KEYNOTE ADDRESS to Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association Darwin, 28 March 2019
Thanks Jak Andrews, thank you very much. Certainly the spirit of Grant Heaslip – what a true pioneer – is with us today and the efforts, the endeavour, the application that he showed your industry and indeed the entire Top End will never be forgotten.
Thank you for the kind introduction. It’s great to be here. With the Budget just a few days away, it’s a very busy time; it’s a very busy time right throughout our nation. You know as well as I do that we need to balance the books. You know as well as I do that you need to be able to run a profit. You need to make sure that the bottom line is in black not in red. Next Tuesday the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is actually going to do just that – the first surplus Budget in this nation for 12 years. That’s quite an achievement. If you ran your businesses 12 years in the red well there would be questions asked. At least we’re getting things done; the Liberal and Nationals are ensuring that we get back on track, not for our sakes but for the country’s sake. That’s going to be quite an achievement.
I’m really delighted to be the Minister in charge of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, a portfolio so critical to the success of the cattle industry and so critical to the ultimate success of the Northern Territory. We have a $75 billion Plan to grow this nation, to grow industries such as yours, and to grow the Top End.
Just the other day I announced the Outback Way, often referred to as the “longest short-cut” in Australia – I announced additional and considerable funding for that very very vital link. This week it was really a great pleasure to announce $160 million for further work to upgrade this 2,720 kilometre corridor of commerce – it is, it needs to be and it certainly will be for the future. It’s going through Winton in Queensland right through to Laverton in WA, and of course that intersects the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory section of that upgrade is going to receive $50 million of the $160 million. That’s an important section of sealing for an important, an absolutely critical corridor that you know and I know is needed to get stock to where they need to be; but not just for that, it’s for the tourism sector as well. It’s to make sure people traversing that road get to where they need to be sooner and safer.
We need to make sure that sealing roads like that is on our agenda – and we are.
As well, the Federal Government is investing $730 million under the Roads of Strategic Importance initiative to seal or upgrade around 700 kilometres of road across North Queensland – that’s the equivalent of building a new road from the Gold Coast to Rockhampton. I know that many of you are from Queensland; that’s important, that’s vital. There’s also money for the Northern Territory. These investments will concentrate on strategic corridors that will help spur new investment and jobs in North Queensland.
Whether it’s works across the Territory or across Northern Australia, we’re cutting costs for cattle producers. I have details to hand from one of the Queensland studies on benefits to cattle producers: The sealing of the Springsure to Tambo route will cut eight hours off a round trip and save almost $1400 per trip.
I’ve also just announced a $70 million boost to the productivity and safety of roads in the Wheatbelt region of Western Australia.
These works are part of our decade-long $75 billion commitment that we’re making to better infrastructure – to growing Australia, particularly regional Australia, and I know how important regional Australia is to everybody in this room. When our regions are strong, so too is our nation. When our regions are strong, so too is the Top End.
Let me come back to a bit more of the detail a little later on, but I want to concentrate now on the Indonesia-Australia Free Trade Agreement.
It’s one thing to have the product – you certainly produce the product; it’s another thing to have better transport links – but there’s more that Governments can do and we will do and we must do and we are doing, working alongside you – working with you.
Governments have a great role to deliver the market conditions that will encourage your industry to be its best self. I know that memories of the knee-jerk live cattle trade ban in 2011 are still very very raw. Hearings on a class action from this banning of live exports of cattle began in December and this matter is still before the courts. I acknowledge that. But looking to the future – and it is a bright future, certainly a bright future under the Liberals and Nationals – we want to make sure that those amazing opportunities for live cattle are realised.
It’s fantastic to be addressing you in the same month that our Government has signed the landmark Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA) – a long title, for sure, but what outcomes that will produce.
Now our bilateral trade agreement has a good long name – but the fact is it’s going to get things done. It’s only going to enhance what you do – and you people are the best in the world at what you do.
This new trade agreement is a win for the Northern Territory cattle industry. Live cattle will be duty free for 575,000 head in the first year, increasing by four per cent per year to 700,000. There will be an immediate halving of the tariff on frozen beef meat from 5 per cent to 2.5 per cent, with elimination of the tariff over 5 years, opening up another market outside of live cattle for the pastoral industry.
