Full Text Transcript - 25/08/2004
Madam Speaker Braham took the Chair at 10 am.
Building Healthier Communities –
Dr TOYNE (Health):
Madam Speaker, I rise today to outline how this government continues to deliver on its commitment to building healthier communities and, in particular, to improving remote health services.
Since becoming minister eight months ago I have had the opportunity of visiting and talking to government and non-government health services in almost two dozen remote and regional centres. These include, and it is important to mention some of the places where our health professionals are delivering services for the government: Ampilatwatja, Alpurrurulam, Atitjere, Alyangula, Borroloola, Finke, Gove Community Health Services, Gunbalanya, Kings Canyon, Kintore, Kalkarindji, Katherine Community Health Centre, Laramba, Miwatj, Pigeon Hole, Tennant Creek, Ti Tree, Yarralin, Yirrkala, Yuendumu, Yuelamu, and Urapuntja. All of those places have very dedicated staff and have all been developing excellent service provision when you look at the detail of what they are doing.
I have been uniformly impressed by the dedication and commitment of these professionals, and for this reason, in particular, I am pleased that this government is delivering on our commitment to building healthier health services in our remote and regional areas. As part of the commitment we have imposed financial controls to ensure that all funds allocated to the bush are spent in the bush. We have launched regional health plans for Central Australia, East Arnhem and Katherine regions under the
Building Healthier Communities
framework. These plans were formulated with extensive community consultation and will form our contract with the residents in those areas.
I am also pleased to be able to announce a major initiative as part of Budget 2004-05: the allocation of $1.4m to begin phasing out single nurse posts. Until recently, there were 18 single nurse posts in remote communities where the primary health care team included only one nurse. It is difficult to recruit to, and retain, staff at single nurse posts. They are inefficient and pose heightened occupational health and safety challenges. Some examples from the list I gave earlier – Kings Canyon, Atitjere, Yuelamu, and Laramba are all single nurse posts. Having met the nurses at their work stations, it is a very difficult job and it is time that we left that in the past.
The remote health clinics are often consumed by emergency or acute clinical presentations and this leaves insufficient time to plan and deliver health programs which focus on health promotion, prevention and early intervention. Phasing out single nurse posts will therefore lead to better health outcomes.
I would also like to announce that at this stage we have additional remote nurses already appointed at Kings Canyon and Titjakala
in Central Australia, and appointments will be made shortly to Minjilang and Robinson River in the Top End. Four further appointments will be made in 2005-06 once suitable nurse accommodation can be identified.
I also want to talk about the second range of initiatives that we have now put in place, aimed at education and support for remote nurses. The grants include:
$450 000 for the Centre for Remote Health to construct a new lecture theatre and office accommodation, jointly funded by the Commonwealth. This will include a lecture theatre, offices, open plan work spaces to be used by a range of organisations; especially those doing both undergraduate and post-graduate training for remote health professionals;
a second grant of $100 000 to AMSANT to conduct an Aboriginal health summit. AMSANT represents and supports the Aboriginal community-controlled health services in the Northern Territory;
an additional grant of $80 000 to CRANA, the Council for Remote Area Nurses of Australia, to provide remote maternal care and remote emergency care training. This will increase the skills of remote health staff, including Aboriginal health workers, doctors and nurses; and lastly,
Titjakala in Central Australia will be getting a second nurse, but they will also be getting a patient transport vehicle because of a $50 000 grant that is included in this package.
These measures will provide further support and staff development to our remote health professionals.
Ms CARTER (Port Darwin):
Madam Speaker, I thank the minister for his report this morning. I welcome the efforts that are being made with regards to remote area health. However, I would like to draw the minister's attention to the crisis that currently exists at Royal Darwin Hospital with regards to the provision of beds. I am reliably informed that there are no beds at the moment. So much so, that a man who attended Royal Darwin Hospital two days ago with a very serious leg infection, which required urgent admission and IV antibiotics, and morphine so that dressings could be done on his leg, could not have a bed. The surgeon concerned went through the hospital himself looking for a bed and could not find one. Written on the patient's notes is: 'Urgent. This patient requires admission'. The patient was discharged home. He was to go back to the hospital twice a day for IV antibiotics, morphine and dressings to be attended to on his seriously infected leg. Yesterday, at 5 o'clock, he was rung at home to be advised: 'Do not come into the emergency department as we do not have any trolleys to put you on, no staff to do the dressing, and you need to be on a trolley to have the morphine'.
Minister, I am putting it to you yet again, that we need more general hospital beds in Darwin. It is wrong that people cannot have situations like leg wounds dealt with. I want to know what is going on with the hospital in the home situation. I know that Darwin Community Health Centre at Casuarina and Palmerston refuse to take more than nine patients in each, with regards to hospital in the home. Why cannot a person like this, and you should know what is going on at this hospital today, why cannot a person a person be dealt with IV antibiotics and dressings at home if there are no general hospital beds left at Royal Darwin Hospital?
Dr TOYNE (Health):
Madam Speaker, the member for Port Darwin's reply just simply makes a point I have made before in this House. If you listen to the member, you would think that the entire health system of the Northern Territory was embodied in the Royal Darwin Hospital. I am more than happy to talk about issues in the Royal Darwin Hospital but there has not been one word put into debate in this House by that member dealing with health anywhere else except for the two major hospitals. It is about time we heard from the CLP what their commitments are to remote health and to the health professionals who are delivering our services in the very difficult context around the Northern Territory.
Mr Ah KIT (Community Development):
I am pleased to inform the House of recent initiatives in the provision of library services in the Northern Territory through the establishment of Knowledge Centres. One of the aims of libraries is to preserve our culture and encourage community development. Last year, my department funded three pilot knowledge centres in Anmatjere, Wadeye and Galiwinku. The pilot centred on the utilisation of electronic data bases as a means of collecting information and sharing that information. Different software and management systems were used in each pilot. Evaluation of the three pilots indicated that we need a consistent model for the development of library services in remote communities. The model should provide flexibility to suit individual community needs, yet be able to be supported by the Northern Territory Library and Information Service through advice and training. The database used in the Galiwinku Knowledge Centre model, for example, cannot be supported by the Northern Territory Library and Information Service and does not provide a level of broad public access.
The pilot projects led to identification of the essential elements for successful knowledge centres. The term 'knowledge centre' has a number of different interpretations, and it is important that the model to be delivered is understood as being one which grows out of the role of a public and community library.
The implementation plan for regional libraries and knowledge centres will continue this year, with $230 000 being directed into this area.
The model provides the basic building blocks for the delivery of library-type services in remote communities. The model outlines the essential components and who is responsible for providing each. Components include the library system, community knowledge database, and the regional knowledge network. Flexibility is achieved through each community deciding which components they want, and sustainability is achieved through library support in the areas of resources, provision of a database, and support and maintenance of software. The model facilitates a regional approach where other services can be added, however, important aims are literacy, information and preservation of culture. The selected software can facilitate the joining up of other government and non-government services such as indigenous literacy and language centres, community archiving facilities, and arts and cultural centres.
The model is similar to one that has been successfully implemented in the Coen Education Strategy on Cape York in North Queensland. Training will be providing in managing a library and knowledge centre to enable community members to develop and increase their skills. Libraries and knowledge centres will offer programs to increase literacy awareness.
I am pleased to report on achievements in the Community Knowledge Centre Program following the pilot projects at Wadeye. The community already has a significant amount of digitised material including songs, videos and photographs. A new database will be installed there very shortly. Peppimenarti is already using the selected database to record local content and the community has been closely involved in the project. Some community members have already increased their literacy and computer skills as a result of their involvement in the pilot project.
At Groote Eylandt, the Umbakumba staff have successfully undertaken initial training and are ready for the database to be installed. There is a significant amount of material already available which will be loaded into the database, and consultation with the communities continues.
Madam Speaker, the pilot programs have shown that a consistent model using appropriate software will be able to meet community needs and be supported by the Northern Territory Library and Information Service.
Mr ELFERINK (Macdonnell):
Madam Speaker, the people of the Northern Territory would be very interested to know that an important issue like this with such valuable information attached to it is not able to be effectively debated in this House by virtue of the way the government has set up reports in this House which gives me two minutes to respond to a service which …
Even if I have the audacity to criticise the government about that, they immediately start interjecting. This is a valuable service which should be discussed at much more length, so why is the minister not providing ministerial statement rather than turning this House into a place where the government can grandstand their policies rather than debating things properly?
I would be curious to know what the people in the gallery think that in the two minutes that I have to respond to such an important issue as this, members of government are trying to yell me down. It is an embarrassing disgrace.
The Minister for Community Development was asked specifically during the Estimates process whether he intended to shut any libraries down. He gave us a very big assurance: 'No, no, no. We are not going to shut any libraries down. Perish the thought!' The minister has been a little bit cute, you see, because inside the library services of the Northern Territory, that is true; libraries are not going to be shut down. However, as the minister must have been fully aware, although it is not strictly under his portfolio area, the Education Department was, and it was going to shut down its library services, which I believe were based in the Winnellie area, much against the wishes of those people who wanted to have that particular library service, and the government has come in for a lot of criticism. For the minister to sit in the Estimates process and say, 'I am not going to shut any libraries down', when he must have known that the Education Department was, was disgraceful and reprehensible.
This government comes into this place, uses this Chamber as an organ for its own policy announcements, stifles debates wherever it can and, as far as I am concerned, the government has taken a disgraceful approach to how it uses it this Chamber and how …
Your time has expired.
Now see, there you go, Madam Speaker, time has expired.
We used to debate things in this House once.
Mr AH KIT (Community Development):
Madam Speaker …
You can raise whatever issues you like.
Order, thank you, all members.
Mr AH KIT:
In my brief minute in response, I would say that the waffle from the shadow minister was just quite hopeless. It is obvious that he has two issues mixed up. I am talking about knowledge centres in remote parts of the Northern Territory, where we have three pilot projects. He is talking about the government library information service. If he wants a briefing, that is fine, you have more than two minutes, my office is there - I have opened it up and said any time members opposite and independent members would like a briefing, please contact my office. If you do make an appointment to be briefed by my staff, please turn up, because the member for Macdonnell arranged a briefing and did not turn up.
We are there to help out, we are there to pass on information. You have more than two minutes if you want to find out more, and provide support.
I did not turn up because I was at another meeting that you had sent me to, you goose.
Member for Macdonnell, withdraw that remark.
The minister is not a goose, Madam Speaker.
I said withdraw it. I did not ask you for a comment.
Alice Springs Land Releases and Development
Dr BURNS (Lands and Planning):
Madam Speaker, I take this opportunity to inform members of the exciting wave of developments in Alice Springs. As members would be aware, this government has achieved an historical breakthrough with the signing of an Indigenous Land Use Agreement with the Lhere Artepe Aboriginal Corporation. This opens the way for the first release of new residential land for many years. Most people have recognised the significance of this achievement, and recognise that the former government did not get anywhere near this in their 26 years in government.
Lhere Artepe has called for expressions of interest to undertake the first development, and expressions of interest close this Friday, 27 August 2004. Selection of the preferred developer is expected to take a couple of weeks, and the preferred developer will then proceed to arrange finance and other contractual arrangements. The government will then issue the development lease, and I am advised that the developer will be able to sell blocks off the plan. This could see blocks from this exciting development being sold off the plan in as short a timeframe as six to eight weeks. The development lease will provide for a maximum period of six months in which freehold title to all blocks has to be available.
Other works are well advanced in regard to this development. The DCA has approved the subdivision; funding has been allocated from the capital works program for the provision of headworks; and construction of the intersection on Larapinta Drive is complete. Other headworks, including a pumping station, extension of Albrecht Avenue, and electrical and drainage works have been committed by the government. Forty blocks of land will be available in the first stage, and as soon as these 40 blocks are released, the government can then proceed with its own 45 lot second stage subdivision.
I believe we can safely declare that the land drought is over in Alice Springs, and that was a land drought that was caused by neglect. I would like to quote from the
The government's commitment to a consultative approach rather than confrontational has delivered where the years of CLP politicking could not.
Madam Speaker, that probably encapsulates many of the opinions of Alice Springs people, and let us hope that the members opposite do not continue with their negative attitude towards this important development.
It was hard. The process of negotiation and lifting native title rights was breaking new ground, but we were prepared to tackle it and the results speak for themselves. If you think that sounds like a boom, and the
certainly does, then you are right. The development signs for Alice Springs are exciting. Titles have just been issued for 14 new rural residential blocks on the Ross Highway. This will give Alice Springs residents even more choice in the market.
The DCA has just heard a proposal for the Desert Rest Solar Holiday Village on the site of the old drive-in. This is a $27m proposal for 20 cabins and 90 serviced apartments, as well as a service station. The DCA has not yet announced its decision on this particular proposal. There is an application for a backpacker's hostel in the CBD providing up to 312 beds. This is a $4.5m investment. There are 14 units now under construction on the corner of Head Street and the Stuart Highway. Developers for the Red Centre Resort are proposing to convert the existing hotel rooms to residential units. They have plans to produce 50 units and 30 residential development blocks.
In addition, the Swagman's Rest Motel is proposing an 18 unit extension. There is also a proposal with the DCA to produce around 250 rural residential blocks at Ragonesi Road.
This is a huge level of activity and confidence in the future of Alice Springs. In fact, the number of development applications for Alice Springs heard by the DCA in July was the highest this year and, at 12 for the month, more than twice the normal monthly applications. This is all private sector development and on top of that we have substantial government investment in the Desert Knowledge Precinct. I understand that the Alice Springs Town Council is considering a major redevelopment of the Civic Centre and has called for expressions of interest.
This surge of development is a sign of great optimism in the town. In itself, a significant turnaround of the land availability and the development impetus will in turn generate further economic development. I call on members of the opposition to cease their continual negativity and get behind these exciting developments in Alice Springs.
Mr BURKE (Brennan):
Madam Speaker, it is pleasing to see that the minister is excited about the future of Alice Springs, as he rightly should be. Alice Springs, I believe, should be seen by all Australians as the true centre of Australia and any government, whether it is CLP or Labor, that promotes the future of Alice Springs needs to be applauded. Any initiatives that the government has or is instrumental in, or part of, this opposition certainly supports. In listening to the minister's comments he is really demonstrating the confidence of the people of Alice Springs in their own town, confidence that they have had in their town long before the Labor government came to power in the Northern Territory and a confidence they will continue to have long after other governments come and go. It has been the courage and endurance and entrepreneurial spirit of the people of Alice Springs that has made that such a great town of Australia.
I suppose where there is a will there is a way when it comes to issues such as land that is locked because of native title interests. I guess where there is a dollar there is always a way. That is essentially what has happened in this instance, that in achieving a solution to the Larapinta native title claim, a claim where native title was seen to exist, not as the previous minister said that the Aboriginal people owned that land, it was theirs and they could do whatever they want with it, they had an interest, and this Labor government has set a new benchmark in native title negotiations. That is that they were essentially given a native title interest and right to now mean 50% of the commercial value of that land. Something that will set, something that will set ...
Excuse me, Denis …
... precedence and alarm bells ringing all over the place when it comes to the consequences intended or otherwise.
Oh, Denis, be honest. That is dreadful.
... that native title has now become in the Northern Territory. A government that certainly has achieved an outcome in this instance, but an outcome that Territorians will say to themselves at the end of the day, 'At what cost to me now and what cost to Territorians in the future?'
Point of order, Madam Speaker. On repeated occasions you have instructed us about the use of Christian names in the House.
I did and I noticed the Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Minister both did.
Other way around, first used by them.
It does not matter which way. It still happened and I will ask you to refrain from that.
Before you respond, minister, as the member for Braitling I am very pleased at the amount of development that is going on. I just want to inform members that there was an approach to the Red Centre Resort by some self-funded retirees who are keen to see a retirement village. I am just urging the minister to help promote this idea and this project because it is something that we do not have in Alice Springs.
Thank you, Madam Speaker, for that extra information, and as always with your suggestions, I listen very carefully to them.
Generally, I welcome the shadow minister's comments. They are balanced. Some of the interjectors asked about Darla. I believe the CLP can claim some credit for the Darla development, and that is a development that is doing very well. To praise on one hand and then take away with the other is not really the right thing to do. We have done the right thing in Alice Springs. The people of Alice Springs will recognise that, and there are further developments there. As minister, I want to ensure that the character of Alice Springs is maintained as much as possible, because it is, as the member for Brennan said, a very special spirit and character. That is a big attraction for the place and I am very sensitive to that.
Northern Territory Food Industry
Mr VATSKALIS (Primary Industry and Fisheries):
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to report on recent initiatives to highlight the Territory's food industry. Members will recall my statement in the House on the Northern Territory's food industry earlier this year. At that time I outlined my strong desire to harness the true value of our food industry, to focus on processing and value adding rather than simply harvesting and catching.
Our food industry is of considerable importance to the Northern Territory's economy. Our primary production includes the pastoral, fisheries, horticulture, agriculture and manufacturing sectors. The value of primary production is conservatively valued to be more than $460m per annum. It is about seeing our produce as special and unique, rather than simply the ingredients that we send off to what is becoming a more global marketplace every day. It is about Northern Territory cuisine and saying that we seek comfort in being different, to be unique, to stand out when it comes to our food industry. Developing the food industry means that the multiplier benefits, including the flow-on benefits, are retained here in the Northern Territory. Opportunities to develop our food industry will simply not happen by chance, they must be pursued.
I was rather fortunate to host a degustation dinner designed to allow guests to taste many flavours by only presenting small samples. The dinner was recently created in Parliament House for a rather special group by a very special group of chefs. The guest list was principally travel and gourmet food writers, those involved in logistics and support for the food industry, together with special food purveyors. I say that it was targetted as all of those present have become 'ordained' as ambassadors for our rather unique and special cuisine on offer here in the Territory, and they have taken the message well beyond our borders. You can preach to the masses that our food is special, publish at considerable cost glossy magazine advertisements, but this showcase of NT foods converted even the most wary guest to the uniqueness of Territory cuisine.
It was a unique dinner that guests are still reciting to their colleagues, people involved in the food industry that we seek to attract, but importantly, this dinner was the culmination of the Taste Down Under 2004 Competition. Taste Down Under is a series of events in the United States aimed at promoting Northern Territory food to high-end consumers, and as a tourist destination. The key focus is a competition hosted at five Johnston and Wales University campuses - the largest trainer in culinary arts in the world - to produce a feature dish featuring Northern Territory produce and subtly selling the Northern Territory as a food and travel destination. It is about exposing NT foods to the next crop of Top End chefs.
The winners of Taste Down Under 2004 competition were Mr Jean Jaques Deitrich and Mr Ben Bebenroth, who visited Alice Springs and Darwin between 10 and 25 July 2004. I must mention that Mr Jimmy Shu, from the Hanuman Restaurant and Mr Athol Wark, from Charles Darwin University, fused with the winners to produce a taste sensation of the century. If featuring the best foods on earth was an Olympic competition, I am sure that Jimmy and Athol would have been awarded a gold medal for their achievement on the night.
