It's great to see such enthusiasm about northern Australia. I take note of the minister's statement and thank him for providing the Senate with an update on the government's implementation of the Northern Australia white paper. This is obviously an opportunity to provide much-needed advice to the government. I join with my colleagues Senator Green and Senator Watt on the issues they've raised in relation to Queensland. I'd like to speak about the Northern Territory. I know that our colleague Senator Dodson has very similar concerns about the Kimberley region in WA.
Just on that, I would like to acknowledge our visitors from the Torres Strait in the gallery. It's lovely to have you here. Thank you for taking the time to travel so many kilometres to listen but also to let politicians know how important the Torres Strait Islands are to our country and to all Australians.
It's been four years since Prime Minister Tony Abbott released the Northern Australia white paper, an essential part of the government's plan to build a strong, prosperous economy. It announced:
We will fix the roads and telecommunications, build the dams and deliver the certainty that landholders and water users need.
What a let-down that's been.
The government's Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility promised $5 billion in concessional loans for projects throughout the north. Four years on just one per cent, less than $50 million of its $5 billion budget, has been releasedone per cent! What's more, in the meantime they've racked up about $26 million in running costs$26 million out of $40-odd million. That could be so sensibly spent where we need it in these remote regions of our country in the north. It is an indictment of the NAIF that, four years after it was announced, the amount spent on executive and staff salaries, travel, consultants and other administrative costs is approaching the amount actually released for projects in northern Australia. Shame on you and shame on the government for allowing and enabling that waste.
There were recent hearings in Nhulunbuy and Darwin. Senator Watt, the shadow minister for northern Australia, took the committee into the northern Australia agenda. It heard of the frustration felt by the people of the Top End. Ian Kew from the Darwin Major Business Group told the hearing, 'If we just muddle along like we have for the last four or five years, with a lot of fancy reports but not much real action, then that's not going to do much for the economy.' Mr David Malone from Master Builders NT asked us, 'Is the Commonwealth slowly abandoning the north?' I ask Minister Canavan: are you abandoning the north? That is how it feels.
The Prime Minister hasn't visited the Northern Territory since the federal election. He raced up there in January before the election. He wanted to get out to Kakadu, which is one of the most beautiful places but needs so much infrastructure and rebuilding. He raced out there only because he knew Labor was going out there to make an announcement. Then he won the election, and we haven't seen hide nor hair from him, have we? It would appear that he simply does not care. It's well past time for Mr Morrison to spend time in the Northern Territory to learn about the importance of projects and the need for investment. It's time Mr Morrison heard directly from Territorians, saw the state of the Northern Territory roads and understood why spending on Kakadu is so important. There is a real need for investment in critical infrastructure in the Northern Territory, yet you cannot see that, feel that or get a sense of that by sitting in the seat of Cook.
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THE SENATEPROOF MINISTERIAL STATEMENTS Northern Australia SPEECH Wednesday, 27 November 2019