The IA-CEPA is an exciting example of Government to Government engagement and that bodes well for the Territory.
This is one part of the trade matrix. We’re getting on with the job of making sure that those trade arrangements we have already put in place with South Korea, with China, with Japan are also used to advantage.
There are two more agreements I want to underline to you: Australia was the signatory nation that activated, that brought into force, the Trans-Pacific Partnership 11 agreement. We’re talking free trade into a $13 trillion opportunity. Put it in perspective: That’s 13.4 per cent of global GDP.
Remember the scepticism, the critics, the naysayers? They said it couldn’t happen. When America pulled out, they said ‘it’s all over’. No. We forged ahead. We made sure that it did work and it will work – and not just because of trade for all sorts of sectors but certainly, certainly making sure that cattle is going to be front and centre of everything we do with trade. Certainly we can see there are great opportunities there.
And just three days ago, we signed off the ‘Australia-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement (A‑HKFTA) and associated Investment Agreement’. It’s an even longer title than the Indonesian one – but that’s appropriate! The more markets we can access, the better it is for people such as you in this room and the better it is for services and for goods in general. Under this agreement zero tariffs will be locked-in on goods, market access will be guaranteed for services suppliers and conditions for two-way investment will be significantly improved.
The Hong Kong agreement complements the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement and our other trade agreements that I mentioned before with South Korea and Japan, and through obviously the TPP-11.
Added up, it means Australia now has free trade agreements with seven of its top eight export markets for goods and services, covering close to 70 per cent of Australia's total trade. You people in this room play a key role in that. So I say on behalf of the Government, thank you for what you do; thank you for what you’ve done in the past; thank you for what you’re doing now and certainly gratitude for what you will do in the future.
These are huge strides, and they’re coming because our industries and our Government are working closely together, seeing the opportunities and making the most of them. It’s also about backing our cattle producers.
Better transport links are vital; stronger markets are important – but there’s much more that this Government can and will do to work with you to secure an even stronger future. One example is the ongoing positive engagement at industry level through initiatives such as the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association’s own Indonesia Australia Pastoral Program. A closer, ongoing relationship between Governments and industry at all levels is vitally important for agriculture in the Territory – where cattle and calves accounted for 87 per cent of total gross value of agricultural production in
Live animal exports, and the regulation that goes with it, remains an integral component of the livestock trade. The Port of Darwin, as you know, is the largest live cattle export port in the world. We want that to continue.
Regulation requires continual improvement and responsiveness to a changing environment and the Department of Agriculture has recently implemented significant changes in the regulation of live animal exports; they include the appointment of an interim Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports, Mr Ross Carter, who took up his role just this month. My own portfolio has a role in this particular issue, through the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which administers Australia’s Marine Order 43 – the only coherent standard worldwide for the design and arrangement of livestock carriers. That’s important.
One clear and present danger for our industries is the underhanded – underhanded - tactics coming from a handful of so-called animal rights activists – whose activities have nothing to do with the best interests of animals, regardless of how they go about trying to dupe well-meaning members of the public, certainly on social media!
There are sensationalist campaigns at present, being carried out to attack your credibility and destroy legitimate live export and vital export–earning industries – just look at coal in Central Queensland. Your industry is under threat. We want to back you. We want to make sure that you have every opportunity to continue what you’re doing for and on behalf of the Top End and the nation.
The decision of a group calling themselves Aussie Farms tells it all – listing the names and addresses of farmers on their website to encourage break-ins and damage has nothing to do with the name that suggests they support Aussie Farms – and when challenged, the leaders of this sensationalist, destructive group go to ground. It’s real snake in the ground stuff. It truly is. Frankly, I put the The Greens in with them as well. They’re a bunch of people who want to ban everything, not least your vital live export trade. Make no mistake – if Bill Shorten were ever to be elected as Prime Minister of this country, the live animal export trade will go. Your industry will be under threat like never before.
We’re told that Labor would require 45 per cent emissions reductions, and a 50 per cent renewable energy target is their mantra – Greens will demand 100 per cent renewables. Now I know renewables are important. We acknowledge that as a Government. But it’s not good enough for one squeaky voice from the Opposition to say, oh well, agriculture will be exempt. No – that’s not true. Ag can’t be exempt from those figures that Labor has spouted. They cannot. They cannot achieve what they want to achieve without targeting agriculture.