Let me tell you what some of the guests thought about the dinner. Penny Tastula said:
I think the whole Taste Down Under – Down Under Competition and culminating dinner was a brilliant initiative. Food and wine tourism is recognised as having huge potential throughout the world and in the past the Northern Territory has only scraped the surface. This competition and the wonderful dinner has highlighted Darwin and the Northern Territory as a destination that offers so much more than outback adventures. We can offer wonderful new taste sensations in modern and sophisticated restaurants. The range of fresh produce and innovative indigenous products that were combined on the night by these four award winning chefs, turned out the Northern Territory Degustation of the Century.
Stuart Kenny, the Executive Officer of the Cattlemen's Association said:
It was truly one of the culinary events of the year, perhaps the decade, in showcasing what the Territory has to offer when it comes to food, which has now been discovered. I am sure that the dinner will continue to be a talking point for everyone who attended. We're happy that NT beef will be placed high on the agenda and the menu. It certainly was one of my best nights I've ever had at Parliament House.
Madam Speaker, I know you have a great interest in the food industry and that already, the Alice Springs Food Group has convened a similar event, one that the food industry hosted. I believe that we are best placed to develop a truly Top End cuisine, something that is unique, different and the words of the visiting US Master Chef, it is as good or better than anything else in the world; it is more than being viewed as a providores; we want to be noted for our own cuisine.
Mr BALDWIN (Daly):
Madam Speaker, I thank the minister for this ministerial report. It is a very important area of the Northern Territory economy, one that is not only diverse, but in many ways, unique.
To talk about promoting food and Territory products at things like Taste Down Under and now the Alice Springs one is great and a great way to promote the Territory. However, more can be done. I am sure the minister is aware that there are moves afoot for promoting our products overseas and to value-add. There are talks currently in Katherine regarding a pulping factory, but not only pulping as a by-product of mango, but also slicing and drying mango, which is a good way to achieve maximisation from the mango product. That is work that needs a lot of assistance and could stand the Territory in very good stead, not just nationally but internationally.
There is also a view, a very good one, that there is an opening for the Northern Territory to package its entire collection of food and other products from our unique and diverse range and market them into the European markets. I am talking about everything we have: camel meat, barra, buffalo, even crocodile skins, all of the products you can think of - dates, table grapes - and package them into the European market direct from the Northern Territory. That needs a serious look in terms of marketing the Northern Territory in a unique and cutting edge way. That is something that the minister might like to take on.
Talking about by-products, there is another view that the only way we are going to get gas in Darwin for consumers is to put bags on the bottom …
Your time has expired, member for Daly. The time for Ministerial Reports has also expired.
Reports noted pursuant to Sessional Order.
Honourable members, I advise of the presence in the gallery of officers from the Jabiru Youth Employment Scheme accompanied by their supervisors, Jade Betts, Matt Fagan and Sampson Henry. On behalf of all members, I extend a warm welcome to you.
STATUTE LAW REVISION BILL
Continued from 16 June 2004.
Mr MILLS (Opposition Leader):
Madam Speaker, this bill is supported as it arises as a result of deficiencies identified. In the words of the Attorney-General in his second reading speech:
The purpose of this bill is to amend various Northern Territory laws in minor respects, or to correct minor errors which may have come to light.
The opposition has considered the amendments and they appear to be straight forward. Accordingly, this bill is supported for obvious reasons.
Dr TOYNE (Justice and Attorney-General):
Madam Speaker, I thank the opposition for their support of this bill. As the Leader of the Opposition stated, these are really routine changes to our legislation to tidy up issues that have come to light. I do not think there is anything more to be said.
Motion agreed to; bill read a second time.
Dr TOYNE (Justice and Attorney-General)(by leave):
Madam Speaker, I move that the bill be now read a third time.
Motion agreed to; bill read a third time.
PUBLICATIONS (LEGAL DEPOSIT) BILL
Continued from 20 May 2004.
Mr ELFERINK (Macdonnell):
Madam Speaker, I can also signal that the opposition has no problems at all with the terms of this bill. The bill simply places into legislation that which already occurs. That is about as far as I was going to go in relation to this bill, however, the minister made a comment during ministerial reports and, of course, we know from the ministerial reports period that I am unable to answer some of his criticisms simply because there is not time. However, I will take this opportunity in relation to this bill, because the briefing he was referring to that I was not at was by virtue of the fact that I was in this House dealing with another piece of legislation that, if memory serves me, was one of his.
If the minister expects me to abandon the processes of this House, and abandon this House in favour of me going up to his office so I can get briefings on other bits of legislation he is planning to bring on, he is sadly mistaken. I will do my duty, and my first duty is to this House, not to the minister's office.
However, subsequent to that time, and in spite of the difficulty with that particular briefing, I have looked at the second reading speech in relation to this, which was comprehensive to say the least, and it clearly establishes what the intent of this bill is. I am satisfied that the bill is required by the department so that they can go about their business. The opposition puts on the record its support for the terms and provisions of this piece of legislation.
Ms LAWRIE (Karama):
Madam Speaker, I rise to congratulate the minister on bringing the bill before the House. I agree with the comments of the member for Macdonnell in terms of the asset that this bill presents to future generations of the Territory. I believe it is important to ensure that information can be read and accessed by future generations. The useful service that libraries present to the Territory cannot be overstated. It is incredibly important for not only the current generation of library users, but also for our children and our grandchildren, to have access to information. The Publications (Legal Deposit) Bill ensures that will occur. It is important legislation that brings us into step with federal legislation as well.
It will provide the ability for the factual use and pleasure of all Territorians in reading information presented to libraries. It is important to preserve and have access to a wide range of material, from books through to published maps and photographs. Thorough and total records are required to build a complete and accurate picture of the past. Cultural, social and intellectual heritage, not only of Australia, but showing the diversity of all Territorians, Australians and people from other nations, enhances our society.
The preservation provided for of such information in this legislation is essential. It ensures that the memory of the individual is not all that is relied on. The goal of ensuring that every individual has access to information at the time that it is needed, in a format that each individual can use, is an important goal. We have been disadvantaged without legislation such as this in place, and now and into the future, we will ensure, through this legislation, complete access to the records of the past and the present. It will show a complete record and not one that is based upon the thoughtfulness of an individual publisher or the purchasing power of the Northern Territory Library Service.
It has been proven that the Northern Territory is lagging in this area, and the absence of nationally consistent legislation had allowed this situation to continue. It is good to see that the Northern Territory is a jurisdiction that has chosen to take up the mantle and introduce this legislation whereas, in the past, we were pretty well singled out in that we did not have legislation of this type.
There is a wide range of publishers and new ways to publish, and while this area is expanding, there has been no prior movement to capture all of that information for future records and future assessment. This is a challenge that the minister has accepted on behalf of government. He has undertaken a cooperative approach in the national context to ensure that our legislation is in keeping with national legislation. I commend the minister for this approach. We want to work cooperatively with publishers. We believe that this legislation will encourage the publishers to work with us in putting their information into our important library service.
I commend the staff of the Northern Territory Information and Library Service. I know they have put a lot of work into bringing this legislation forward. I know they work very cooperatively with their minister to ensure that as a medium of information to the public they are vibrant, they are contemporary, and they are very useful source of information to all of us. I know that parents, schools, students in my electorate get a great deal of joy from accessing the Karama Library. I spoke to someone just yesterday who had a research project and I referred them to the State Library Service. The Parliamentary Library Service has a very important role in assisting members to undertake research and get information that is appropriate to our working lives.
I commend the work of the Northern Territory Library Information Service staff. I commend the minister for taking up the challenge and bringing us into line with legislation that exists elsewhere in Australia and all jurisdictions. This legislation has bipartisan support and I congratulate the opposition for that bipartisan support. It will hold future generations in good stead to have access to very wide ranging material that will inform Territorians into the future.
Mr WOOD (Nelson):
Madam Speaker, I also support the bill. I have a couple of basic questions to ask the minister and they are: are documents such as media releases and matters like local members' newsletters also required under this bill to be published and reported to the body that will collect all these particular publications? I understand the importance of what the bill is about. I just do not know to what degree publications will be required to be handed over to this repository of knowledge that we are going to develop for future generations. I think it is an important bill that will be good for the future history of the Northern Territory. I support the bill.
Mr AH KIT (Community Development):
Madam Speaker, I thank the members for their contributions. It is not controversial as the member from Macdonnell alluded to; it is as the member for Karama has said; it is bringing us into line with the other states and territories. In regards to the member for Nelson's question, yes, we would encourage press releases and newsletters, etcetera, to be listed with the library and to be registered but it is not something that we are going to enforce.
As members understand, we are not introducing any penalties or any fines in that regard even though they exist in other legislation in other states and territories but we do need to mention it in the bill so that it does not bring in other pieces of legislation that impact on them. Certainly, it is about ensuring that the Territory library service has an opportunity to collate as much written and produced material as possible. As members are also aware it is in our best interests for historical material to be registered so that it provides a wealth of information for future generations.
I thank the members for their contributions. I thank the member for Macdonnell; he had a briefing and that was good. It is now, Madam Speaker, for me to move that I seek leave to move that the bill be now read a third time.
No, you do not need to seek leave. We already have a motion on the floor.
Motion agreed to; bill read a second time.
Mr AH KIT (Community Development)(by leave):
Madam Speaker, I move that the bill be now read a third time.
Motion agreed to; bill read a third time.
Roads Program and Employment Creation
Dr BURNS (Transport and Infrastructure):
Madam Speaker, it is with pride that I take this opportunity to inform the Assembly of the economic developments that will flow from this government's decisions to substantially increase the level of the Northern Territory's road program for the 2004-05 financial year. In the next year, the government will inject $86m into the construction industry for improvement and maintenance of the Territory and Commonwealth-funded roads. The Territory roads program for the current financial year consists of a capital component of $54.5m and a maintenance component of $31.8m.
The 2004-05 program for Territory roads reflects a 46% increase in the capital component of the annual program. This is a clear indication of the commitment of the Martin Labor government to developing our region. Investment in our roads is an investment in the important industries that depend on these roads, and a significant boost to the regional communities. In addition to the Territory commitment is the annual Commonwealth government's roads program. These funds are substantially spent on our three national highways, the Barkly, the Stuart and the Victoria Highways. When this is added to the Territory road budget, in total, $131.5m has been allocated for the Northern Territory road network program in 2004-05. This is a very significant boost of 22% compared to the previous year's budget. In addition, a number of sectors of the community will receive direct benefit from these programs. The most obvious benefit is better and safer access for Territorians to their communities, townships and regional centres, for the tourists, and the mining and pastoral industries to name but a few of the industry sectors that will benefit.
In addition to building the Territory's infrastructure, the government's commitment to the road program generates jobs for Territorians which special benefits in regional and remote parts of the Northern Territory.
Territorians are rightfully proud of the landscapes and opportunities of this beautiful part of Australia. However, we all acknowledge the challenge of providing year-round access to all parts of our 1.4m km² land mass. We have a highly dispersed population and road works in particular are challenged by some of the extremes of our climate. Territorians are aware of the enormous economic potential of the Territory, the unique lifestyle that the land and its waterways provide, and the cultural connections that people have with these areas. All of us are affected by the restraints on mobility especially during the northern monsoon season and flooding events in the Centre. The boost to regional road funding will help to improve accessibility for a greater part of the year. This is a particularly high priority for the export live cattle industry.
One area that has been seriously affected by the Wet is the Borroloola region. In extensive Wet Seasons, and there have been several in recent years, weight limitations have been required for lengthy periods to protect the Carpentaria Highway. This has significant impacts on local residents and mining operations at McArthur River. This year's budget provided $4.8m as the first phase of a longer term strategy to upgrade the Carpentaria Highway and Woollogorang Road to improve access in the region.
I move now to the roads network. The Northern Territory roads network consists of some 22 000 km of road. This is comprised of national highways, 2670 km funded by the Commonwealth government; rural arterials make up 3980 km of the total; roads classified as 'local rural roads' make up 15 240 km; and there are 210 km of urban arterial road. Of the total network, approximately 6500 km are sealed; 6800 km have gravel forms; 4900 km have clay form; and some 3900 km is comprised of unformed graded earth. The network is evolving over time from the unformed, flat bladed tracks that were once common across the Territory to a higher standard of gravel and sealed roads.
The government's commitment to fully seal important roads such as the Fogg Bay Road, the Cox Peninsula Road, the Mereenie and West Macdonnell Loop Roads, and the Litchfield Park Loop are but a few examples of the real dollars that this government is spending on bringing roads up to a standard that meets the needs of road users and facilitates further development.
The challenge is to keep pace with community expectations and provide infrastructure that facilitates new developments while maintaining existing infrastructure to an appropriate serviceability standard right across the Territory. To meet this challenge requires the cooperation of all the authorities that own or are responsible for the various sections of the network. I am pleased to say that, on the whole, this cooperation exists.
We have had many debates in this House about the separation of responsibility and funding that exist in relation to the road network in the Northern Territory, especially in relation to those thousands of kilometres of roads in local government-controlled areas and in unincorporated areas. The Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Environment works very closely with the Department of Community Development, Sport and Cultural Affairs, the Local Government Association of the Northern Territory and individual councils to identify and develop efficiencies to share resources where possible and to maximise indigenous community organisations and employment in the works programs.
Members are aware of the representations that I and the Chief Minister have made to the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and both the former and current Commonwealth Ministers for Transport in relation to the Northern Territory being underfunded by at least $20m in the Commonwealth government's
Roads to Recovery
program. While the Territory government has been successful in convincing the Commonwealth of this inequity, something that the Prime Minister has acknowledged, we have yet to achieve Commonwealth funding that will address this underfunding. The hard economic fact remains that the Northern Territory looks after nearly 9000 km of roads in unincorporated areas that would be managed by local government in other states.
Earlier this year, the Commonwealth provided an additional $1m to the Territory under the
Roads to Recovery
program. This is the last year of the current program, and it has been estimated that the Territory has lost out to the tune of some $20m over the past four years. This has a serious impact on the road network within the Northern Territory. In this light, the $1m looks pretty pale. This makes even more galling that the CLP Senator for the Northern Territory, Nigel Scullion, will go out of his way to try to …
There we go, using names again.
… convince Territorians about the level of Commonwealth funding allocated to roads. I spoke about this in the House yesterday. He actually tried to pretend - would probably be a near charitable word ...
A point of order, Madam Speaker.
Yes. Stick to your statement, please, minister. That is convention. You can make your remarks when you are summing up.
All right, Madam Speaker, I will leave that to my wrap up at the end.
That is right.
It won't go unnoticed.
Just stick to your statement.
All right, well let us continue with the statement. In a media release on his web site, Senator Scullion claims $20.78m has been allocated from Australian government revenue sources over the next ...
Madam Speaker, are you going to allow the use of names?
Minister, we have also said we will refer to members by their positions, not their names, so make sure your staff remember that.
All right, Madam Speaker. In a media release on his web site, the Senator for the Northern Territory – am I allowed to say his name, Madam Speaker? The CLP Senator for the Northern Territory – am I allowed to say that?
Yes, you can say that.
I will say it three times: the CLP Senator for the Northern Territory claims that: '$20.78m has been allocated from Australian government revenue sources', and that is a quote from his media release - over the next five years, and I will quote again: '… for expenditure on many of the Territory's remote roads, including the Plenty, Sandover and Buntine Highways, the Central Arnhem Road, Finke Road and Roper Highway'. This same senator, the CLP Senator for the Northern Territory, attempted to take credit on behalf of the Commonwealth for the totality of this funding.
The facts are that $10m of the projects referred to in the honourable senator's media release were simple re-announcements of programs funded by and announced by the Territory government some months ago. It appears from this feeble effort that the CLP Senator for the Northern Territory is not standing up for the Territory. I urge members of the opposition not to follow their colleague - I assume he is a colleague of yours because he is the CLP Senator for the Northern Territory …
A point of order, Madam Speaker! The minister's ill-discipline in relation to sticking to the statement is getting painful.
Yes, it is. Show some discipline, minister, stick to your statement.
Well, I am allowed to say …
Do it later.
I will stay away from the colleague bit, but I am allowed to say the CLP Senator for the Northern Territory. So I urge members of the opposition not to follow the CLP Senator for the Northern Territory's lead, but to stand together with this Territory government in our fight with Canberra to secure what is nothing less than the Territory's fair share of funding. Indeed, I will challenge the honourable Senator to look Territory cattlemen in the eye and say that Canberra is spending $20.78m on the Territory's unincorporated roads over the next five years.
The Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association knows what promises Canberra has made, and will not be fooled by the CLP Senator for the Northern Territory's attempt to take credit for funding that the Martin Labor government has committed to. After several years of lobbying by both the Martin Labor government and the Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association, including joint lobbying efforts to Canberra, the Territory has achieved a somewhat better outcome for future years. Out of the $800m component of the $1.2bn
Roads to Recovery
program for 2005-06 to 2008-09, the Northern Territory has been allocated $23.77m over four years of the program, of which $10.78m is for the Northern Territory government-managed roads. The remaining $400m component for regional strategic land transport projects is still to be distributed and will be based on submissions.
I have had discussions with LGANT, the Local Government Association of the Northern Territory, in forming an alliance with them to put forward joint submissions to the Commonwealth in order to secure for the Northern Territory government and our local councils the Territory's fair share of this funding. This clearly demonstrates the government's cooperative approach and willingness to work with industry groups, and with local government, in the best interests of the Northern Territory. This is despite the barriers that the Commonwealth has placed over access to equitable funding. It is vital that the Territory government and our local governments receive their fair share of funding under this program, something that did not occur over the last four years and still has not been addressed. I particularly want to congratulate the Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association on their persistent lobbying of the Commonwealth on this issue.
I now turn to jobs within this statement. In economic terms, government expenditure on the roads program stimulates the economy in two phases. The first phase relates to the direct engagement of contractors, and the provision of plant and material to construct and maintain the road network, combined with the flow-on effects of the expenditure of those engaged in delivering construction and maintenance contracts. The second phase is the economic development opportunities that are created through the expansion or improvement of the road network. Two clear examples of this effect are the West Macdonnell and Mereenie Loop Roads and the Litchfield Park Road. Multiple enterprise development opportunities have already been identified and various sectors of the business community are studying the feasibility of these opportunities.
