local governments in the region and in the mining zones.