And indeed there’s much more at risk – such as the Diesel Fuel Rebate. It is at risk. The diesel fuel rebate recognises that using diesel off-road means you’re not contributing to public costs such as road wear and tear. It’s more than legitimate – you know, I know, it’s essential. I say today: While ever The Nationals are a part of this Government, the Diesel Fuel Rebate is guaranteed.
You know that activism like this poses threats to agriculture, poses threats to Australians’ way of life and certainly to the social fabric of the Top End. This activism must be resisted. It has been in the past, it needs to be resisted now and certainly will be in the future as long as we have some say in how this Government and how this nation runs.
I want to talk about investing in Northern Territory Roads: Let me just go into a little bit of detail about how important it is, how advantageous it’s going to be for you, for the future.
From the 2014-15 Budget, within the first twelve months of a Coalition Government, we started to invest heavily in NT roads, improving freight transport linkages to key domestic and export markets.
In early 2015, we launched the $100 million Northern Australia Beef Roads Program and the $600 million Northern Australia Roads Program. They were important initiatives and I know how much value they have been to your businesses. The Northern Territory was allocated $30 million of the Beef Roads funding to upgrade two key cattle freight routes, the Barkly Stock Route and the Tablelands Highway. The NT will also receive more than $192 million towards five projects under the Northern Australia Roads Program. It would be hard to think of – I can’t think of - a national Government that has launched a specific ‘beef roads’ program. We’ve done it. We’ve done it. I can’t think of anyone in the past who’s done it. We’re certainly getting on with the job.
The Beef Roads Program and the Northern Australia Roads Program have seen construction start on five major road upgrades in the NT, with two further projects already underway in planning and development. Just this month, I was pleased to announce the awarding of a contract to deliver 15 kilometres – it might not sound much, but it’s important in the context - of sealing works on the Barkly Stock Route and construction has now commenced. This services some of the largest cattle stations in Australia, this particular route, providing a more reliable link between the Stuart and Tablelands Highways through the centre of this region. We are providing $10 million to this project and acknowledge a further contribution of $2.5 million by the Northern Territory Government.
Construction is already underway and we’ll certainly be looking at future upgrades to the Tablelands, Buntine and Plenty Highways to go on top of what we’ve already done. So work is underway. We’re getting on with the job.
Our focus on getting goods to market continues with the establishment of a major new initiative in last year’s budget: That was the $3.5 billion Roads of Strategic Importance initiative – or ROSI for short. In my portfolio, this is one of the most integral, key parts to building a better regional Australia. ROSI is an initiative with a clear focus on upgrading key freight corridors in regional Australia to increase productivity, to increase the supply chain efficiency, by connecting our major agricultural and resource areas with our cities and ports, and obviously through that to our markets.
Just as we have contributed $330 million to upgrading the Outback Way across Queensland, the NT and WA, a significant portion of ROSI funding – some $1.5 billion of it – has been reserved for allocation across Northern Australia.
I am aware of the NTCA’s strong advocacy on the need for road improvements in a 2017 submission to the Inquiry into the National Freight and Supply Chain Priorities, which argued that – and it was as true then as it is now -
“As a result of the combined increase in volume and average tare weight of the heavy traffic load, the road network, both sealed and unsealed, is deteriorating rapidly. This creates cost inefficiencies, but also creates a real and present danger to truck drivers and stock alike.”
We want to make sure that truckies get to where they need to get, along with the cattle, sooner and safer. As you would expect us to do when dealing with public funds, we have accountability; we have obligations’ and we’re meeting those, certainly meeting those, for regional Australia.
On the ROSI funding for Tennant Creek to Townsville that I’m announcing today: I’m very very pleased to announce funding of $270 million to the Tennant Creek to Townsville road corridor under the ROSI initiative, of which $70 million will go towards the Northern Territory section of this corridor. That is an exciting initiative. I know what a difference it will make to your industry.