The sealing of the West Macdonnell and Mereenie Loop Roads will be a catalyst to a major expansion of tourism in the Centre. Significantly, it provides direct opportunities for indigenous communities to further engage in the tourism sector. In line with the government's commitment to high levels of community consultation, the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Environment has established a community reference group for the West Macdonnell Loop Road project. Represented on this reference group are the Central Australian Tourist Association or CATIA, Glen Helen Resort, Kings Canyon Resort, Northern Territory Gas, SANTOS, Central Land Council, Areyonga Community Council and the Hermannsburg Community Council. The first meeting of this group was held on 14 July 2004 and there is significant interest and enthusiasm for the social and economic benefits that this project will bring to the communities along Larapinta Drive and Namatjira Drive as well as for the Central Australian tourism industry as a whole.
My department has worked with economic analysts, ACIL Tasman, to quantify the impact that the roads program has on the Northern Territory economy. Input-output multiplier modelling has been used to capture the first-phase, direct and indirect effects of the economic stimulus generated by the roads program. The roads program funded by the Northern Territory and federal governments in 2004-05 is forecast to contribute $121m in value added to the Northern Territory economy and generate close to 2000 jobs throughout the Territory. The ACIL Tasman modelling indicates that the total roads program will create outputs of $255m, an increase of $45m or 21% compared to the previous year. The income generated is estimated to total $65m, an increase of $11m or 20% compared to the previous year. In addition, ACIL Tasman have estimated that this year's roads budget will generate 1970 jobs, an increase of 360 jobs or 22% higher than generated by the previous year's expenditure.
This means that in comparison to the 2003-04 financial year, 360 new positions will be created and $21m added to the economy. It is expected that the capital works program on roads will generate 770 direct full time jobs and an additional 490 indirect full time jobs as a result of the flow-on effects. The maintenance program on roads will require 430 direct full time jobs and will generate an additional 280 full time jobs as a result of the flow-on effects. The jobs will be created in both the public and private sectors, but mainly the private sector in the consulting, contracting and materials supply business.
In the consulting industry, this means work for the surveying, geotechnical, environmental and structural, civil and traffic engineering consultants. In the contracting industry there will be a diverse range of work generated, ranging from the largest civil engineering and bridgework contractors down to the smaller maintenance contractors who slash the roadside verges and remove rubbish from roadside rest areas.
Material suppliers who will welcome the increased investment into roads include the suppliers of pipes and culverts, and bituminous servicing products right through to the supplies of signs and guideposts.
This program provides opportunities in the regions. It provides opportunities for indigenous employment and indigenous enterprise development, areas that the government is highly focussed on and very enthusiastic about. The ACIL Tasman review has not attempted to quantify the economic benefit generated by new or expanded investment created by this expenditure. The mining and pastoral sectors are acutely aware of the benefit that road improvements have on their businesses. In the tourism sector, government agencies are currently undertaking studies to assess the demand for infrastructure along the routes being improved within the government's roads program.
I will move now to road construction jobs. The $131.5m road program contributes significantly to employment creation and capacity building, especially in remote communities. The road construction industry requires engineers, civil contractors, tradespeople, plant operators, administration support staff, work supervisors, inspectors and safety professionals. These skills are required on all jobs, irrespective of location. The road program generates both employment and training programs in both urban areas and in remote communities. Employment and training programs are not limited to the life of the construction projects. In today's labour market multi-skilled employees are the most employable. In remote communities the demand for multi-skilled employees is most acute. The 2004-05 roads program will continue to deliver new employment and training programs in remote communities. The Martin Labor government and the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Environment are committed to building capacity in remote communities and we are working on new initiatives in this area.
I wish to speak now of roads and road spending as the life blood of the Northern Territory economy. Roads are one of the fundamental building blocks of the Territory economy. Roads are the crucial link between tourism attractions and population centres, and between the source of primary production and distribution points to the market. With its vast land area, the Territory is frequently reliant on its roads for delivery of services, commerce and industry, community and essential services and recreation. With the extremes of our weather, the condition of the road network is often the difference between efficient access and isolation, between profitability and non-viability. The pastoral, mining and tourism sectors are vital to the Territory economy and especially vital to our regional economies. In 2002-03, the mining sector contributed approximately 23% to the Territory's Gross State Product. The agriculture, forestry and fisheries sector contributed approximately 3% to GSP, and tourism contributes approximately 6% of GSP. These sectors are commonly even more significant in the Territory's regional economies.
These sectors are heavily reliant on air, rail and sea transport to convey goods to market, import raw materials, and to enable tourist visitation. However, the air, sea and rail sectors become meaningless unless they are properly linked by the road network. Tourism relies on access to our spectacular tourism attractions and parks; the pastoral, agriculture and mining sectors rely on access to properties and mines to generate exportable products and to get product to the market. The pastoral industry is a significant contributor to the economy of the Territory and a significant employer of our regions. Obviously, the pastoral industry is also very reliant on road transport.
The government's recently announced beef roads funding has been done in close consultation with the Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association. The Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association has commented very favourably on this consultation and the understanding they have developed with the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Environment in this process. The priorities under this beef roads program have been developed in view of the importance of specific roads to the pastoral industry. For example, in the VRD, the Buchanan and Buntine Highways carry some 125 000 cattle each year. In the Barkly, the Carpentaria Highway, Rankin Road, Barkly Stock Route and Calvert Road carry over 100 000 cattle each year. Roads included in the Central Australian program include the Plenty, Sandover and Tanami Highways, and the Finke and Maryvale roads. These roads carry over 200 000 cattle each year.
Whilst we proudly recall our Territory roads have been built by pioneers in these industry sectors who have found ways to make do, in today's markets, simply making do is no longer good enough. Producers must either gain cost effectiveness or increase volumes to keep their operations viable. Furthermore, all year round access is becoming ever more important and, in many cases, essential. It is no longer acceptable for many businesses to shut down for several months owing to inaccessibility, particularly when interstate and international competitors continue to supply the markets.
The Port of Darwin is Australia's leading port for live cattle exports. Obviously, the ongoing development of this trade is facilitated by improved all-year-round access between properties and the port. As the Territory economy grows, improving cost efficiencies and increased volumes are possible, but continual improvement in infrastructure is also required.
In conclusion, Madam Speaker, the government is focussed on the provision of infrastructure that meets the needs of the community and provides opportunities for further economic development. The respected consultants, ACIL Tasman, have stated that the significant increase in funding for the Northern Territory roads program in 2004-05 will allow for improvements to the existing road network that delivers safer roads, improved access to emergency services in remote areas, greater opportunities for new business development, particularly in such areas as tourism, agriculture and mining, and reduced delivery times providing businesses with opportunities to reduce stock levels and costs.
The government is proud to have delivered a significant expansion in the Territory roads program and we will continue to facilitate the opportunity for direct and flow-on employment that this investment creates.
Madam Speaker, I move that the Assembly take note of the statement.
Mr ELFERINK (Macdonnell):
Madam Speaker, the issue of roads is a matter that is particularly close to my heart. I have the privilege and joy of travelling on many of these roads around my electorate. There are several roads mentioned in the minister's statement of which I have personal experience and which have left me feeling quite literally shaken after I have travelled on them.
The minister brings a very important statement to this House. It is recognition of one of the fundamental roles of government. The ability to transport people and produce around any area has been recognised for a very long time. It was no accident of history that empires such as the Roman Empire were able to develop the way they did by being able to move men and material around. In doing so, they were able to effectively bring themselves to bear against often much larger numbers in a strategic way. That is a military example, but in the modern context, this strategy now applies to the business community as much as it applies to the military community. In fact, I would go so far as to say that strategy is also an important element of governance. One of the strategies to which the government has to apply itself is finding ways to develop the community. For that, I am grateful to the minister for turning his attention to the important issue of roads.
To give you an idea of some of the roads on which I have travelled: the minister mentioned the Plenty Highway. Recently, I was on the Plenty Highway and I have to say that the work that is being done between where the bitumen stops near Gem Tree all the way to the Harts Range community is in very good condition at the moment. You could roll a marble down some parts of it. It has been shaped, formed and properly rolled and, in the absence of rain, will survive for a very long time.
Sadly, if you go past Harts Range up to Bonya and towards Tobermorey at the Queensland border, the situation changes quite markedly. The road looks like it has been bombed in some places. Those pot holes, sadly, have now filled with bull dust, which is so deep in some instances that if you hit one of them, you get a very nasty jar through the steering. You do not normally feel that in modern vehicles anymore because of power assisted systems, but you certainly used to feel it in the older rack and pinion steering boxes. You would break your thumbs if one of those wheels spun against your hand. But to feel it nowadays through a modern steering system is quite concerning.
Also, those holes are deep enough to break springs. On a couple of occasions in the last few years on Territory roads, I have had collapsed shock absorbers because of the condition of some of these roads. The road out from Papunya to the Haasts Bluff turnoff is nothing shy of disgraceful. In a four-wheel drive, I had to slow down to about 40 km/h and the vibration through the car was absolutely unspeakable. I am not inclined to motion sickness, but it is quite surprising how unwell I can feel after travelling on a road like the current Papunya Road because of the depth of the corrugations and the problems that that road has.
Many of the roads that I travel on in my electorate are also affected by the maintenance program being stretched too far. There is a habit amongst people who win the road contracts to try and meet those contracts as best they can. What that means is that they simply grade the road rather than shape and form it. The minister mentions that in his speech. However, the problem with grading a road is, every time you put a grader through it, and the grader drivers are certainly mindful of it, when the blade cuts too deep, it means you have the effect of developing a river every time it rains. The problem is that many of these contracts require a simple grading and, as time passes, the grader drivers lift their blades as high as they possibly can while still grading the road, and it has the effect of knocking the tops of the corrugations in to the shallows between the corrugations, which makes the road flat for a short time, but the road very quickly deteriorates. A little bit of rain, a couple of those grades, and you end up with a situation which is represented by a place like the Maryvale Road. There is one instance on the Maryvale Road where it has now been graded so often, through sand, unfortunately, that I am physically capable of stepping off the roof rack of my car on to the verge of the road, because it has been cut that deeply. This is the Deep Well section. I notice the minister specifically refers to the Maryvale Road. I certainly hope that the section that he is referring to is actually the Deep Well section from Alice Springs to Deep Well Station.
On one other occasion, and I will not forget it, is when I saw one of the Hayes boys pull up on the side of the road which was on the embankment. It was unfortunate that the road had been cut very deeply, and the road was just a little bit wet from a little bit of rain, and the Toyota that he jumped out of then slipped sideways into the middle of the road. I am not kidding you; that physically happened, because of the embankment on either side of the road, the vehicle slipped sideways. It defeated the purposes of parking on the edge of the road, but it does demonstrate that the roads are in diabolical need of assistance.
The government has announced an increase in spending, and without having gone through the budget books, I will take the minister on his word that there is an increase in spending. That does not necessarily mean that it is true, of course. I would like to see that there is an increase in spending, but it is because there has been a cut in spending. It has been my experience that this government has the habit of announcing increases on a year-to-year basis. What they do not do is go back for two or three years, and you very quickly discover that what was once a large budget for roads, or road safety, or issues like that, has been pared right back. Then they announce a small increase in spending, and say, 'Oh, how glorious are we.'
A classic example is road safety expenditure in the Department of Police, Fire and Emergency Services, which had been, from several years ago, cut very savagely in the first couple of years of this government, and now they are announcing expenditure increases. The fact is that government expenditure on these particular areas gets pared back and has yet to achieve levels that they were at only a few years ago. This is because the government has restructured how it spends a lot of money out of the budget in certain areas and they have had to cut money out of other areas of the budget. So, through the electoral cycle, in the first couple of years we tear off a bit of spending and then we use that spending to pursue other things that they have a higher priority on and then they announce later on that, 'Oh well, we are going to spend some money'.
The problem with doing that with the roads network is that allowing the road network to deteriorate amplifies the amount of money that you have to spend on the roads network to bring it back up to standard. That is the problem. If you allow an asset to depreciate over time and do not spend any money on it whatsoever, then when you get to the point of where you have to repair the asset, it is going to cost you a lot more than what you would have had to spend in simple maintenance in the first place.
A classic example is the Plenty Highway, especially as you start to get towards the Queensland border. The cattle trucks - we are talking about full on road trains that have to travel along that road, not to mention tourists, but it is ultimately designed as a beef road. Rather than travel across the Plenty Highway through Boulia up into Queensland and places like Mount Isa, cattle trucks are now literally travelling back west to the Stuart Highway, north to Tennant Creek and then east to Mount Isa so that they can follow the bitumen of the federally-funded roads. That is a problem because of the expense of extra fuel from adding hundreds and hundreds of kilometres to the trip. When you consider that you are moving a triple road train, it is not a small amount of money, and it is cheaper for the cattlemen than to drive across the Plenty Highway. Why? I will tell you why. You would think robust vehicles like cattle trucks would be able to take a bit of a knock around. However, they suffer very badly on these roads: springs break, air hoses come unhooked from the vibrations, axles break, tyres get shredded, bearings die, and the list of damage that is done to these trucks goes on and on and on. It is not because the trucks are badly made; it is because the roads are poorly maintained.
So the minister has now realised that he has a major problem on his hand. The Cattlemen's Association has been in his ear, and he says: 'I hope that the members of this Chamber take a bipartisan approach in relation to the quality of the roads'. Guess what, minister? I agree! And I have offered, I do not know how often in this House, to join with the minister in one of his trips down south. I am quite happy to stick it to the federal government over roads issues and road funding issues, and I will stand hand in hand with the minister in any minister's office in Canberra to demand that they meet their responsibilities in terms of the Northern Territory roads network as well. I have yet to hear the minister to accept that invitation. I am not trying to be cute, but the minister has come in here and said: 'I expect a bipartisan approach in relation to roads maintenance'. Well, from me, minister, you have it!
I am happy to go with you at any time. You give me a call. As long as I get sufficient notice I will go with you, and I will sit next to you in front of any Liberal minister or Labor minister and fight for Territory roads funding. I will do so proudly. I do not have a problem with that. If the Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association, and the Labor government, and the CLP opposition are all sitting next to each other in front of the appropriate minister in Canberra, it would make a more comprehensive argument work. I am happy to go. All he has to do is pick up the phone and say: 'Come along', and I will go with him.
What I would like to find out from the minister is the cost of road construction in the Northern Territory. I have the figures around the traps for about five or six years ago, but I would like to know if the minister can place on the record in this House, and perhaps he may choose to do so in his reply to the ministerial statement, the cost of developing a new road and a schedule for the cost of upgrading certain roads from, say, straight forward dirt roads to the shaped and formed clay top roads. The old measures I had were per metre, so the expense of creating a bitumen road per metre, etcetera. I know it is not cheap. It is an expensive exercise and this is one of the pains that the minister has to struggle with. I feel some empathy towards him in relation to this is. He knows that he has to develop roads, and a bitumen road, I think, costs something in the order of $60 per metre just to upgrade it - that was the figure four or five years ago. The minister can do well from time to time to remind people across industries and tourists exactly how much it costs to put together a road in the Northern Territory, and on an average basis. I believe people would be horrified to find out how expensive the development of roads is and people should be mindful of how expensive these things are.
The minister also mentioned the issue of tourism. Tourism is one of the great and vital employers in the Northern Territory economy and basically links the Northern Territory to the rest of the world in ways that so many other industries cannot. I have a UHF CB in my Nissan and as I am driving along some of the roads I will occasionally talk to the grey nomads who are getting around the country at the moment and have a chat to them about their tourist experience in the Northern Territory. I am pleased to report to the minister that most of them say they are having a wonderful time and they are very satisfied with the amenities. But sadly, one of the things I often hear from those tourists when I am speaking to them, is that roads are a matter of concern. Not so much the ones on the Stuart Highway, but if you talk to the tourists at Gem Tree coming off the Plenty Highway they have plenty to say about the condition of the road.
Plenty Highway is not only a beef road, it is now also a well established tourist track and tourists are suffering from the same effects as the trucking industry.
I noticed that the minister mentioned the Mereenie Loop Road. The last time I was there - perhaps the minister can fill me in - I saw some guys who look awfully like surveyors doing some surveying. Perhaps the minister can give us a start date on construction on the Mereenie Loop Road. It was something that was announced prior to the change of government. The new government committed to it with a longer construction period than had been committed to by the former Chief Minister, but then had to shorten that to the promise of three years, and the promise is still something that I am waiting to see fulfilled. I trust that with the multiple announcements in relation to it, they are actually going to start construction sometime soon.
However, it also raises the issue of the widening of the section of road between Alice Springs and Hermannsburg. At the moment, a large section of that, probably a distance of 40 km which is a single lane, has been identified for development in terms of widening the road. What I would like to know from the minister, though, is whether the 4 km that has recently been done, is that it? Having spoken to the construction crew on that particular road, the construction crew said, 'That is our contract. We are doing the 4 km and we are out of here'. There is still a 36 km long section of single lane that appears to have nothing happening on it at this stage. Perhaps the minister can enlighten both me and more importantly the people of Alice Springs and Hermannsburg as to what the intentions are for widening the rest of that section of road.
Certainly, if the Mereenie Loop Road is going to exist in its entirety, as well as the other loop road which goes from Glen Helen through Tyler's Pass and past Tnorala back onto the Mereenie Loop Road, and they are going to be bitumenised that small narrow section would have to be widened to accommodate the extra traffic.
The minister would be naïve and would accept the observation that caravans will suddenly start using that road in much greater numbers than currently is the case. The problem is, of course, when you have a single lane of bitumen like the old beef roads do, every time there is a vehicle coming the other way you have to drop two wheels into the dirt, and if it is a truck coming the other way, you get off the road and you stop and let the truck come past. There are embankments on that particular section of road which are just simply too high to pull a wide-bodied caravan off completely, which means that the truck has to pull off the other side and, if it is a sizable truck, it will absolutely shower the caravan in stones or, if the caravan does get all the way off the road, they can find themselves in diabolical straits.
Hermannsburg and Wallace Rock Hole are working to expand their tourist industry. The Areyonga community is looking at options. The people who live at Ipolera are looking at options. There are any number of economic developments which are hinging on an improved roads framework, and those people would be interested to know that the road to take that tourist traffic to them is going to be safe. Had I a road on my land, I would be quite concerned to ensure that the people travelling on that road were safe.
The minister mentioned another element of road transport, albeit briefly, and it deserves expanding, and that was horticultural development. I have said a dozen times in this House, and certainly outside the House, that Central Australia has the potential to be the bread basket of South-East Asia. The work that I have seen done in places like Israel and other arid zones, but particularly Israel, convinces me that with the right will, Central Australia could become an enormous market place for South-East Asia in the production of food. In this day and age, it sounds unusual that you could turn a desert into a bread basket, but if you consider the country of Israel is about one-tenth the size of my electorate, yet it produces enough food to feed 6 000 000 people.
