17 October 2017

I thank you for the opportunity to speak about the need for investment in regional areas of Australia.

The Northern Territory is certainly one of those regions in absolute need of increased levels of investment. For our roads, essential services, housing and health, the need for increased investment to meet the level of need, most especially in remote areas, is extreme. But this proposed Regional Investment Corporation will do absolutely nothing to increase investment where it's really needed the most. We know how well the last concessional loans scheme that this government set up is going. The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility has one project, more than two years onone project, $5 billion. Yes, I've certainly had a briefing, as recently as today, to find out where the NAIF is at and what steps have been taken. Promises were made in the legislative framework setting up that establishment, promises of so many projects that were already in the pipelinewhich were not, once the NAIF was established.

So already the track record of this government is very much there for us to see. Here we are, two years down the track, and still there is not one job, certainly not in the Northern Territory and not in our regional areas where we desperately need them the most.

I've just travelled from Queensland right across to WA, looking at jobs for first-nations people in Townsville and Palm Island and the opportunities that should be there, which are not, and across to Perth and Kalgoorlie. Our regions desperately need support. They desperately need to know that this government has got it right. But we know from the experience that we've seen that you haven't got it right. You just cherrypick and think you can put together programs without a basis. Read through the bill and look at the positions: a three-member board with responsibility for $4 billion in concessional loans. There is no doubt that our farmers across Australia need support. There is no doubt. We recognise that there have to be steps for each area and each group around the country that require assistance at certain times. But what you've put together here doesn't give the confidence that's required. And the reasons you're doing it don't give the confidence that's required, especially when we can see that there is already a record here with the NAIF. The new Regional Investment Corporation will set up quite a few new jobs in OrangeOrange, and that's it. Where else? What else are we talking about here in the Senate in relation to this corporation? It is certainly good for the people of Orange, but where was the objective assessment of the best place for this corporation to go? Is this an example of how the whole process of setting up the RIC has been? Has it been another exercise in porkbarrelling? The current loans that are administered by the states and territories will remain the responsibility of the states and the territories, so establishing a new body to administer new loans is a complete waste of taxpayers' money. It's inefficient and it's incredibly costly. It is basically spending, at a cost to taxpayers of $81.4 million over the forward estimates, on a body that is replicating what state and territory governments are already doing. That's not sensible planning. That's unwise spending. Business improvement concessional loans are already made available to Northern Territory farmers and pastoralists facing hardship.

What the Northern Territory desperately needs is proper investment in infrastructure and job creation. The NT government is certainly doing a great job under its housing programs, trying to meet unmet needs in remote Indigenous housing. If we're really committed to closing the gap in Indigenous disadvantage then improving housing is key to improving outcomes. The Northern Territory Labor government's record $1.1 billion remote housing program is creating jobs, building local skills and improving the lives of hundreds of people in remote Aboriginal communities right across the Territory. Early room-to-breathe work, which sees additional living spaces built onto existing homes, has already created 54 new local jobs and training opportunities across the Territory, with hundreds more to come. This will continue to build local economies and improve community outcomes. To date, 146 additional living spaces are underway or completed, and this has begun to ease overcrowding in 21 remote Aboriginal communities. Training opportunities are having a positive flow-on effect. Skills can be applied across both programs and will lead to ongoing jobs in remote communities. And why do I share this with the Senate? It's really about the impact the Northern Territory is having in relation to investment.

I refer to the Deputy Prime Minister's second reading speech, where he makes reference to the states and territories. Constructing the Regional Investment Corporation, or this entity, is about getting rid of the middleman, which is what the Deputy Prime Minister says here. I find there are actually more questions as a result of looking through the bill and his second reading speech. I think: 'How can the Commonwealth look at state and territory governments as the middleman? What are the steps that are being taken to actually analyse where the deficiencies have been?' None of that is explained. And there's no convincing about the real reason behind this. If this is about ensuring a smoother, more efficient process that does deliver for those farmers who are really struggling out there, that's not what I see in this second reading speech, and I'm not convinced that this has been done in the best interests of those farmers out there. Why not continue to keep working with the states and territories across Australia? In terms of the Northern Territory, I will talk again about the investment in regional Australia. It is to build infrastructure, create jobs and give remote communities in particular a future. Remote communities are screaming for support from, as I said earlier, the CDP, the cashless welfare inquiryall of these. We can see as we travel around the regions that there's a dire need for support, but give confidence in the way you're making your decisions. This is not one of those decisions that gives confidence.

The government's program, the jobs program in remote Australia, the Community Development Program, is of course an abject, expensive failure that isn't creating a future in remote communities, isn't creating a pathway to employment and certainly isn't creating jobs unless you work in a Centrelink call centre. This government's attitude to investment in regional and remote Australia is so questionable. The Northern Australia Roads Program is another example of how you've really dropped the ball. The Tanami Road, a vital link for resource companies, pastoralists, local communities and tourists, is crying out for investment. We've been waiting on a commitment to the Tanami for years. It's a shocking road. It's a road train killer.

Labor is not supporting the Regional Investment Corporation Bill 2017.