There is no doubting that the roads in this corridor are of strategic importance to your sector, to the cattle industry. This announcement recognises there is a clear, demonstrated need to deliver targeted upgrades to roads along the Tennant Creek to Townsville corridor, given that close to 190,000 of the 200,000 cattle transported from the Barkly Region in 2016 were freighted east to Queensland. Improving this corridor should also encourage future economic development.
Of course, there is much more than just one road corridor in the Territory. In addition to the Tennant Creek to Townsville corridor, we have decided to fund four other corridors under the Roads of Strategic Importance. They are:
o An investment of $162.3 million in further works on the Alice Springs to Darwin corridor.
o $110 million on the Newman to Katherine route, with $40 million allocated to the NT section.
o $235 million on the Alice Springs to Halls Creek corridor, with $160 million allocated to the Northern Territory; and
o $60 million on the Adelaide River to Wadeye corridor.
Specific projects will be selected in each corridor following consultation with the Northern Territory and local governments, local community and industry members such as yourselves.
All up, we are investing $492.3 million of Australian Government ROSI funding on improving Northern Territory roads. So that’s nearly half a billion dollars. It’s an exciting initiative and I know what a difference it’s going to make to the cattle industry, to your businesses and indeed to your bottom line.
I know these corridors are important to you. That’s why - whether it’s places such as Alice Springs, Darwin, Katherine and Tennant Creek – access to and from is so critical to improving your bottom lines.
While road improvements are a significant element in developing Northern Australia, they are not sufficient. Road improvements need to be upgraded all the time and that is why, in 2015, our Government mapped out a 20 year plan in a White Paper on Developing Northern Australia. So we want to improve, we want to get on with the job – and we are. This plan includes a variety of topics like transport infrastructure, encouraging private investment through the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, the NAIF, and harnessing more of the north’s water resources. The Plan very much includes accountability. We know how important water is to your Top End and we want to improve and enhance that. We hold ourselves absolutely publicly accountable on this White Paper process through an Annual Statement to Parliament. As my colleague the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Matt Canavan told the Parliament late last year:
‘The ability to capture and use more of the region’s rainfall… is critical to the northern agenda.’
We heard earlier, Chris mentioned that, I know how crucial water is: you add water, you add to agriculture, you add water you fill out your stock. I get that. I’m from a farming family and understand how important that is, and that’s why our Government is investing more than $3.3 billion through the $1.3 billion National Water Infrastructure Development Fund and the $2 billion National Water Infrastructure Loan Facility – to help identify and build more water infrastructure, build dams, heighten lengthen and strengthen weirs, make sure we get the right pipelines – putting the water infrastructure in place that you need now and into the future.
This Fund - administered by my Department - includes a feasibility and a capital component. Two water infrastructure feasibility studies in the Northern Territory have already been completed and a third is underway. In one of these, we commissioned the CSIRO to conduct a Northern Australian Water Resource Assessment. This included a comprehensive evaluation of the Mary, Finniss, Adelaide and Wildman catchments in the Darwin region.
This world-leading initiative provides a wealth of new data on water and soil resources, and is now available to Government and most importantly to industry. As a result of our practical work in these areas, we now have a much clearer picture and a much more confident picture of the north’s potential for expanding ag production.
And to help further build on that confidence, I am very pleased to announce that the Australian Government will provide $3.5 million to the CSIRO to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the development potential of the water and soil resources of the Roper River Catchment in the Northern Territory. That’s good. Let’s get on with the job.
The Roper River assessment builds on the world leading $15 million Northern Australia Water Resource Assessments successfully delivered by this Government as part of its White Paper for Developing Northern Australia, including the Darwin area catchments.
The CSIRO believes there is potential for more than one million hectares of land that could be suitable for irrigated cropping in the Roper River catchment and that is why the Government is providing $3.5 million for this initiative. The Roper River Water Resource Assessment will provide the detailed and scientifically robust data needed to support new investment in agri-business and tourism sectors to grow the regional economy. You all want the regional economy to grow as do we in the Government.
Developing the north involves more than developing transport and water infrastructure. It also involves developing people. In September last year, I was pleased to visit your new training facility on the outskirts of Alice Springs. This is an impressive example of how Government and industry can work together, collaboratively, co-operatively, to get things done and most importantly to develop people.