If I look north of us to the Indonesian archipelago and even further north, fully one-third of the world's population is captured in a very small zone, comparative to the rest of the world. We now have a railway with its teething problems, but we have a railway and a port. Expansion of the very good concept of desert knowledge, which I am glad to say the government is continuing to support, could turn Central Australia into that bread basket. I am very excited and optimistic about the future of Central Australia despite the ongoing minor problems that it has now.
Produce, however, still has to get from wherever it is grown to the rail head. If you look at something like the grape project in the Finke region, or Apatula, if you try to take a grape crop off the vine and bring it to the rail head as quickly as possible so that you can get it into the market place through the port of Darwin, the weak leak in that chain will be the road out to Finke. By the time you get from Finke to the Stuart Highway, if you are not going to fly it out, you run the real risk of turning up at the Stuart Highway with nothing more than grape juice. That would be true for any other product grown remotely in the Northern Territory.
So despite the railway, roads have a fundamental and important role to play between the orchard or vineyard and the place of embarkation to the train. It is no good if you cannot fix that link in the chain, and it will become the weak link.
The government is going to have to spend more money on roads in the future, not less. The reason is that there is going to be an increasing economic impetus on developing roads. Hopefully, the government's increased income through the GST, especially seeing that the GST is levied on businesses as well as consumers, will see that some of that money finds it way back into road construction so that you have the cyclical approach of taxes being levied and then being spent on areas where more taxes can ultimately be levied by virtue of the fact that you have a better economic environment because more people are using the roads because more people are growing produce. It seems like a fairly sensible approach.
The problem is that when treasuries have very limited discretional funding every financial cycle, there is always a temptation to tear money out of infrastructure for other projects. You have a short-term gain for that, but a long-term loss.
Madam Speaker, in closing, I will join the minister at any time in Canberra, or wherever else he thinks that federal ministers need to have their cages rattled by people in the Northern Territory. I will gladly work with him in a bipartisan fashion to extract money out of the Commonwealth. The approach of the Commonwealth in relation to tying roads funding to local government boundaries has served the Northern Territory very ill indeed. We all know the reasons for that in this House, and if honourable members do not know the reasons, they should find out. It is a rule which has meant that, when the initial funding arrangements were made, we received the same funding as the ACT. I believe the federal government has come some way to acknowledging that they have a problem with this; I do not think they have come far enough, frankly.
I know the Northern Territory government has a responsibility to maintain and look after roads, but if the federal government is going to try to maintain, or put money towards minor roads through the
Roads to Recovery
program, they should also look at the specific needs of the Northern Territory. I am quite happy to lobby on behalf of the Northern Territory for that roads improvement. If the minister then comes back and reports to this House that we have had some success, or failure, then I would presume that we would find ourselves in a bipartisan position in relation to that as well.
Again, I extend the invitation to the minister that I am available, and I am sure that the minister has heard it. It is not an attempt to be cute. It is an attempt to demonstrate a united front in a place like Canberra. It has been my experience that there is a formula that needs to work in terms of states and Canberra. It is sort of an inverse square law, a little bit like Newtonian's inverse square law, except it goes something like this: the satisfaction with Canberra is directly and inversely proportional to your distance from Canberra.
I thank the minister for bringing this statement to the House. I believe roads funding is going to be an ongoing issue. I certainly expect it will be. I believe the government's cut into the infrastructure budget now has to be caught up with. The minister is going some way to doing that, and I look forward to driving on much improved roads. Woe betide the minister if I find that those roads are not improving out there.
Mr VATSKALIS (Primary Industry and Fisheries):
Madam Speaker, I support the statement of my colleague, the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure. It is a very contentious item; I had to deal with it when I was the Minister for Infrastructure, Planning and Environment. The reality is that the Northern Territory is an area of 1.5m km², one of the largest states in Australia, and an area where long distance is a fact of life. It is not uncommon for people to drive hundreds of kilometres to go from one city to another, or from one community to another. Our road network is very extensive. The road network is not only bitumen but also dirt roads. The bitumen network includes the Stuart Highway - a Commonwealth-funded highway, the Victoria Highway and the Carpentaria Highway. You will also see many other roads which are utilised by the industry.
There has been a long-term demand for road improvements, not only from this government, but from the previous government. The previous government spent quite a bit of money on road improvements, however, in the last few years of their term that expenditure was declining. The highest expenditure was in their last term in government - $75.1m. I recall very well when the member for Macdonnell commented on the condition of the roads, and gave as an example the Plenty Highway. I personally had a look at the expenditure on that particular highway, and found that the last time the Territory government had spent real money on that highway was in 1992 when they spent about $1m. Since then, the Territory government has been spending a diminishing amount of money, mainly for repairs and maintenance.
Territory roads is not only an affair for the Territory government, it should also be an affair for the Commonwealth government. Many times, I and the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, the member for Johnston, have argued with the Commonwealth government that more money has to be provided to the Territory in order to address the issues of our extensive network. We are talking about 9000 km of bitumen road and about 13 000 km of gravel roads. These roads are suffering damage because they are used extensively by the public, by tourists, by the pastoral industry, the agricultural industry, the mining industry and the horticultural industry, and there is a lot of personal use of that network. In order to the address the issues we have to spend more and more money all year round.
The problem is not only the extensive network but also the difficult climatic conditions. In the Top End you have the Wet Season with the rain turning the roads into streams of water or muddy flats, and you have the dry weather conditions in the Centre. When our roads in the north are mud flats and you get bogged in that, the roads in the Centre become dry and corrugated and we get complaints from the industry in both areas of the Territory, in the north and in the Centre. I travel some of these roads. I enjoy driving and I always make a point of driving on the roads where the people are complaining that they are in bad condition and they need to be repaired. I have travelled the Mereenie Loop and a few weeks ago I travelled the Tanami Highway. I have first hand experience of the conditions of the roads in the north and the centre of the Northern Territory.
I also travelled the Victoria Highway going to Western Australia and there certainly are some problems. I have to mention the Victoria River Bridge which is significant in terms of our access to Western Australia. In my recent meeting with Kim Chance, Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Western Australia, he mentioned that he wanted to work very closely with the Northern Territory to lobby the federal government to do something about the flooding of the Victoria Highway. With the development of the Ord River scheme and the development of the Darwin Harbour there are big opportunities for the export of horticultural and agricultural products from Western Australia through the port of Darwin to Asia and other markets. We have the facilities and this produce has to be exported with refrigerated containers or modified atmosphere containers. So it is not only the Northern Territory that is affected by the condition of our roads; we see that other states are affected as well.
I recall a meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, in Canberra. We were looking at the roads that the Commonwealth wanted to address and they identified some strategic roads. However, they forgot the road which connects Queensland with the Northern Territory, and especially the road connecting Townsville with Darwin. Let us not forget that Townsville and Darwin are active defence forces towns and if you are going to move defence forces from one area to another you have to have a very good road network. He was surprised that the road connecting Queensland and the Northern Territory was left out and I noticed in the next draft map that that road was included, and the federal government was going to address some of the issues.
Roads can be described as the arteries and veins of the Territory because this is where the life blood of trade, tourism and communities are circulated throughout the Territory. If we do not have roads we are not going to have access for our produce, we cannot bring goods from south, we cannot send goods south, east and west, we cannot travel from here to Katherine, from here to Alice Springs or to other regional centres in the Northern Territory.
What is important about the roads is that it serves as I mentioned before, the agricultural and the horticultural industry, the mining industry and the pastoral industry. I will start with the agricultural and horticultural industry. We now have significant development in the horticultural and agricultural industries around the Darwin and the Katherine region. Lately, we have seen possibilities for extension of that industry as far south as Ali Curung. We now have pockets of industry around Alice Springs, in Ti Tree and in some communities in Central Australia. It is very encouraging to see that there are proposals for the development of horticultural and agricultural blocks in Ali Curung with the possibility of planting a significant number of mango trees and other fruit bearing trees; and the significant development of table grape farms in Ti Tree.
We are very pleased to hear about a development which will take place in Alice Springs where a number of citrus growers are looking at Alice Springs. We have date producers, grape producers, and we have received news that some of the communities in the Alice Springs region are experimenting with vines and olive trees.
There is significant horticultural production in the Katherine region. I found out yesterday that the trucking industry is focussing on Katherine. The production of melons in Katherine has increased significantly; the transport of melons from Katherine will continue for five months of the year instead of the one or two months as previously undertaken. There is also significant production of tropical fruits in Darwin which need to be exported, and with our overseas export markets not yet being developed this produce has to go south. This year we expect a bumper crop and the weather has very much helped the mango industry. I am not going to be too optimistic because things can change from one day to the next in the mango industry. A storm or strong wind can bring many of the mango flowers down and reduce our estimates from the current 4 m trays to less than last year's.
Again, the road network is very important. Much of the produce is transported by refrigerated road train. Some have begun to be transported by train or they use a combination of road transport and train as with bananas. Forty six tonnes of bananas every week is coming from Queensland to Tennant Creek, loaded onto the train to be delivered to Perth.
The main user of road and the road network is the pastoral industry. The pastoral industry in the Northern Territory continues to show steady and strong growth and maintain its importance as a major contributor to the NT economy. The NT cattle herd at this stage is at an all time high. Not only is the industry an important contributor to the economy but its people manage close to 50% of the Territory land mass to continue the maintenance of its natural resources. They do so in some very remote locations and well maintained roads are essential to their survival.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics have just released their latest figures on the industry for 2003 as part of their regular survey of the agricultural and grazing industries throughout Australia. In 2003, the Northern Territory pastoral industry saw growth in the total cattle population, a steady turn-off of cattle, and turn-off percentage. Trend lines of these three indicators continue to show an upward trend. Total cattle population in 2003 was at an all time high of 1.9 m head of cattle. This compares with a 30 year average of around 1.5 m head of cattle, so we can see that the Territory cattle industry is doing very well.
The increased population reflects the reduction of annual turn-off into the eastern states because of poor seasonal conditions in those areas. It is only lately we have seen properties in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria to start restocking and buying a lot of cattle from the Northern Territory. The turn-off number of cattle, turned off as a percentage of total cattle numbers, shows a steady and significant increase from around 10% 30 years ago to 30% today. This reflects major changes in the efficiency of production systems and will continue into the future.
The increasing strength of the pastoral industry means that its reliance on a well maintained road network will remain an important factor in its continued growth. Since we came to government, and when I became the minister for Infrastructure, the first thing I heard from the pastoral industry was about the road situation. The roads did not deteriorate suddenly at midnight on 18 August 2001 when the Labor government came into power. The road network has continued to deteriorate and, unfortunately, because of its length and because of other pressures on the then government, money was not spent on roads for upgrading and maintenance. It was continuous patchwork.
Some people attribute the deterioration of the road network commenced when the road gangs were dismantled and period contracts and private contractors came into place. I have heard many comments from pastoralists who said to me that when the road gangs were available they were travelling from one road to another road and they did a fantastic job. First of all, they had the know-how, they had the equipment, they knew the area, they knew the weather conditions, and they knew what they were doing. When a different system was put into place the contractor would do the roads when they were available. Contractors had to truck equipment from one town to where the roads had to be done so it cost money and it took time.
We recently allocated $10m in funding to upgrade the NT Beef Road program, and that was our first commitment of our support to the pastoral industry. In doing so, we encouraged regional development and employment.
Following the request from the cattle industry and the NT agriculture and horticultural industries for the upgrade of the roads, we did not just decide to pick up a map and point out which roads we were going to address first, but we asked for the assistance of the cattle industry. We worked very closely with the Executive Officer of the industry. We asked the industry to identify the roads that were significant to them, the roads they wanted to be upgraded first and to give us a good reason for that. As a result, we received a list of the roads that were significant to the Cattlemen's Association and the industry. These roads were ranked as the roads required for transporting the majority of cattle, the destination, the condition of the road and the importance of that road to the industry. Let us not forget those roads are not there to transport only produce; they are there for the people who work on the farms and stations, for the children to go to school and boarding school, for people to go to the doctor, and for women to go to the hospital when they have their babies. They are roads that perform more than one function. They are roads for the cattle industry, community and tourists.
We have seen a significant number of people now utilising those roads to travel from point A to point B. With the significant number of 4WDs in the Territory, people will not hesitate to take a turn and go onto a dirt road and travel, let us say, from Tennant Creek to Halls Creek, or from Alice Springs via the Tanami Highway all the way to Western Australia. We have the Savannah Highway that comes from Queensland and finishes in Broome. The Savannah Highway utilises some of those roads.
The $10m investment we made in the beef roads is not going to address all the issues, but it is going to address a significant number of roads throughout the Territory. One of the promises the federal government made is that they are going to allocate $30m to the road network of the Territory because they recognise the importance of those roads to the Territory and to the cattle industry. A member of parliament and a minister from the federal government came up here, addressed the conference of the Cattlemen's Association, made that promise, but we have not seen one dollar since. In fact, we have now been advised by the cattle industry that it is going to use our allocation of $10m as a lever to try to persuade the federal government to match it dollar for dollar. If they can get another $10m, they can put it into the rural arterials, the beef roads, as they call them, to improve conditions.
The Plenty Highway is a key arterial route for cattle from Central Australia into the Queensland market, and is also very popular with tourists. The estimate for the annual movement of cattle along the highways is around 100 000 head. I have said before that the member for Macdonnell regularly points out to me the condition of the Plenty Highway, but he always forgets to say that in their time, the CLP government had not put any real money into the Plenty Highway after 1992. An amount of $2m has now been allocated to improve forming and gravelling along selected sections of the Plenty Highway.
$1.6m has been allocated to the Point Stuart Road to allow for upgrading to sealed standards of approximately 8 km. This upgrade will improve access to depot properties engaged in the live cattle trade during the Wet Season.
The Buntine Highway, a very good highway named after the pioneer road transport operator, Noel Buntine, has been allocated $1m. Some of that can be used to upgrade the highway and selected areas, and the rest will go to rehabilitation. It is an important arterial road for the pastoral industry in the Victoria River region. That region carries about 750 000 head of cattle, nearly half the Territory cattle production.
The Barkly Stock Route is another key arterial road and is very important to the Barkly area. It will be improved with an upgrade of black soil sections to gravel surface to allow better access for road trains during the Wet Season. $800 000 has been allocated for this purpose. The Barkly carried 700 000 head of cattle during 2003.
Sections of the Buchanan Highway, important links between Top Springs and the Stuart Highway, and between the Victoria and Buntine Highways, will be upgraded and re-gravelled at a cost of $800 000.
In the Alice Springs region, the Maryvale Road will be selectively formed and gravelled at a cost of $800 000. It is an important access road for the pastoral industry, but also has many tourists travelling on it as well as remote community residents.
$2.5m will be expended on the central Arnhem Road, the Rankine Road in the Barkly region, the Sandover Highway, the Finke Road in the Alice Region, and the Roper Highway. Each of these will attract funding of $500 000 to allow for gravelling and selective improvement. Drainage work will be carried out on the Ringwood Road at a cost of $300 000 to allow better access to properties involved in the live export trade. In the Sturt Plateau, an area showing an excellent growth in cattle production, an important development area, $200 000 has been allocated to upgrade the Birdum Creek section of the Larrimah/Western Creek link road.
In a recent review of the Northern Territory's drought assistance arrangement, the review panel found that an effective rural road system was essential for the movement of stock, both during the destocking phase at the commencement of drought, and for re-stocking after the drought had broken.
The pastoral industry is the backbone of so many regional communities. It generates wealth and jobs, and is a major contributor to the Northern Territory economy. The commitment of $10m to beef roads demonstrates our resolve to support a very important contributor to our economy.
Once again, I call upon the federal government, and in particular John Anderson, to take care of what is happening in the Territory, to at least match dollar for dollar our commitment to the beef roads in the Territory. I know we lost about $20m under the
Roads to Recovery
in the past five years with the excuse that the Territory is not incorporated, but I cannot help but see that there are some unincorporated areas in New South Wales and Victoria which received money, and in particular, the Deputy Prime Minister's own electorate which received funding of approximately $40m. But, of course, the seat of Solomon in the Northern Territory is not very secure for the federal government, so what is the point of spending money, especially when there are no cattle stations in the seat of Solomon? Most of the cattle stations are in the seat of Lingiari which is held by a member of the Labor Party.
However, this is not about politics. It is about assisting the industry, assisting the Territory. The road network is vital to the Territory. It is very important for the industry and for the community, and monies spent on the roads are monies well spent.
STATEMENT BY SPEAKER
200th Anniversary of Matthew Flinders Completing the Chart of Australia
Honourable members, I wish to inform you that today is a very special day.
Today, 25 August 2004, marks the 200th anniversary of Matthew Flinders completing the chart of Australia whilst a prisoner in Mauritius, a year after circumnavigating the Great South Land known at the time as New Holland and New South Wales.
The Chart contains the first known use by Flinders of the name
for the island continent as we know it today. In 1817, Governor Macquarie, on the preference of Flinders, adopted the name 'Australia'.
To mark the importance of this event, I have agreed to accept a copy of the original chart from His Honour the Administrator, who will be officially presented with the chart by the Matthew Flinders Day Convenor in conjunction with the Historical Society of the Northern Territory.
I should add that this chart will be presented to all Australian parliaments by 14 November 2004 to coincide with the nationwide celebration of the 200th anniversary of the date the chart left Mauritius for London.
The cartouche in the centre of the Chart reads:
The Chart showing parts of
and its vicinity, as were discovered or examined by the following vessels – Schooner
of 60 tons in 1798, Sloop
of 25 tons in the years 1798 and 1799, Schooner
of 29 tons in 1803, and by His Majesty's ship
in 1801, 1802 and 1803, by M Flinders – Commander.
I table a copy of the chart for members' interest.
Members, I acknowledge the presence in the gallery of the President of the Royal Association of Justices of Western Australia, Mr Peter Kretschmer, who is here attending the National Conference of Justices of the Peace on the weekend. On behalf of all members, I extend to you a warm welcome.
Roads Program and Employment Creation
Continued from earlier this day.
Mr WOOD (Nelson):
Madam Speaker, the minister has made a very important statement. Roads are what developed the Northern Territory. Whether it is tourism, cattle, horticulture or community development, we need good roads. I have said before in this parliament that if you want to develop the Territory, then roads are the way to do it, and until that happens, the Territory will stagger along.
The minister's statement supports the concept that we need a lot more money injected into Territory roads. The difficulty I have with this statement is that it is very difficult to work out how much money we receive from the Commonwealth in the form of road grants that is recycled, you might say, by the Northern Territory government and sometimes put up as their money. It would be interesting to see the figures of how much money comes from the Commonwealth for roads, and does the government, from its own finances, spend any money on roads. It is one of those questions that needs to be asked, because it is quite difficult to work out where money is coming from and where it is going. I will get on to that a bit later. There are claims and counterclaims about who owes money, and who pays such and such money; I will come back to that a little later.
