BARNABY Joyce has scotched criticism suggesting he’s running scared and has failed as the minister responsible, along with the Coalition government, to advance projects underpinning Northern Australia development, including for the farm sector.
Mr Joyce assumed the Northern Australia and Resources portfolios combined with his Agriculture and Water Resources ministerial responsibilities after Matt Canavan stepped down from the cabinet recently while his eligibility for parliament, due to dual Italian citizenship, is tested in the High Court.
But the Deputy Prime Minister was verbally lampooned by Labor members this week for allegedly missing a formal opportunity to update parliament on progress for the Northern Development White Paper, to coincide with an industry gathering in Canberra.
Last year at the same time, Senator Canavan gave the first report on how implementation of the White Paper which was released in mid-2015 by the Coalition government was progressing.
The policy package included $75 million for a dedicated Cooperative Research Centre with agricultural and export focus and money for other projects like beef roads and water infrastructure to help bolster farm output.
But Labor asked why, with the Northern Australia Alliance in Canberra to listen in on his speech, Mr Joyce didn’t provide a formal update to parliament on how the various projects, revealed in the $6 billion strategic policy document, were travelling.
Shadow Northern Australia and Resources Minister Jason Clare said Mr Joyce was “too chicken to do it – because he’s got nothing to say”.
“This is a government that’s talked big and promised big about Northern Australia (but) they’ve delivered very little,” he said.
“The best example of that is the NAIF – the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility.
“Two and a half years ago this government promised a $5 billion infrastructure fund for the north.
“A $5 billion fund to build infrastructure and create jobs in Northern Australia and it’s delivered nothing.
“This has been an epic fail - the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fail - no money and no jobs.”
Mr Clare said in some part of Northern Australia the unemployment rate was the highest it’s been since the Great Depression and people were “pretty excited when they heard about this White Paper” and the Fund.
“But they’re bloody disappointed now that this government has let them down - that bugger all has been spent on infrastructure in the north,” he said.
“And it’s appalling that Barnaby Joyce is not even going to tell the parliament why he’s failed.
“This government has spent more money in the North Island of New Zealand over the last two years than NAIF has spent on infrastructure in Northern Australia.
“Barnaby Joyce should come into the parliament today and explain what he’s going to do to fix it.”
NT Labor MP Warren Snowden also took aim saying the “government talks big, does nothing”.
“The person who is to blame for that – directly to blame for that – is Barnaby Joyce,” he said.
“More concerned as to whether he’s going to be here next week than he is about the people of Northern Australia.
“He’s holding us to ransom, it’s an absolute insult.”
But while he not an attend this week’s event, Northern Australia Development Office General Manager Luke Bowen said he wasn’t concerned that Mr Joyce didn’t provide a formal statement to federal parliament.
Instead, Mr Joyce spoke to representatives of the Northern Australia Alliance at Parliament House, saying 31 of 51 measures recommended in the White Paper had been delivered and the remaining 20 were well underway.
Mr Joyce also released an official statement on the Development Office website saying the government had “backed our vision for a stronger north with an investment of over $6 billion and are delivering priority White Paper measures and initiatives to further develop the north”.
“We have created an environment in the north that encourages business growth, jobs and investment,” he said.
“Already, just two years into our 20-year northern Australia implementation plan, our commitment has paid off, with over half of the White Paper’s 51 measures delivered and the remaining well underway.
“The pace of progress is accelerating and will continue to do so.
“My government’s investment in northern infrastructure, particularly roads and water, is building a stronger future for the north.
“Our commitment to improve water infrastructure, for example, is part of a broader government investment in water, which is the largest in our nation’s history and is key to unlocking Australia’s agricultural production potential.
“Encouraging the entrepreneurism and drive that is so strong in the north is key to the success of this endeavour so that a diverse range of industries continue to thrive in the north - agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture, tourism, defence, resources and tropical health research, to name just a few.”
Mr Bowen said he expected Mr Joyce may still deliver a formal statement on northern development to parliament - a viewpoint supported by the minister’s office - and he was “not bothered” by the Deputy Prime Minister’s informal update in Canberra this week.
“Barnaby’s getting stuck into it and making things happen like the NAIF,” he said.
“Some of these 31 measures have been easier to get over the line and the others will take more time so there’s still a lot more heavy lifting to do.
“The Northern CRC had a two-year gestation period but we’re starting to see some progress there and we’re seeing some other positive measures delivered more recently.
“Barnaby Joyce has thrown his weight behind it and there are also some good synergies there for developing the north with his agriculture and water policy, portfolio responsibilities.”
Mr Bowen said Northern Australia’s position in the broader Asian economic region and potential investment opportunity and long-term strategy, where patient investor capital was required to “play the long game”, including on farm exports, also needed to be well-understood by policy decision makers in Southern Australia.
Mr Joyce said Northern Australia’s proximity to Asia and our other major trading partners made it a “critical global gateway” with close to 400 million people live within five hours’ flying time.
“Our north offers immense export opportunities and we are ensuring the north can capitalize on these opportunities to benefit the entire nation,” he said.
He said investment by the government would include $5b in loans through the NAIF; $700m in 38 high-priority road projects; $25.5m in 15 northern water infrastructure feasibility studies through the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund; and $75m for the Northern CRC.
“The north accounts for more than 54 per cent of Australian exports and covers more than 52pc of our landmass,” he said.
“Our northern communities need better roads, rail links and airports so they can stay connected, travel safely, access services and run their businesses, regardless of the season, and that is a focus of our investment.”
Mr Joyce’s statement also pointed to an announcement of seven projects set to receive $13.9m via the Northern CRC.
“From reducing infant pearl oyster deaths to ensuring crocodile skin is lesion free, successful project applicants from the CRC for Developing Northern Australia Project Funding round are as interesting as the locations they hail from,” he said.
“The CRC will assist northern-based businesses and industries stay globally competitive and will bring together investors, researchers and businesses to apply 21st Century digital economy technologies and expertise to address the north’s food, agriculture and supply chain challenges.
“The government’s investment will leverage a further $37m of cash and in-kind inputs from project partners, representing a co-investment of $50.7m in commercially-focused research.
“The CRC's called for expressions of interest for its $8m 2017-18 funding round, which closes 31 October 2017.
“We have also invested $20.3m to transform northern Australia into a centre of excellence for tropical medicine research.
“While I have the honor of delivering this second update, I want to credit Senator Matt Canavan, the former Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, for his hard work and successful efforts to progress this agenda. He is a passionate advocate for the north.
“I commend the drive and resilience of the people of northern Australia - it is their love of the north and their optimism about its future that is making this agenda work.”
The Northern Australia Alliance is represented by Advance Cairns; Broome Future; Capricorn Enterprise; NT Chamber of Commerce; Townsville Enterprise; GW3; and Karratha District Chamber of Commerce and Industry.