My visit came a month after the official opening, attended by your great – your outstanding – voice for the Territory, Senator Nigel Scullion and I thank him today; he’s in the front row; he’s nodding approvingly and I hope that he would! I’d like to give a shout out to Senator Scullion. He’s a good friend; he’s a good colleague; and he recently announced his intention to retire from politics at the next election. I wish him all the very best for the future. I know we won’t have seen the last of Nige – I know you won’t hear the last of Nigel’s voice – but he’s been a good and faithful servant of the Territory over many years, in Parliament, in the Nationals’ Party room and in Cabinet. I know how he has got things done, whether it’s for your industry, whether it’s his portfolio of Indigenous Affairs or whatever it is that he has put his mind to, he’s made sure that he was a clear and active voice in the national debate and certainly forging ahead for the Northern Territory.
Roe Creek, named the Grant Heaslip Training Facility, is a magnificent facility designed to provide accredited training opportunities for anyone keen to work in the industry. You couldn’t get a better person to name it after, Grant Heaslip – we saw the tribute to him earlier and he’s sorely missed. Condolences to his family and to all those who held him near and dear. We see his passion writ large in all of you people and certainly on the cattle industry he’s alive and well – the cattle industry is vibrant and making its feelings known, and Grant Heaslip’s memory will live on.
As the Minister for Regional Development I am very pleased that our Government was able to invest in this project through a grant of around $446,000 towards its construction and with additional funding through your association.
The NTCA project is just one of many we have funded in regional Australia, through the Building Better Regions Fund. In this past fortnight, I was able to announce funding of a further 330 projects as part of more than $200 million through this particular Fund. Given the fantastic outcomes that we have received, under our Government we will continue that Fund. We know how important it is for regional Australia whether it’s Roe Creek, the Grant Heaslip Training Facility, or through the Community Investments Stream providing smaller funding for smaller projects – it’s important to you, it’s important to us. These projects are building community capacity and they’re driving job creation.
I just want to touch on the Queensland flooding situation as many of you have obviously connections with the top end of North Queensland: It’s a tragic situation to see so many cattle – estimates of half a million or more either drowning initially in the terrible, terrible storms and floods or dying of hypothermia after the cold set in. It was a dreadful situation. We’re getting on with the job of making sure that we stand shoulder to shoulder, side by side with our friends in the north, in the seat of Leichhardt, to make that we help them through this dreadful situation.
Assistance has been rolled out with more than $200 million provided by the Commonwealth in recent weeks – and I do want to give a shout out to Prime Minister Scott Morrison. He cut through the red tape that quite often exists with these sorts of dilemmas, these disasters when they happen. There were no questions asked – he wanted the help to go where it was needed, when it was needed and that was right there and then. There was no red tape, no bureaucracy; he made sure that the money was available and made sure that we will continue to help out in this dire situation just as we are with the drought.
Now we can’t make it rain. We can build water infrastructure and we are. We have provided more than $7 billion for drought assistance. I know how quickly my own area was drought-stricken; I know how tough it is. The fact is it will rain again. The fact is we will forge back very much and when we do, the good times will resume. But we will get through it; you will get through it because those people who are off the land are the most resilient in our nation. They also happen to be the very best environmentalists in the world, and I won’t ever hear of anybody questioning how good an environmentalists, how good a carers of the land our farmers are, our cattle producers are, our people who grow crops. You are the very best of the best.
The Australian Government is guaranteeing help for Queensland farmers and has established the North Queensland Livestock Industry Recovery Agency. One of your former CEOs, Tracey Hayes, is serving on an Advisory Board to this new agency, to get a better handle of what is being done, for those affected last month.
There’s $33 million coming in next week’s Budget for new weather radars, school funding support and direct financial assistance to help them along the way.
So they will get through it, just as our drought-stricken farmers will. We’ve stood firm with our farmers through dry times and through floods and we will continue to do so.
I say again, thank you for your attendance here today. These conferences are so important. I appreciate that your organisation, your industry has had such a direct say in making improvements for all the cattle farmers, not just those in the Northern Territory but indeed right throughout our nation. I pay tribute to what you have done in the past. I know you will be a strong and strident voice in the future. Good luck with your conference; good luck with your deliberations and all the very best for the future. Thank you very much.