The one failing with this statement is that it reflects very little about the key role that local government has in the Northern Territory. Local government looks after 13 663 km of roads, made up of 1952 km sealed, 1743 km of gravel, 2041 km of formed, and 7928 km of flat-graded tracks. This is a substantial road network, and these roads are funded by Local Government grants, as well as money from the federal government through the
Roads to Recovery
Pre-1992, many roads between communities were maintained by Transport and Works and, after a decision in 1992, many of those roads were maintained by community councils. The sad thing was that the level of funding that Transport and Works received to maintain those roads pre-1992 was not the same level that Local Government believed would maintain the roads when they took them over. This meant that many roads deteriorated. Presently, LGANT, acting as a local government, as distinct from a physical council, maintains 2000 km of the 8000 km of roads as unincorporated roads and, as a local government and receiving money from FAGs and also receiving money through the
Roads to Recovery
I raise this issue because the government emphasises in the statement that one of the reasons it does not receive funding is because many of the roads are unincorporated. They are unincorporated because Local Government does not cover the entire Territory. Regardless of whether you think it should or should not, and I know there is certainly opposition to that from some sectors of the Cattlemen's Association, I wonder whether many of these roads that you are saying you do not get funding for could not simply be covered by LGANT acting as a local government. If it is already doing it for 2000 km of roads that are unincorporated, why could not LGANT expand that to those other roads that you are saying you are not getting funding for so that they do attract money from FAGs and they also do get money from
Roads to Recovery
. I put that as a suggestion that I think is a practical option.
There are also areas that we need to look at for raising money from within our own area. In the case of Litchfield Shire, people pay rates. Litchfield Shire also receives about $1.5m for roads through FAGs money. When you put that with the rates, you have somewhere in the vicinity of $3m for the maintenance of roads in the rural area. However, we have large sections of land which is freehold. The minister, just a little while ago, when mentioning power to the Dundee area, said how wonderful that development is. It is a development which I have always been critical of because it is a development that went ahead with no services provided at all, and we are now picking up the tab for what, I believe, is one of the worst subdivisions in the Top End - not because of its design so much, but because of the lack of response by developers to put adequate infrastructure in, for which taxpayers now have to pay. I believe that is a dreadful shame.
However, we have all that freehold land now, as well as freehold land in Marrakai. Those areas will have local roads. How are those local roads going to attract FAGs money and
Roads to Recovery
money if they are not incorporated? You have freehold land in the Northern Territory, where some people on one side of the border pay rates and, on the other side, they do not. One would have to ask why the government, after three years in office - and this has been raised before - has not taken the bull by the horns and at least rate some of these areas, which it can do. It might only be a small rate, but I believe it is unfair if you have two parts of the Top End, both freehold, and one paying rates and one not. The government has to address that. As I say, people in Litchfield pay rates and that goes towards the maintenance of their roads infrastructure.
There is the issue of cattle stations. As I said before, cattle stations do not particularly want to be in local government, but the roads the cattle stations would like maintained could come under LGANT control - once again, using the provision that LGANT can act as a local government. Perhaps the rates are the money that cattle stations receive or pay the government in the form of a lease. The lease money can go into those roads.
The other area that has always concerned me, especially in my area, is the use of local roads for mining. In the Litchfield Shire, there are large quantities of sand and gravel leases and the lessees use local roads. Those lessees pay no rates at all, and one would have to ask what contribution they should put towards maintaining our roads. We should be looking at a range of issues, not just the Commonwealth government. I agree with the member for Macdonnell saying we should go to the Commonwealth and ask for more money. I do not have any argument with that. However, the Commonwealth would expect us to be raising a certain amount of money ourselves for the maintenance of our roads in the Northern Territory. I just do not believe that you can expect the Commonwealth to pick up the entire funding arrangement.
There are a few other issues I would like raise. The minister also mentioned the alliance. The alliance, I believe, is something that local government should have perhaps received a little more kudos. This alliance is actually called the Local Road Management Alliance, and it is an agreement between the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Environment on behalf of the Northern Territory government and the Local Government Association of the Northern Territory, on behalf of all local government bodies in the Northern Territory. This has been set up to attempt to get some money from the $400m the federal government is putting up under the Regional Strategic Land Transport project. However, this was an alliance which was really started off between local government and the Commonwealth. They were the driving forces and the government came on afterwards. Once again, what is missing in the statement is that, in many cases, local government is driving the issue, yet it does not get enough kudos for the work it does. They do a great job, considering the vast area and the roads that they have to cover.
Another area, minister, that your government has to look at is road asset maintenance in local government. The amount of money that is given to some of these communities to maintain roads in the communities is quite small and, considering the cost of repairing a bitumen road, say, at Lajamanu, where they received $84 000 for the whole year to maintain their roads, I believe is totally inadequate. The Northern Territory government has to look at ways of increasing that funding just to maintain roads in those communities.
With road funding there is no horizontal equalisation from the Commonwealth. There is a formula according to the type of roads, but there is definitely not any horizontal equalisation plan when you dish it out to people within the Territory. I will take that back: there is horizontal equalisation back within the Territory, but the money from the Commonwealth does not come in that form. So, the amounts of money that some of these communities do receive is very small and will mean that those roads cannot be maintained to a reasonable standard over a number of years.
The minister also mentioned employment and, he is correct; employment is a major benefactor of road projects. The money put into roads will certainly have spin-offs and culverts and guide posts and people painting white lines and the bitumen industry. You also mentioned that it will help Aboriginal employment. But some of the key roads that go through Aboriginal land do not come under local government control; they still come under the government control. Yet those roads, you would have thought, would have been ideal for local government to have within their jurisdiction, simply because there is a better chance then of Aboriginal people being involved in the maintenance of those roads.
I will give you a number of roads that the government maintains that you would have to question why they are part of the government program: Daly River to Port Keats. I think at one time it was part of local government. We now have seen in the last Wet Season, and there were reports in the paper and I had phone calls from various people, about how that road has deteriorated markedly. One of the reasons is that when it comes to the crunch, those more high profile roads are getting the money from the Territory government, and those Aboriginal roads out there are not getting the money they used to. Certainly the government should be rethinking about who should be maintaining those roads. I will mention a few other roads: Ngukurr to Numbulwar, Papunya to Kintore, the Arnhem loop road, and Angurugu to Umbakumba. If we are really serious about Aboriginal employment, I ask the minister to look at whether those roads should be maintained by those communities in that area. That would be something worth looking at.
Minister, you also made a few comments about Senator Nigel Scullion. I spent part of the night trying to work through these figures and you have to be a bit of a genius trying to work out a lot of these figures. Much as I know that we want the Commonwealth to give us more money, I am not sure some of the claims are exactly right. I believe in your statement you said, for instance, that Senator Scullion had said he had given us $20.78m but forgot to say that $10m of that came from the Northern Territory government. However, the NT government received that money from the GST. So, he did give money to the NT government, through the GST and through $10.78m for roads in unincorporated areas.
But not specifically for roads.
Well, you used it for roads. You announced you were going to use the $10m for roads. I suppose he has piggybacked off that, but it has come from the Commonwealth in the form of funding.
The other area that is mentioned in your release, minister, was that the claim that the Territory was underfunded by $20m in the Commonwealth government
Roads to Recovery
program. Again, that was an ambit claim. The problem was you were dealing with unincorporated roads, you were using the argument that they were unincorporated, therefore we should have received that much money. Whether it was $20m or $10m, I do not know. The point is: whose fault is it that they are unincorporated? That is my argument. You may have a good argument saying that we should have the money, that everywhere else in Australia they are incorporated, but here we have unincorporated roads. I have a proposal that I think will at least try to solve that, and it is that those roads come under LGANT acting as a council. That is not incorporating all the land, but it does put the roads in that area.
I should note that the senator said in his media release that
Roads to Recovery
will rise to $23.7m over four years to 2005-06 to 2008-09, and this includes $10.78m for roads in unincorporated areas. Again, it has not been made clear enough that local government supported this even though they will lose money for their communities. They have said they realise that unincorporated roads need financial assistance. Until now, local government was receiving $20m from
Roads to Recovery
. Now, with the announcement from the senator, they will receive $23.7m minus $10.78m, so they will receive just under $13m. Actually, municipalities under
Roads to Recovery
will be losing money, but they are willing to do that because they believe that unincorporated roads in the Northern Territory need some work done on them. Of course, those unincorporated roads in some cases benefit local government communities, but, again, what local government has done to help the Northern Territory has not been spelled out enough.
There are a couple of other issues: when we are talking about funding, I wonder whether we have realised that ATSIC also used to help with road building. I notice there was a road in Nhulunbuy for which the local community provided about $46 000. They were in a partnership with the Territory government and ATSIC and they received dollar-for-dollar funding and built 3 km of sealed road. There are other partnerships.
There is also money from the Black Spot program. Occasionally, there are extra grants. I put on record that I appreciate Senator Scullion's assistance. I am not saying that the Labor Party was not also involved in securing the money to move the Stuart Highway away from Strauss Airstrip. That was a great achievement and whether it was Senator Scullion or the Northern Territory government, it does not matter because we did get that all together.
Another issue that concerns me is to ensure that when we are receiving money, we use it wisely. I received a reply from you, minister, regarding the roundabout at Lambrick Avenue and Chung Wah Terrace. I asked how long this contract took to be completed, how long it was supposed to take, what was the contract price and how much the job finally cost. The contract took 38 weeks to complete. The initial contract period was for 10 weeks. The original contract price was $712 000 and the final figure was $998 000. That is $200 080 over the contract. It says here:
Both contract costs and time were adversely affected by the unexpected location of high voltage underground cables.
I ask: who did the original planning? Surely, high voltage underground cables would have been mapped. You would think someone like Power and Water would have known where they were. If we are losing that sort of money because of stuff-ups in the contract, we are not getting value for money. That extra $200 000 could have nearly built me a bicycle path from Palmerston to Howard Springs, which we have been trying to get for eight years. I noticed the Chief Minister, who had a look at it the other day, was very supportive of the concept.
There is one other issue, and that is road signs. Since I came to parliament, I have been told that the road sign policy will be reviewed. It must be one of the longest reviews of all time. In the meantime, we have all sorts of signs going up in concrete on the highway. When will it ever be reviewed finally so that we know what is going on?
Minister, I like the statement, but there is an awful lot we need to know about what is happening with our roads and there are other ways of tackling some of the problems that you have highlighted.
Dr TOYNE (Central Australia):
Madam Speaker, I would like to start by echoing some of the things that the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure had to say about Central Australia. It is, indeed, an exciting time for Central Australia in terms of construction, both construction of buildings and structures within the town area, and the general level of road works and road developments that will be going on in Central Australia in the next few years.
The minister mentioned many of the private sector projects that we are aware of that are going to the DCA for evaluation, and even if a good proportion of those get up, we are looking at a very busy period, almost a boom period, in Central Australia and Alice Springs. The Red Centre Resort redevelopment, which I received a briefing on, is an excellent project, and the redevelopment of the old drive-in. One that the minister did not mention is the airport, both in terms of developing a potential international capacity within the terminal, and also using some of the airport land potentially for suitable residential development more on the scale of rural blocks.
There are many projects that are starting to come forward, and I believe that is a sign of confidence and continuing confidence in Central Australia, and it is very welcome to our government. We have never lost faith in the future of the town during the downturn that was in progress when we came to government, and certainly continued with the setbacks that we saw in tourism due to circumstances beyond the control of anyone in the Northern Territory.
The Desert Knowledge project was mentioned. When you look at the actual scale of it, headworks valued at $2.2m; $690 000 going out now for the design, engineering, documentation of all the buildings; and then $11.5m to go into the building of the Desert People's Centre teaching areas, and core administrative and display areas, such as the Living Desert Centre which will be one of the centrepieces of that development. It is going to be a fantastic campus but, more importantly, it is capturing all of the things that we want to do to be a smart Central Australia, to take all the knowledge that we have and really build on it and create a whole new enhancement of our economy through knowledge industries and export of smart ideas.
With regard to roads, the list is equally impressive, for example, the Sandover Highway and the continuation of work on the Tanami Road. You can go out now, you only drive 15 km on the dirt to get to the Tilmouth Roadhouse, and that is an amazing experience for anyone who has lived on that road for as long as I have, to be able to get to Tilmouth Roadhouse and all your fillings are still in your mouth! That is a huge improvement. It is the worst part of the road through the flood-out area around Napperby Creek, and for that to be now bitumen is just fantastic whether you are a mine worker or a truckie going up to the mines, or a person from Yuendumu, Yuelamu, or Laramba, you can get up there now without wrecking your vehicle and wearing yourself out with the driving.
The southern end of the Finke Road, the Plenty Highway and the Maryvale Road are all going to have work done on them. The comments earlier in this debate about the degradation of our road network are absolutely correct. There is a very big need to upgrade or repair roads that have been degraded by years of underfunding. It is equally right to say that we have been chronically underfunded under the arrangements with the federal government and we absolutely need to see that changed.
What I would like to spend most of my contribution on though is the unseen road network, I guess, and the other issues that are involved in meeting the needs there. The member for Nelson was getting to it by referring to the current funding arrangements going out to community councils and the like, and the inadequacy of any of that funding to do significant roadworks or, indeed, to even maintain employment and plant that can allow local people and local communities to take part in road maintenance and road building activities.
Prior to coming to politics, I was involved in a project called the Ananguku Yiwarra Aboriginal Corporation, AYAC. That was based on a very commonsense idea; that is, if you bring a number of communities in a region together and combine their road entitlements, you will actually get a significant amount of money to approach roadworks. Equally, it allowed the combination of such plant as was available from the various member communities, and to combine employment arrangements to allow for a significant training program to be incorporated into the road activities. All of that makes perfect sense when we did the business plan for it, and the consultations with the various member communities.
In the end, AYAC was failure. It was a failure for a very simple reason; that is, that it was predicated on an input of federal money to underwrite - not in the form of grants or hand-outs; it was in the form of a contract - to undertake road maintenance and road building on roads for which the Commonwealth had some responsibility. On the change of government, when the Howard government first came in, all those federal contracts were not honoured and AYAC was left high and dry without the basic revenue stream that its business plan was predicated on. So, there are many decisions made in Canberra, and a lot of political ideology that can often be present when these issues and resource issues are being decided. I can only say that, in line with many decisions you see coming out of Canberra, that one did not make any sense whatsoever. It is to the lasting shame of the Howard government that that project was left the way it was.
The issues that came out of developing that regional roads plan and regional roads program was that, when we actually mapped the roads that were important to the people living in that area - be it for commercial activities or for living in the remote communities or cattle stations - there were 2200 km of significant roads in that Western Desert area. Those included everything from bore tracks that were important shortcuts between different areas and regularly used as such, through to fully formed, major public roads. All of that was part of the road network that was actually being used by people in a region consisting of about nine remote communities, plus cattle stations and commercial operations such as tourism, and so on.
That figure alone was pretty daunting, even though much of that road network was probably a matter of just simply a road patrol with a grader once a year to just simply keep those tracks passable. However, some of the roadwork had to be of a very high order. In fact, to attempt the work on the most developed roads there was over $2m worth of plant needed, much of which had to be bought against the contracted work. There is no doubt that the business plan that was brought together actually made sense. It made sense to the federal bureaucrats to the point that they were prepared to give the project a start. It made sense to the communities which committed to it. Once the work proceeded, from memory, nine trainees were immediately attached to the roadworks - and they were drawn from the different member communities. There was some quite high level training being provided in plant operation and road building to Aboriginal people directly from the communities.
If we can get that sort of result out of a more considered approach to road works, we will not only reflect the actual need both economic and social in an area, but we will also start to develop employment opportunities where we most desperately need them, and that is in the remote communities. If we do not take these initiatives then what will happen to the population of the remote communities, and we are seeing it increasingly, is they will come into town. You will see them in public housing, you will see them out on the streets, you will see them trying somehow to find a way into the life and employment possibilities of places like Alice Springs, or Tennant Creek, or Katherine, where they could, as an alternative, find more satisfying or equally satisfying employment out in the remote communities.
We do not want to depopulate the vast majority of the Territory land mass, and this is the way things are heading. If we do not keep employment out in the remote areas and support it with the core service delivery areas such as maintaining the road network, we are going to see more and more of the urban drift coming into our urban centres and more and more of the tensions and issues that we are seeing around all of our urban centres at the moment because of that drift. It is not a planned change in the way the population choses to live; it is just simply there are no jobs out there, there is no real reason for young people to say out there. They come into town and there is no systematic process to prepare them for life in the town and employability. These are pretty fundamental issues that you can attach to the issue of employment and roads.
The idea of AYAC was noted and it is still reappearing in other roads initiatives. There is currently a group of communities in the southern central Australian area, around the Simpson Desert, exploring some ideas on doing a regional approach to roads. I am referring to the communities of Titjakala, Santa Teresa and Aputula in conjunction with CDSCA and the Regional Development Board. They are looking at a proposal to establish a Simpson Desert Roads Board between the communities. If they can manage that, and it is still very early days and they have much consultation to do both with the private sector and with other stakeholders in the area, there are certainly enormous opportunities in linking the fundamental maintenance of community roads with heritage and tourism interests such as the Lake Eyre Basin to Chambers Pillar tourist route.
Whilst the quantum of road funding is really important, and we have certainly heard a lot about that in this debate today, so is the general approach that we take to creating employment and to tackling the needs of maintaining the road network region by region around the Northern Territory. Our government is very committed to regional initiatives and
Stronger Regions, Stronger Futures
is one of our key policy initiatives. This is an excellent example of where that regional approach can actually open up new approaches to maintaining our roads and building employment and placing that employment where the Territory would most like to see new jobs appearing.
Madam Speaker, I hope that we do see a son of AYAC. Perhaps the Simpson Desert Regional Road Board might be the next one to appear in Central Australia. Hopefully it will get support and that support will be consistent enough for it to consolidate what it is doing.
Mr BURKE (Brennan):
Madam Speaker, in responding to the minister's statement, I will try to come at it from a couple of angles. I will begin by picking up on what the Minister for Central Australia said: this is a statement about regional development. When we talk about how we are going to develop the regions of the Northern Territory, integral to that is the development of our infrastructure and integral in that infrastructure is the road network, which is so vital to the industries that are peculiar to the Northern Territory and particularly dependent on an efficient road transport system as well as the demographics of the Northern Territory with so many remote communities requiring basic road systems as their lifeline.
The statement, unfortunately, dwells too much on what the Northern Territory government is doing and has done, what the Commonwealth has not done and should do, and tries to score points against one particular individual, Senator Scullion. I will get to that in a second. However, it is in the context of the Northern Territory government saying how much they are spending on roads that we really need to get this debate into some sort of perspective.
It was only three years ago that those opposite came to government and claimed that they were broke; they were so broke they could not deliver on capital works programs because the cash was not available in the budget. They had to cancel a whole range of initiatives including repairs and maintenance to our roads because of a lack of funding. They had to put an impost on Territorians to the extent of, in one case, $90 on Territory vehicle registrations just to pay their way, so they said.
All of a sudden we have, in this budget - but something that has been apparent through a number of budgets: claims by the government of record spending. Spending that has never been seen in the Northern Territory and is down to the efforts of this government. The reality is that if Territorians have anyone to thank for improved hospital or educational services, it is John Howard and the GST. If Territorians have anyone to thank for low mortgage rates, it is John Howard and the GST. If Territorians have anyone to thank for less tax on their take home pay, it is John Howard and the GST. If the Northern Territory government wants to thank anyone for the amount of money they have to spend on roads, as evidenced in this statement, it is John Howard and the GST. I am not saying that from a partisan political point of view particularly; it is a fact.
The government should be honest enough to admit that their flexibility in spending, their ability to claim record amounts of spending in a whole range of areas is, at the end of the day, dependent on the efforts of the GST in bringing greater resources and flexibility to the Northern Territory rather than the efforts of this government. That is the first point.
I need a briefing on roads funding because I was heartened by what the member for Nelson said at first, and that is that one has to be a genius to figure out where the actual dollars go. He said it before me, so neither of us is a genius. I have great difficulty in coming to terms with the claims of amounts of money provided by either government, the quantum and how that quantum breaks down into monies spent on highways, urban arterials, local roads, unincorporated roads, how much of that is from the Commonwealth, how much is repairs and maintenance, and how much is Black Spot funding, etcetera.
The minister's statement claims that the Northern Territory government will spend $54.5m with a maintenance component of $31.8m, a total of $86.3m, which reflects a 46% increase in the capital component of the annual program. It does not, however, give us any indication as to how that is broken down. I asked that question of the minister at the Estimates Committee. I asked him how much was spent by the Northern Territory and how much was spent by the Commonwealth, and I did not get a satisfactory answer, and I still have not. I flag that because, whilst the minister refused to take on notice in the Estimates hearing the questions that I had written to him about, I hope he has the courtesy to treat them as serious questions and, in due course, give me an answer to them, particularly as they relate to roads funding and the way it is broken down because it is extremely difficult to understand. I also request a briefing at an appropriate time on this particular issue of roads funding in the Northern Territory.
The minister said that the Commonwealth has boosted their funding for 2005, bringing the total to $131.5m, which gives a Commonwealth spend of $45.2m according to the minister's statement. Yet, if you pick up the Commonwealth literature for 2004-05, as put out by Senator Scullion, but also cross-checked through other documentation from the Commonwealth minister's office, I understand the figure is $54m in 2004-05. So, what is the true figure? It is only a few million dollars difference, I suppose, but it is important that we are all talking from the same sheet of music in terms of the amounts of money involved.
As I said, when you look at the different programs involved that are Northern Territory government programs and also Commonwealth government programs, importantly, the money that is provided to Local Government and what they spend, and also particular programs that flow to Local Government, such as
Roads to Recovery
monies, we need to get a very clear understanding of just exactly how much money is spent. However, simplistically, and the minister may correct me on this, it seems to me that the Northern Territory government has received about $23m extra from the Commonwealth for spending. $10m of that has come courtesy of Local Government out of their local roads allocation, as the member for Nelson said, and from their own generosity, because they realised that that money, which would normally flow to them for their own local roads, needs to be better prioritised into unincorporated roads. Their funding will drop to $13m, as opposed to $20m, a $7m drop, and that is a significant contribution that Local Government has made.
The Northern Territory pool has been increased by $10m; $7m of that has come from Local Government and there is about $3.7m extra that has come from the Commonwealth. It is a small amount in one context, but also a large amount in terms of the recognition that the Commonwealth is starting to show for these particular difficulties that the Northern Territory government faces.
I believe the minister wasted part of his statement trying to pick an argument with Senator Scullion as to whether the $10m that has been spent on the beef roads is Northern Territory money, or whether it is Commonwealth money. If you read the senator's statements, he says, '… from Commonwealth resources'. I believe it is particularly sad, frankly, that you read two press releases, one from Senator Scullion, one from Dr Chris Burns, and both of them, word for word, are claiming that they are spending money, the $10m, on a whole range of areas – the Point Stuart Road, Buntine Highway, Barkly Stock Route, Buchanan Highway, Maryvale Road, Central Arnhem Road, Rankin Road, etcetera. Both press releases are essentially saying the same thing. One is saying: 'Aren't we great, we are the Northern Territory government and we are spending it', and the senator, who represents the Northern Territory, is saying: 'This money is coming out of Commonwealth resources and it is being applied in this area.' What is the argument? The argument is that a government should be doing what governments should do – they should be spending money wisely on infrastructure in the Northern Territory, on infrastructure that Territorians desperately need.
The real message that comes through in that is the message that the member for Nelson has raised, which I would like to emphasise, and that is that we are in a different environment when it comes to funding. As someone who sat in COAG, I can tell you that when it comes to arguments as to whether Local Government should get funded directly from a HFE basis there is no sympathy, none whatsoever, from any premier of any state in Australia. Local governments are particularly dependent on the generosity of their own state governments in how they get funding to top-up the allocations that they get - allocations which we know are particularly insufficient for their own needs.
In the Northern Territory, we have a totally different situation to the rest of Australia with these many thousands of kilometres of unincorporated roads. The message that the member for Nelson was giving the minister quite wisely is that the idea in the statement of an alliance is good. I put on the record that I support that approach. I support the statement that local government is not only integral to this whole process, but local government is going to get stronger in this process. The simple answer is that the Commonwealth government has been burnt before and, whether it is a Labor government or a Coalition government, they have been burnt by states not applying monies that they want rightly targeted to a particular area, and using that money in other areas. More and more, they are looking to local government organisations, apart from state governments, in order to direct that funding more closely.
I would not be surprised if the Commonwealth government is speaking directly with LGANT and the Cattlemen's Association to find mechanisms to give more money for beef roads so it is not channelled through the Northern Territory government. That is not to say that they have anything against the Northern Territory government. It is simply the way that they will deal, more and more, with state governments. When we talk about the issues that we have in the Northern Territory such as the poor state of the large road estate that we have to manage, coupled with the particular and compelling arguments that arise with regard to regional development in the Northern Territory and the sorts of industries that are dependent on that road infrastructure, there is a compelling and particular argument for the Commonwealth. However, it is an argument that will not win, if it is run by a state government bagging a senator, particularly when the roads minister is on his own side. It is just not going to win. You might get some, but I would suggest to you, whether you like it or not, the some was probably the efforts of the Cattlemen's Association and Senator Nigel Scullion.
That is irrelevant at the end of the day because Territorians do not care. What Territorians want is everyone working to the same sheet of music and looking for the best arguments and approach that will build a compelling argument to the Commonwealth. That is why, in the context of the minister's statement, it is particularly disappointing that he spent so much time dwelling on who spent what, who put out what sort of press release, and who is a hero in what sort of money we received from the Commonwealth. Whether you accept it, minister and NT government, you are small boys in the game when it comes to dealing with the Commonwealth. Those ministers are quite capable of courteously listening to you and probably having a chuckle as you walk out the door; that is the game they are in. They are dealing with all of the states, and dealing with states that have particularly strong lobbyists and, also, as you know - whether it is a Coalition or Labor government - seats that are far more sensitive and important to them than the Northern Territory.
As a jurisdiction we have to, therefore, recognise that there are particular weaknesses in running partisan arguments to the Commonwealth, regardless of who they are, but there are compelling arguments if we work together and run those arguments that are particular to the Northern Territory. Aboriginality is one of them. There is no state or territory other than the Northern Territory that can mount such compelling arguments for improving the basic lifeline that Aboriginal communities need - no government. As the member for Nelson said, we will not do it by running the fact that the roads are unincorporated and, therefore, we should get more. We have to run an argument that says: how do we deal with this issue of unincorporated roads? Maybe we need another model. The model may be the Cattlemen's Association working together with the minerals industry, with LGANT, with the Northern Territory government.
It also may be the Northern Territory government taking a subservient role in the process - who cares? - as long as the dollars start flowing at the end of the day. I believe that the alliance that has been formed, that the minister mentioned in this statement, does point the way to the future.
It is also interesting to read a briefing that LGANT gave in regards to their version of
Roads to Recovery
money and also the review that is currently being conducted on
Roads to Recovery
money. It is interesting to note the review was carried out jointly by the Australian Local Government Association and the Department of Transport and Regional Services. This is the member for Nelson's point: local government is doing a lot of work in this area, and doing it very well, and need to be recognised for the efforts they have made. In the review, it says that one of the points in getting access for funding for
Roads to Recovery
money was the lack of strategic approach to asset management and other road hierarchy were some of the reasons why the Northern Territory government was not recognised to receive
Roads to Recovery
funding. So we have to do a lot more in this area and a lot more does not mean 'you CLP stuffed it up'. I can get glossy brochures from Barry Coulter that show a very strategic approach to our roads in Northern Territory. What we have to do is recognise that if there is a lack of strategic approach from the Commonwealth perspective at the moment, take that message to the Commonwealth.
In terms of
Roads to Recovery
money, there is one point here in this briefing that I notice, that there is $400m available in this review. We all have to compete on a national basis and it says here: 'State and territory governments will not be encouraged to be the principle proponent'. That is what local government is being told by the Commonwealth. That is a very important message. We have to recognise that maybe if we need money we have to give local government a higher profile in these particular negotiations. That is the main point I wanted to make in this debate.
However, the minister's statement is welcome. I do not want to argue about the quantum of the money. It will be interesting to see how it is all broken up. I am pleased that the government is spending more money and if they want to take the accolades for that, that is fine. But the people who benefit from this are more interested in the Territory working as a cohesive team to get more money rather than playing partisan politics on some of these issues. Local government, I believe, is going to take a greater role in funding issues in the future. We should recognise that, especially when it comes to roads, and find a way to work with them and improve their capacity to argue their case, and for the Northern Territory government to play a strong and supportive role.
We are quick to talk about, 'Let's put the highest profile team together we can to talk about gas onshore', when we know that in many respects these are driven by commercial, competitive interests no matter how much money we put into it. This is something that is strategic and critical to the development of the Northern Territory, and in our own hands. The money is there, it is available, it does not appear on commercial interest arguments as a high profile. It really depends on the Territory presenting its unique case in a way that is strong for the Northern Territory and we should all be working at that.
The minister mentioned that ACIL Tasman has done modelling in terms of the benefit of this roads funding in the future. Maybe I have missed something. I am not aware of ACIL Tasman. I find it interesting that they have done so much work determining the economic value of jobs created or will be created. Well, that is fine but I would have thought if you are going to engage a consultant like that, that one of their tasks would be to do precisely what I have said: help us figure out the best way to access more funding for the Commonwealth.
Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, I move that the member for Brennan be granted an extension of time.
Motion agreed to.
Thank you. What they have done is fine. I would have thought that those sort of consultancies should be focussed on the strategic arguments and the way we structure ourselves and put together those arguments for the large amounts of money that are becoming available for this issue. Australians are becoming more and more interested in their own infrastructure on an Australia-wide basis, so the opportunity is there to leverage off that.
The minister mentioned the importance of the beef cattle economy of the Northern Territory, the live cattle trade which has been a proud industry developed in the Northern Territory over some years. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that it is a very sensitive industry. It has enjoyed pretty good boom years notwithstanding the Asian set back, which they survived better than a range of other industries. It is a critical industry that could be, through monetary exchange rates, critically injured overnight. It is an industry that is competing in the international market on infrastructure that is not up to standard. Everyone knows that. That is a compelling argument with the Commonwealth because the Commonwealth wants the industry to survive, along with everyone else. Clearly, from the efforts of the Cattlemen's Association, the Commonwealth is becoming more and more sensitive to it.
With regard to jobs, I want to make one point, minister, whether you are aware of it: the Civil Construction Association and others are very worried about the fact that the Northern Territory government in its own way might move to prime contractors. We heard the minister talk about Defence and TenixToll and how these prime contractors can operate. There is a worry that the Northern Territory government is looking at triennial funding, for example, to prime contractors for contracts not only for road maintenance, but road marking, verge cutting, etcetera. Obviously, if it is on the agenda, it needs to be taken off the agenda very quickly and clearly by the government. The issue has been raised with me as a concern that the government may be moving in that way and, of course, the smaller contractors, which are very dependent on these sorts of roads maintenance contracts, particularly in the regional areas, are very sensitive to that occurring. I was heartened that the Minister for Central Australia is aware of the critical importance of those contractors. I hope it is not on the agenda, but let the industry know if it is off the agenda.
I thank the Assembly for the additional time. I thank the minister for his statement. I hope he takes my critical comments in the right light. I mean to be constructive. We are all looking for more funding for roads in the future. I congratulate the government for the efforts they have made to date. Let us work together for greater effort in the future.
Mr HENDERSON (Business and Industry):
Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, I, too, congratulate the minister on his statement. It is good to take part in debate on a statement that broadly has bipartisan support; all of us, whether we hold urban or bush seats, know the importance of our road network. We know it is critical not only for the economy of those regional areas. A decent road network certainly helps to attract investment across the Northern Territory, but there is also social capital and access for people in the bush.
There is genuine bipartisan support for this statement. The underlying theme that both sides of the House understand, as well as the Independents, is that we need more money. There is no doubt that our road system in the Northern Territory needs more spent on it. It is the case that the previous government for many years, and this government, have struggled to match that funding commitment with existing needs. I am sure if we go back over the years of debate in this parliament, certainly for those members who hold bush seats, I think during every adjournment, someone from a bush seat would complain about the state of roads in their electorate. It is probably a topic that has more attention in this parliament from individual members in adjournment than any other specific subject.
It is good to see that everyone in this parliament recognises how important our road network is and recognises the fact that we need more funding for that network.
All of us appreciate that the Commonwealth is falling short in providing sufficient road funding. Just on the pure aspects of equity for the Territory, for Territorians who live in the bush, the Commonwealth, for two rounds of its
Roads to Recovery
funding, is falling short. Territorians are not being treated in an equitable way with other Australians. I believe we all recognise that fact.
To that effect, rather than this House just debating this statement, members putting their view, and the motion from the parliament being that the Assembly take note of this statement, I propose, Madam Speaker, and I move, that the motion be amended by omitting all words after 'Assembly' and inserting the words:
(a) the shortfall of some $20m in Commonwealth funding for unincorporated Territory roads under the current
Roads to Recovery
(b) promises made to Territorians by the Prime Minister and other Commonwealth ministers that the inequity in the Territory's road funding would be addressed;
(c) the increase in road funding committed to this year by the Martin Labor government that seeks to cover part of this gap,
calls on the Commonwealth to urgently address this shortfall in unincorporated road funding for the Territory by –
(i) immediately providing $20m to cover the existing shortfall; and
(ii) providing equitable and appropriate ongoing funding that would allow the Northern Territory to properly maintain these roads.
I have a copy of that amendment to the motion being circulated now.
Speaking to the amendment, I propose this as a way forward, in a bipartisan way, for this parliament to show to the Commonwealth that Territorians deserve to be treated with equity, that there is fundamentally no greater issue for the Commonwealth to address in terms of the numbers of its programs available, that this
Roads to Recovery
program is not equitable to the Northern Territory, and this is the second round of this program. I certainly recall in this House that the previous government also acknowledged that round one of
Roads to Recovery
funding was not equitable for the Northern Territory. I believe we need to send a strong message to the Commonwealth that we deserve to be treated with equity, that it is a bipartisan position in this House, and that Territorians will not be taken for mugs by the Commonwealth.
My colleague, the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, in speaking to the amendment, will table copies of correspondence, from the Prime Minister and other ministers, essentially promising the Territory that the inequity in this program has been noted and will be rectified. The fact is that the inequity may well have been noted, but it certainly has not been rectified by the current funding allocation, where we received a paltry additional $1m. My colleague, the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, will advise that when Senator Campbell addressed the Cattlemen's Association, he made a very clear commitment that round two of
Roads to Recovery
funding would provide equity to the Northern Territory, and that that funding shortfall will be met. I believe, and from the cattlemen with whom I have spoken, that they left that meeting with a very clear belief that the Commonwealth had made an undertaking to match the shortfall. That shortfall is estimated to be $20m over four years, and to find in the budget this year and the statement just afterwards that all we received was a paltry $1m, was a real slap in the face.
I agree with the member for Brennan's comments. As he said, we need a cohesive team rather than partisan politics, and that the roads are strategic and critical to the future of the Northern Territory, not only its economy, but its social capital. We are certainly working on presenting our case to benefit the Northern Territory. That work is being done. However, I believe that a bipartisan motion from this parliament telling the Commonwealth government that an additional $1m is not enough really does put weight on the credibility of the case that the minister and the department have put to Canberra.
The Territory government does come to this debate with credibility. The credibility is that we have stepped in and funded an additional $10m into that part of the road network in the Northern Territory where, in every other state in Australia, through
Roads to Recovery
would have been funded by the Commonwealth. This is classic cost shifting from the Commonwealth to the Northern Territory. The very fact that our roads are unincorporated - and unincorporated for good reason, given the sparse nature of the Territory's dispersed population, small communities, remote areas - means that to have established incorporated local government councils in these areas is very difficult to achieve. Territorians who are living in some of the remotest parts of Australia on communities, trying to run pastoral properties, trying to seek investment into the exploration and mining industry in the Northern Territory - all of those issues are compounded by the fact that, due to a quirk, I suppose, of government structures in the Northern Territory, Territorian Australians miss out on funding that other Australians take for granted.
It is absolutely outrageous that the Deputy Prime Minister's seat of Gwydir, the leader of the National Party's electorate, receives more in
Roads to Recovery
funding than the entire Northern Territory. I am sure the seat of Gwydir, with the rolling green hills and great country that it is, does have some needs. However, I am sure that if John Anderson was to travel on some of the roads in the Northern Territory, he would certainly see that there was a very distinct inequity in the amount of funding that is going into his seat, as opposed to some of the most disadvantaged people in Australia - people battling to make a living on that country, whether they are running pastoral leases, tourism businesses or seeking to invest in mining.
It really is an inequity of this particular program, and it is one that we thought - and I congratulate not only the current minister but my colleague, the member for Casuarina, the previous minister, who have, for the first three years of our term, tried to work constructively with the Commonwealth to resolve this issue. They were certainly led along by the Commonwealth which said: 'Well,
Roads to Recovery
Mark I, those decisions have already met; the funding is already in place. We cannot tamper with the formula because we are going to disadvantage other states we have already made commitments to'. Okay, you can cop that, even though it was a $20m cop. Essentially we were told: 'We will fix it up in round two'. Well, we have had round two come through, and round two has given us a paltry $1m extra. It is just not good enough. It does not matter whether it is a Labor Party in government in the Commonwealth or a Conservative Coalition, the fact is that Territorians deserve to be treated with equity, and this program clearly does not do that.
The reasons for the motion are there. I hope that they are being supported by the opposition and Independent members in this House, and we can approach the Commonwealth as a united voice in the Northern Territory.
The estimated shortfall in part (a) is some $20m for unincorporated Territory roads. I believe we all agree with that. All sides acknowledge that promises were made to Territorians. My colleague will table correspondence from the Prime Minister and other ministers which show that the inequity had been noted and would be addressed. That is just noting that commitments were made to Territorians that have not been delivered on. It also notes that we are playing our part. We are putting in an additional $10m coming from other areas. Also, potentially, we could have committed that money, and said: 'No we are not going to take the hospital pass from the Commonwealth and put money in where they have a clear responsibility'. That $10m could have gone to health, education, and other infrastructure programs. Noting the critical problems that we have out there, we have put $10m of our own money in.
We have gone in above and beyond where we should on that, and made that commitment. The Commonwealth should acknowledge that. I call on the Commonwealth to urgently address that shortfall by immediately providing $20m to cover the existing shortfall. That is money we have already lost that we could add to our $10m and make a significant difference to those roads within 12 months.
Every one of us, particularly bush members, have talked about roads. I am sure the roads the member for Macdonnell talks about every adjournment are pretty appalling. A $30m injection this year to those roads would make a real and significant difference. It is money that is quite rightly ours. The last part of the amendment is 'providing equitable and appropriate on-going funding …'. We are not asking for any more than any other Australian takes for granted on this program. In fact, we are asking for less because we have already put $10m in of our own money.
This really is an issue where the Commonwealth has let the Territory down. It has let the Territory down very badly. Commitments were made to the Territory government that that inequity would be addressed and it has not been addressed. The amendment is put forward in good faith. I hope that the opposition and every member of this House can get behind this amendment. This is a crucial issue to the Northern Territory. Those roads really are in a state of significant disrepair. We are doing what we can, and an additional $10m commitment is a very significant commitment. I have moved the amendment and ask other members to contribute to that amendment.
Mr DUNHAM (Drysdale):
Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, this is a very cunning stunt. In the first place, the government has control of the business of this House and has the capacity to put forward whatever motion it so choses. It chose to put a statement forward, which we had notice of last night, and it has chosen in the course of this debate to amend it to a statement which calls on the Commonwealth government to do various things. It is a bit foolish for a number of reasons. In the first place, the member who moved the amendment is not the minister with carriage for this affair, so one wonders whether it is a considered government position or whether it is a rush-of-blood to the Leader of Government Business' head. In any event, he obviously did not listen to the contribution made by the last speaker, the member for Brennan …
I did. It was a very good contribution. Very good.
… who said that it is foolish to think that you can go down, flex your muscles, beat your chest bravely, give a Tarzan call and go into the office of various federal ministers and say, 'Listen buster, you had better do this or you are in big trouble'. What he was trying to say was, if you posture, finger point and create political mischief out of this, it is not helpful. That is what he tried to tell them. Obviously, the Leader of Government Business did not listen to that contribution ...
I did. It was a very good contribution.
... because if he did he would not be so foolish with parading an amendment of this type which is political by its flavour and certainly is something that could be done by a number of other means. For instance, if the government really wants to note the various things that are in this, if it really wants to call on the Commonwealth, it can do so. It can do so by sending the minister to Canberra tomorrow. It can also, if it wants to promote a bipartisan approach to this, take some members of the opposition with them on these various little jaunts.
There are a number of ways they can do this but this particular one is not such a good idea. Despite the pious finger pointing about the great record of the current government, one only has to look at the current state of our road asset and how it has deteriorated to realise that there is a fairly significant rebuttal that could take place from the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth could say, 'Okay, if you have been so clever and so good and you have done such a lot of work, how come you have allowed the road asset in the Northern Territory to deteriorate to the state it has?' It is no good telling me we have this much in the budget and that much in the budget and it is going to go to local contractors, because those of us who travel the roads frequently know that the road asset has deteriorated significantly under this government. So, if you want to go there, you are going to call all that on your head.
Also, as I understand it, there are significant amounts of federal money yet to be allocated. I would have thought a better lobbying approach would be to try to seek to garner some of that rather than to call on them to do various things immediately. And remember, a federal election is imminent.
I would have thought that an amendment such as this is put there for some sort of political capital rather than, as the member for Brennan said, let's go for the pragmatic approach and try to get as much money as we can. If we have to do that by using a variety of other devices, let's do it. Do not think that you are going to go down there and throw your weight around and somehow bully federal ministers into doing this, which is what the Leader of Government Business seems to be doing.
It is a fairly unorthodox strategy to decide, midway through a statement, that you are going to send a barbed letter off to the Commonwealth. It flies in the face of the advice you have been given by contributors from this side. It is not a matter of your history of seeking the opposition to help you with this vexed problem. This is merely a stunt.
There is a major issue being missed by the minister for roads. If you take the initial words of the Leader of Government Business, he said: 'It is good to have bipartisan support on a motion'. I hate to disappoint him, but I have some difficulty with this statement on the basis that whilst it deals with the good stuff, it does not deal with the bad stuff. There is much that is unsaid. This is the minister who, in a previous incarnation, went on radio and talked about 'Deadly Territory', some of the problems on our roads, and the unacceptable road carnage that happens. We have a sweet statement here that has been written by a bean counter and which says we could get a lot of money out of roads and many jobs could be created. Roads are there for a number of reasons. Bad roads cause problems with carnage, and road safety is something that should be foremost in this minister's mind.
For him to say: 'I want to talk about roads, but only the cash', leaves a few significant elements missing. This is the same bloke who hairy-chestedly went out and said: 'Get rid of the traffic lights! We do not like them, they hold up traffic and when I come in from the bush, I like to give it stick all the way down the highway and I am going to get rid of a few!'
This is the fellow who is conveniently forgetting matters relating to road safety in the Northern Territory.
Let us have a look at road safety issues. There have been some reports done. If you look at matters relating to deaths on our roads and you look at the main things that could be done, there are a number. For instance, we could have safer vehicles. We could impact on people's behaviour. We could have new technology and we could have safer roads. If people look at those various issues, safer vehicles have the potential to save 175 lives per annum. Behaviour can save 158 lives per annum; new technology, 35; safer roads, 332 Australian lives per annum. Safer roads is a matter of immense importance.
It is great that we have the cash, that we have grader drivers employed, that we have people in traineeships. The incumbent issue for this government is to make our roads safer. If you look at our profile, and the minister gave us some data on it, the great preponderance of our roads are unsealed. If you look at our fatalities and crashes, you can see that they feature largely. Here is some data: there were 53 road fatalities in the Northern Territory from 31 January to December 2003; 55 at the same time in 2002. Of the 44 fatal crashes, eight occurred when the car ran off the road, four were angle collisions, 20 were single vehicle rollovers - nearly half. Of the fatal crashes, 32 occurred in rural areas; 12 in urban areas; 31 on sealed dry roads; 11 on unsealed dry roads.
How many were attributable to alcohol?
How many were attributable to alcohol? That data may be here. Alcohol-related: of the fatal crashes, there were 25 attributed to alcohol.
Seat belt not worn, 19. In the year 2003, seat belt not worn is up to 26. It has gone up 36.8%. Alcohol is down to 20, which is a drop of 20.
Seat belt-related fatalities are right up there. Non-speed related was 85%. Safe roads, alcohol, seat belts. The minister presents a roads statement and he mentions safety once! It is right at the end. You have to go right up to the back of his statement. On the second last page, he said:
… the … roads program …will allow for improvements that deliver safer roads.
So there it is. That is the only mention of it. I would have thought it would be a pretty significant feature of a minister who had a priority statement for this House, to come to this place to talk about how he was going to make the roads safer, particularly when under his stewardship this asset have deteriorated to a significant extent, to the extent that it probably impacts on accidents, and that is what the data will tell you.
Will you table that road safety report?
There are a number of things …
You should have it.
It is your statement.
No, the road safety report, will you table it?
No, I shan't table it, because it will be available through – it is a public document – it will be available through the library if the minister's bill passes today, which it did, so it will be available in the library.
The history on roads here has been long, and one of great battles and travail and hardship. In the 1960s, when I lived in Katherine, there was great expansion of our beef road system, and it has been a fundamental building block in the economy of this place. Not only were we carting cattle, not only were there less injuries, less DOAs - dead on arrivals - not only did it increase the carrying capacity because our trucks could move to triples now and double deckers, not only did we over-design our roads because we did it to allow heavier vehicles to go on them, but all of that is the legacy behind this. It is a matter of keeping in front of that because, as one of the speakers said, live cattle is a big industry for us.
All-weather bridges have certainly been built, and I expect a contribution from my colleague with responsibility for Primary Industries, and you, Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, on tourism, because there is no doubt that these roads play a significant part in our economy.
There are a number of other things that were not mentioned. I was interested with the comment from the Minister for Central Australia where he talked about AYAC. That is a very interesting story. He was pretty humble about his particular role in that. That was a situation where various communities got together, pooled plant, and pooled their road funding. The Minister for Central Australia was a critical component of that because he was employed at the time by them, and it turned into something that was not as it intended. He conveniently blames the Commonwealth government. I will grant you that that was a contributor to it, because we sat on a Public Accounts Committee and looked at roads, airstrips and barge landings after that, and certainly that was a component of it.
However, there are a number of other components. I suggest he have a talk to the people at Areyonga, or those who can remember what happened that time, and he would take probably a more humble approach to how he approached this matter in parliament. His fingerprints are all over the failure of that and he has to be pretty careful how he talks about it.
The federal member, Mr Snowdon's legacy also has some fingerprints on local roads. Previous to his intervention, probably about a decade or so ago now, the road money went to the Northern Territory instrumentality because most of the local government up here had very small road lengths, and the major road lengths were between communities getting out there. So our massive unincorporated area meant that they could look to pool plant, they could look to training programs, they could look at all of that. The Commonwealth government, in all its wisdom, decided this must go via the Local Government Grants Commission, direct to local governments. It is a matter for history that those amounts, being untied as they are, have not necessarily gone into the road estate, nor have they been of sufficient volumes to allow major works, and the capacity to coordinate programs, which was done with ease some years ago, is now problematic.
Missing from the statement are matters relating to inter-modal transport, and although it gets a mention here, I think its page 19 of the report, where we talk about - it cannot be page 19, that is the last page - anyway, it talks about how we put things on and off ports, roads and rail, and I would have thought that this is a pretty important component of this speech. You would think that being able to transport - here it is, page 16, sorry:
These sectors are heavily reliant on air, rail and sea transport to convey goods to market …
He is talking about our industries there. I would have thought if you built a business park, for instance, and you put it adjacent to the rail line that you would have the capacity to take containers straight off the rail line at the back of your yard and put them into your hardstand and storage area.
If you have a look at Toll, which has proudly said that it will spend some tens of millions of dollars at the business park, you will see there is a significant drive from the back of their yard to the container on the train, which is mere metres away. That drive is about 2 km. The reason for that is they cannot access from the back of their yard to the train. I would have thought it a pretty simple issue really, you just extend the hardstand and they can take containers directly off the train into their yard. The reason that is not such a difficult concept is that it is actually on the concept plan. When you look at the business plan diagrams, there were these various devices - forklifts and cranes and others - taking containers off the train, straight into the shed.
For the roads minister to talk about how industry will benefit from road, rail, air and the rest of it, you would think things that the government could fix - simple things that are within your province like the construction of a hardstand area adjacent to the rail line and the facility that has been bought by Toll - would be something that is fixable.
Do not just bring statements in here where you want bipartisan support, where you can clamour about the great benefits that are in it. Let us also look at some of the things that are missing. It would seem to me the business of this parliament - given that we have only spent 15 minutes on legislation - is now largely taken up with statements that have been brought in by the government on areas that they want to talk about that portray them in an issue of sweetness and light, and they expunge important issues like road safety.
Why would you take road safety out of a road statement? Why would you take issues like inter-modal transport out of a road statement? The Chief Minister is going to Asia and telling them all about the port and the rail and all the rest of it. One would assume that statements such as this could be used for the benefit of the Chief Minister if that was the intention. However, it is not; it is playing to a very narrow gallery here. It is really to have a slap at the feds prior to a federal election; have a slap at one of our local members who will be facing election; pat yourselves gratuitously on the back for work that I do not believe you have done - I do not think that the road estate is better now then when you came to government – and keep silent on all those important issues like people who die on our roads.
If this government is proclaiming its Aboriginal credentials proudly every time one of its members stands to speak, I wonder if they are aware of issues relating to Aboriginal road trauma. There is a graph here from the Road Safety Council. If you want a copy, it is actually a Northern Territory publication. So, do not ask me to table it, because it is actually yours. It shows the road trauma for 10 years from 1994 to December 2003 - significant numbers of pedestrians and people not wearing seatbelts. Mr transport minister, Mr road minister, let us look at people dying before you come in here and start slapping yourself proudly on the back about how you are going to go off and fight the good fight with the Commonwealth.
Priority issues are upgrading our roads, sure. Priority issues are related to money, that is true. But do not be so silent on matters that you can fix, and matters such as if you want to run less tax - which we know to be a lie - more jobs - which we know to be a lie - and great lifestyle. If you really want to run great lifestyle, let us have a look at people getting access to places where they want to go fishing, where they want to travel, where Aboriginal people want to commute between communities. Let us address that great lifestyle by having some better roads.
In one of my jobs, I was Director of Aboriginal Field Services and we did have the responsibility to build roads into Aboriginal communities. I can tell you, it is a matter of great significance for Aboriginal people. If you look at priority expenditure calls on government, roads are right up the top. We, sitting in this parliament, would like to think health and education and a variety of other issues are high priority, but if you go and knock on the doors and sit at the board tables at council meetings, you will find roads are right up there. It is because they are very important component of Aboriginal life - missing from this statement.
Let us get back to some of the issues that you should be talking about that you can do. Let us look, before we start pointing fingers at the Commonwealth government - and I agree with you, by the way; they should be giving more. They should be giving us more money. I agree the states can demonstrate that they will spend at a greater rate than the Commonwealth has, and I agree that money coming out of fuel excise should be put to better use in matters such as this. But this is posturing. I can say that the opposition will not be supporting this amendment. I can say that we will be proposing …
Just apologists for Howard.
Before you call people apologists have a look at the best outcome you can achieve. The best outcome you can achieve is not to posture domestically on some issue. The best outcome you can achieve is to get some more money. In doing that, one would think you would enlist people on this side of the House, that you would enlist Senator Scullion and perhaps Mr Snowdon and others, to put your case. But this business of constructing some sort of a blunt instrument to flog the Commonwealth over the head is a fairly poor device and will be seen for what it is.
Mr KIELY (Sanderson):
Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, I speak in support of the amendment to the road funding ministerial statement and just remind members of what the statement was about. It was employment creation through the roads program. Particularly for the member for Drysdale, I will say that again: employment creation through the roads program. In a question in Question Time on 18 May 2004, I had the pleasure of asking the Treasurer a budget question about the impact on economic development. I asked the Treasurer if he could advise the House of the likely impact of Budget 2004-05 on the Territory's development. In part of that reply, the Treasurer stated:
The infrastructure spend of $441m will generate and sustain 4000 jobs directly in the construction industry. More importantly than the figure itself, we have packaged this infrastructure to leverage more private investment and even greater growth in jobs and economic activity. For example, the Mereenie Loop Road has $38m over the next three years …
He went on to comment that the CLP had 26½ years to do that but they never did, and that the expenditure:
… will generate millions of dollars in tourism inflow into Central Australia once it is completed over the next three years.
Even taking into account those areas that the member for Drysdale mentioned such as the condition of our roads and how improving our roads would be a better thing all round for the general health and wellbeing of our community - and he is right there; I have no problems at all with that statement. I would like to see a great road system to help lower the incidence of road trauma that we suffer from. The fact is that this statement is about employment opportunities and economic development through the creation of a great roads program. What the amendment to the road funding ministerial statement does is call on the Commonwealth to recognise the $20m shortfall and for a bit of equity and a bit of fiscal equalisation to the states. That is what it is all about.
The member for Brennan in his contribution spoke quite eloquently. He can put together a great debate. In fact, he is probably the best debater you have over there at this point in time. He was saying, 'I have in front of me two press statements, one from the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, and one from the federal CLP member for the Territory …', the CLP chap who sits with the Nationals and attends the National Party room and attends the Liberal Party room and discusses policy and discusses allocations, and he is saying, 'At the end of the day, let's not get caught up in the politics of this. What does it really matter? The Territory gets their money from Canberra. It is all one big bucket after all. It is all one big bucket and it all comes from Canberra and so what, who claims it?' He said: 'What does it really matter whether it is through hard slog or whether it is out of the money that the Territory gets which has to look after our hospitals, our schools, our police force, our courts, our child welfare, and has to address all these other things? It does not matter because that money we have really came from the federal government, even though we have control and we have to allocate it as best we see fit, or whether the money that is directly allocated from the federal government is put there and then topped up, and the federal government's claim that the money it gave us, if we want to spend it on the same sort of programs that the federal government is running, that is all well and good, we will have it'.
I can see the basis of his argument and that is fine. We all pay our taxes. We are all Australian citizens. Fine. He made the point that at the end of the day, it is the outcomes that we want to achieve. We all want to see a good road network because of the economic development and the employment opportunities that that will bring the Territory.
Going on from what he was saying, and I agree with many of his points, it seems to me that it would not have been too hard to get a bipartisan approach. Even his argument about special factors; he said, 'If you are not getting anywhere talking about unincorporated roads, try a different tack'. I was heartened to find that he has discovered that 30% of our population is Aboriginal and lives in the bush. I thought it was great. I thought it was a bit cynical that we should only trot them out when we want money, but he had a valid point. What the heck, if it is going to get you a result, why worry about the means to get there. So sure, claim these special factors. Claim remoteness; have a look at the sparseness of our population and how it is spread across the Territory; have a look at the disadvantage in the bush; have a look at the beef industry. Look for partnerships between the beef industry, between remote communities, between tourism. Look at the economic benefits that this will bring to the Territory and then make your bid. No argument at all with that.
The member for Macdonnell was virtually pleading with the minister and said, 'Time and time again, minister, I have offered to go hand in hand with you to Canberra. Hand in hand and I will walk down any halls; I will meet with anyone, anyone at any time in order to get it'. This is what this amendment is hoping to achieve. Here we have the member for Brennan, an ex-leader of the party, a man who was leading COAG and knows what he is talking about and knows how to negotiate, saying let's give bipartisan support; we do not have our fair share out of Canberra, there are ways of doing it. We have the member for Macdonnell who lives out in the bush, who understands the conditions of these roads and knows what they mean to communities. He is saying let's get together. Then we have the member for Drysdale who lives on a five acre block in the middle of suburban Darwin and would not know the Berrimah ...
Born in Katherine. Unlike you.
... Line if it got up and bit him. Lives over in Leanyer ...
Born in Katherine.
It does not matter where he was born. I am telling you where he lives now. He lives in the northern suburbs of Darwin and does not give a fig for the road network and the economic and employment opportunities that that will create for our people out in the bush. The point was made by the Minister for Justice and Attorney-General that economic development in the bush does rely on the road network. If we can get a good, strong road network in place then we will not see the depopulation of the bush. We will not see this drift into the cities that many places get.
This is a good aspect. Once again, there was a very strong argument put forward by the Minister for Justice and Attorney-General about the need for our roads and the benefits that they bring to the remote areas. Once again, there was acknowledgement across the floor that we do not spend enough on our road networks. It is not a matter that we do not want to. Everyone, previous and the current government all say if we could, we would spend more. There is acknowledgement that the Commonwealth just does not. When we have a look at the efforts in Canberra and the pork barrelling that is going on in the seat of Gwydir, what is happening in the southeast corner of Australia, and when we look at the money that is going into there in comparison with the money that we need here in order to keep our population settled and the bush populated, we need these roads to create employment opportunities for the future generations, not only for the Territory but also for the whole of Australia. It is just not happening.
This is a very timely amendment. It shows foresight. Not only is he the Leader of Government Business in the House, he is also the Minister for Business and Industry. If ever there was a person who should bring such an amendment to play, it is him. It is well considered. It is very timely. Opportunistic? Yes, because we have statements of bipartisan support. Of course it is opportunistic. I congratulate him on his foresight of seeing the opportunity to unite the House, to bring it together and send a clear message to Canberra.
I commend the government. I also commend the member for Brennan, and the member for Macdonnell, for their willingness to stand with the government and petition Canberra for more funds that we so rightly deserve, we so rightly need if we all wish to take the Territory forward.
Mr BALDWIN (Daly):
Oh, what a woeful contribution, Madam Acting Deputy Speaker. If you wanted to be bipartisan in this, and we do, let me say that at the outset, we do not need that sort of contribution. It is just woeful.
I thought I was going to stand and speak on a statement that has many highlights in it to do with our roads program and employment creation through it, but it has taken a bit of a turn with the introduction of an amendment at the end of the statement. The member for Sanderson seems to be confused about where we stand on this amendment.
I heard the member for Drysdale say that we will not be supporting that amendment as it stands. That does not mean that, with a few changes that I am sure that we could put across the Chamber, and I am going to let my colleague, the member for Brennan, introduce those changes, that we could come to an agreement on this and definitely be bipartisan. I do not have a problem, personally, with most of that. I believe there are a few things missing that we can add. I do not mind noting, for instance, the increase in road funding committed by your government. Certainly, we will try to enhance that motion, and if we can get agreement on those enhancements, then we will be supporting a bipartisan approach.
I have to say, though, minister, that this has not been well thought out on your part. To come in here and have a statement that is full of bagging of a Northern Territory federal representative on the one hand by one minister and, on the other hand, another minister then saying let us take a bipartisan approach and amend the motion at the back of the statement, all get together and say, let us all go to Canberra and lobby for something we all think is important, is not really a good idea.
You have to understand, and I am sure you do, that the federal representative you talk about, Senator Scullion, has done enormous amounts of work to try to lobby for extra funding in this area, and there is a component of funding yet to be released, as you have even outlined yourself, that, hopefully, the Northern Territory will get a large slice of. You seem to gloss over that fact. In fact, he has been a facilitator for the cattlemen to get entrée at every level throughout federal government. They will back that up, and you know that yourself, because of your interaction with them. He has been lobbying for all sorts of things. One of the things you have not mentioned in here, which I thought would have been fairly important, very important to me, is the study that is currently being undertaken by your department, with Commonwealth money, that Senator Nigel Scullion and I went and got from the federal minister for roads late last year, and that is the Victoria River Flood Plains study - $250 000. Senator Scullion and I made representations to the relevant minister and secured $250 000 at the blink of an eye. That is the sort of work he is doing.
You do not make mention of that. You have carriage of that study. I would like to know where that study is at, because I would like to now start to get the information from that study and do some lobbying work, and I am happy to do it with you. I am sure I am going to get support from the cattlemen and the road transport people on securing the funds, along with our federal representatives, to upgrade that bridge so that the number one highway around Australia is not cut for three months at a time, particularly our only strategic link to the west. That is a point of interest that is being totally ignored - the good work that the senator has done in that regard - totally ignored in this statement.
If you want to chastise one of our federal representatives, you only have to go back to when the member for Lingiari, when he was a federal representative, and it has been mentioned here before, what his role was in terms of roads money to local government, and what a terrible situation that has now created for local government in their capacity and capability to carry out local road works. You can come in here casting all sorts of aspersions at our federal representatives when, if you were in a mind to be bipartisan, you could do well to recognise the efforts of all the federal representatives who have the best interests of the Territory at heart.
There will be some extra paragraphs that we would like to put to that amendment. Before doing so, minister, you might like to lay on the table the correspondence between the federal government and your government, so that we are fully aware of the situation as it currently stands. I am sure you have those copies with you. It would certainly add to the debate so perhaps we can have a quick look at them. That would certainly enhance the debate as we move towards that amendment.
I also make the point, because I thought I was speaking to this statement rather than the amendment, that there are a couple of issues that need to be raised during this debate. I have raised the Victoria River study. I take this opportunity to raise the issue that I have written to you about and that is the Hayes Creek roadside stop. I am not sure that you have the letter yet, but you should have. I think it was faxed, actually - certainly posted. As things currently stand on the Stuart Highway, Emerald Springs is not open as a roadside inn. The owners have leased it out twice now in the last two years. Both of the lessees, unfortunately, seem to have done a runner and, once again, Emerald Springs is closed. Whilst it has a roadside stop - a place for trucks to get off the road - there are no services available for travellers, tourists, locals and truckies - no fuel, no food, no accommodation as we speak. I believe it is time - and I have written to you in support of the owners of Hayes Creek Wayside Inn - to look at making Hayes Creek a major roadside stop and trucking bay.
I know this is a federal issue more particularly than yours, but you do have carriage of works on the national highway with federal funding. It is quite a considerable amount of work, not impossible and, with the equipment available these days, not too huge in its expenditure. Taking out part of the hill opposite Hayes Creek and moving the highway over slightly, would take out that curve which is a dangerous curve, and would make access to Hayes Creek much more suitable. This would provide a major halfway stop between Katherine and Darwin on both sides of the road so that road trains, caravans, and travellers have a designated spot at the halfway point of 150 km from Darwin to Katherine. That would be a good move.
The passing lanes that you have not provided in the last three years - not one that I am aware of, anyway - between Katherine and Darwin – and, hopefully, you have some in this financial year's budget - could perhaps be converted to providing some of the cost towards that major stop. You will find that the trucking industry would be very supportive of this if you ask them. I do not want to speak for them, but I am sure if you ask them they would provide the support, and also, the tourism industry and locals who travel extensively on the Stuart Highway, including those from Tennant Creek, Alice Springs, and Katherine.
I also ask you to look at reinvigorating the Katherine to Daly Basin concept and the road that has always been planned to go through there. The road currently at the end of Beasley Road at Edith Farms goes to Fergusson River as a major road. The crossing there has been surveyed. The route from there through to Stray Creek at Douglas Daly has had initial surveys done and it would be a good idea to have a look at the plans and reinvigorate the works on starting that road proposal.
It was always proposed to put in a track suitable for four-wheel drives in the first instance, thereby making it not only a connector the road for Katherine to Douglas Daly and in reverse, but also to allow a new tourist track and then, slowly as demand warranted, you would increase the quality of that road. That needs to be re-invigorated and I hope you take that onboard. Also, more work needs to be done in the general Douglas Daly/Stray Creek area. As you know it is a very productive area. The money that you have spent so far is welcome. It is an ongoing program but for the sake of the cattle industry and those residents and owners there that needs to be increased.
There were quite a few other issues I was going to put on the record. The only other one I will mention before we look at these amendments in a proper fashion is that with all the money you talked about for capital works on our roads, civil works and so forth, it seems to me that there is a real problem in the procurement and tendering section of government in getting out tenders and getting this money released. I keep hearing it from all points; from civil contractors, and public servants. Minister, you and the Minister for Business and Industry need to do something. I am sure you both know that this is a problem because I think you had representations about it. It could be that it is just because there has been attrition that has caused problems with getting the right expertise in those areas. I do not know. You are in government; you should be able to find out. Anything you can do and you should do to increase the capacity in that area to get this money on the ground would be welcome by industry. You cannot let it go as it is because the complaints, the cries for something to be done are getting louder and louder. I know that you know it and so does the Minister for Business and Industry.
Minister, if you could table those letters so that we can debate this with all the relevant information in front of us, we will only be too happy to provide some input to the amendment as proposed by the Minister for Business and Industry to enhance that and stand together to ask for further assistance for road funding. I look forward to getting copies of those letters.
Dr BURNS (Transport and Infrastructure):
Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, I am speaking to the amendment. I will reserve the right to wrap up at the end of speakers to the statement and the amendment. I just want to speak specifically to the amendment.
I believe this is a worthwhile amendment. It certainly signals a bipartisan approach to this particular issue within this House and an approach to Canberra on the issue. The first part of the amendment (a) notes a shortfall of some $20m Commonwealth funding for unincorporated Territory roads under the current
Roads to Recovery
program. I emphasise to the House that the figure of $20m is not a number that I have pulled out of a hat …
May I seek a point of clarification, Madam Acting Deputy Speaker? Standing Order 56 states:
In all cases the reply of the mover of the original question shall close the debate.
May I have your confirmation that this contribution will not close debate?
Madam ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER:
This is not closing the debate.
He is the mover of the original question.
Yes, but he is speaking to the amendment.
Madam ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER:
Yes, he has a right to speak to the amendment.
I know he has a right. I am merely seeking that this does not close debate.
Madam ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER:
It does not close the debate.
Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy Speaker. I will return to my point: this figure of $20m is not a figure that I have pulled out of the air; this is a figure that officers of the department have calculated very carefully. When I met with the former roads minister, Senator Ian Campbell, in Perth on 30 April this year and put these issues to him in a way that represented the best interests of the Territory, he suggested that I put it in writing to him with some attachments. As the member for Daly has asked, I will table that letter and the attachment, which basically outlines what we are asking for. I will quote from my letter dated 6 May:
My assessment is that the Northern Territory has been underfunded for these roads …
Meaning the unincorporated roads:
… in the current program, and an allocation of $5m per annum in addition to the current allocation would be a more equitable approach.
I am willing to table that letter and members opposite are welcome to peruse it. Implicit in the letter and the calculation of $20m over the four years of the program is the fact, I believe, that the Territory has missed out on a total of $20m of funding for these roads over the past four years. That is why in point 1 the ask is there for $20m to cover the existing shortfall. Not only are we asking for forward funding, we are also asking for the ledger to be squared up.
To some degree, there has been acknowledgement both by Senator Campbell, Mr Anderson and by the Prime Minister that the Territory has missed out. I will outline what they have said. A letter from the Prime Minister to the Chief Minister …
A point of order, Madam Acting Deputy Speaker. I ask that those tabled papers be distributed as the minister is speaking because we need to refer to them.
Madam ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER:
Thank you, member for Brennan. Please continue, minister.
Thank you. A letter from the Prime Minister to the Chief Minister dated 16 July 2004 states:
As I have previously indicated, the Australian government is aware of your concerns about the level and distribution of funding in the Northern Territory for roads in unincorporated areas, and will take these concerns into account for the development of arrangements for the extended
Roads to Recovery
program, to apply from 2005-06.
I table that letter. That is important correspondence. Here is a letter from the Chief Minister which probably precedes that letter, where she points to comments made by Mr John Anderson, the Deputy Prime Minister, at the Global Freight Connect Conference in Darwin. She quotes Mr Anderson as saying:
I want to say today that we have heard your concerns. The funding arrangements under the extended program will fully recognise the transport needs of the Territory's unincorporated areas.
So there you have it, and I will put that up there also for distribution to members opposite so that they may peruse that. So we have the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and also, in a bit of correspondence here as well, it may have been from Senator Campbell when he was roads minister, he reiterates the issue of the needs of the Northern Territory. I do not seem to have that letter easily to hand right at this moment.
Basically, we have had acknowledgement from the federal government that the Territory is missing out. I believe we had Senator Campbell come here and give some undertakings to the cattlemen, and the cattlemen are still pursuing those undertakings. I know the cattlemen would like to see a bipartisan approach to this particular issue. They are very keen to address road issues. They see the roads as their economic underpinning and lifeline to the live cattle industry. Gone are the days when you could just drove cattle and take them here and there. There are deadlines to meet. There are ships at the port. It is very important that they be able to do that.
We have been continually lobbying. The cattlemen have been lobbying. There has been an estimate made by the department of $5m per year that we are on about. There is an undertaking by the Prime Minister and other Commonwealth ministers that it would be addressed. Part (c) says that this government has increased road funding for these unincorporated roads, particularly the beef roads, in very recent times.
I know what members opposite are saying, and the member for Nelson, that it is GST revenue, why make a song and dance. I am not going to get into that blue right at this moment. I have no problem at all with Senator Campbell's …
You need to know. That is the critical question.
No. I do not have any problems at all with the media release that Senator Campbell had, where he said, on 30 June 2004:
Federal Roads minister, Senator Ian Campbell, today congratulated the Northern Territory government for allocating $10m from GST funds to upgrading the beef roads. This decision is an outstanding example of a government wisely investing windfall gains from GST revenues.
I have no problem at all with that - a media release like that is welcome. I am not really going to go there. What I have been talking about in another instance certainly is not as upfront as Senator Campbell has been in terms of allocation of GST funding. I have no problem with at all, with saying, yes, it has come out of the GST funds. It has come to the Northern Territory government. The Northern Territory government has allocated it. I will table this media release. I commend Senator Campbell for his comments. They are straight up and down, they are direct and they map out what has been happening.
In short, I support this amendment. I know there are further instalments, as the opposition has said, to come out of the remainder of the
Roads to Recovery
program; the remaining $400m which, to some degree, will be based on submissions. However, I believe we have to be in there as a united Territory, this Legislative Assembly, and also with the cattlemen, to put our case to the Commonwealth. I take on board what the member for Nelson, and some of the opposition members, have said, that one of the problems is we have these unincorporated areas and, basically, what are we going to do about that, and how are we going to address those issues. Those are very large issues. I know my colleague, the member for Arnhem, in his ministerial capacity has a stronger regions policy which is all about drawing regions together and getting some form of governance there. These are wide issues. We know the cattlemen are not all that keen on local authorities and having to pay rates. There are big issues there in incorporating those areas or putting them under LGANT. Those are questions that the Commonwealth could rightly ask. However, the fact is that we are dealing with history, with what is, and with a short time frame. It is incumbent on all of us to cooperate in a bipartisan way to try and address these issues.
I was encouraged by the member for Macdonnell, who talked about going hand-in-hand with me to Canberra and making approaches through the halls of power to those who might listen to us. I am quite willing to entertain that. If we get a proper bipartisan approach, I am quite happy to go there with the member for Daly as well, or the shadow. We just need to have a united front here. We all agree that the Territory has been missing out and we need to join together.
The member for Brennan said that there is a weakness in partisan arguments. I did not get the second part of that, but I am pretty sure he said that there is strength in a bipartisan approach. I hope I do not misquote him there, but that was my sense of what he was saying at that stage. I agree with that. That is why I support the motion. It encapsulates what the situation is and where we should be going. I am sure the Leader of Government Business will be quite willing to entertain amendments that are in the spirit of that. I am interested to hear what the opposition will bring forward in those amendments.
In conclusion, Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, I support this amendment.
Mr BURKE (Brennan):
Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, I am encouraged by the minister's comments because he finished by saying that he was genuinely keen to embrace amendments that would strengthen the amendment the Leader of Government Business has put on the table. I take more comfort from that, than the fact that the amendment came from the Leader of Government Business. Frankly, I do not believe I have seen a situation in this House where a minister has been usurped in his own statement by an amendment from his own party. I would have thought that …
You have not been here very long.
Well, I have been here 10 years but, of course, not as long and do not have as fine a memory as you in some instances. You can correct me on that, member for Nhulunbuy.
I am also interested in the fact that the Deputy Chief Minister, seemingly, is aware of what is going on. The last time the Leader of Government Business acted arbitrarily and unilaterally to influence the Chamber, the Deputy Chief Minister came in and overruled him. I hope that all of this has been worked up in a cooperative manner, in the spirit that the Leader of Government Business proposes, with the support of the Deputy Chief Minister. I find it very strange that the Leader of Government Business would take it upon himself to usurp the minister in this way. If the current Minister for Transport and Infrastructure was going to Canberra with an amended motion to lobby his federal counterpart, and I was a federal counterpart, I would say this guy did not even have the ingenuity or …
Savvy - I am trying to find the right words - to come up with the amendment himself. He has someone else in his own party who has to take the initiative for him …
We are a team.
Well, you said it was a team. You seemed like a fairly sick member of the team when you were supporting the amendment; that is all I can say. You did not seem to have the same gusto you had with your statement. It seems to me that that might have come out of left field from your point of view and, for that, minister, I sympathise with you.
However, if the amendment is being put in the way that the government intends, and you want support from the opposition, this amendment does not go far enough. It certainly contains some words that are incorrect, even by your own statement of the letter from the Prime Minister. In fact, you have verballed him. You said that Prime Minister said these issues would be addressed. The Prime Minister said these issues would be taken into account. Anyone who knows the Prime Minister or knows the way the Prime Minister would speak, 'taken into account' would mean 'Yes, I will listen to your argument'. It does not mean you are going to get the funding. So 'addressed' is quite a different interpretation of what the Prime Minister has said. That is quibbling over words and in the spirit of cooperation we would stay with those words addressed even though we believe they are actually incorrect in terms of identifying the Prime Minister's intent.
The point that is not in this amendment is that it does not say to the Commonwealth strongly enough the depth and breadth of the support that is here in the Northern Territory on this issue. It talks about the Northern Territory government's efforts but no one else's. As I said in my contribution to the debate, if you want to impress the Commonwealth, and particularly if you want to go further with a motion that is going to be put to the Commonwealth, I think you have to put it in a way that the Commonwealth would see the motion for its genuineness and not be seen in a political way to bash them up. It would be seen as recognising honestly the efforts of various contributors to try to solve the situation. The simple fact is that the Northern Territory is not alone in its efforts to address the situation. Efforts have been made by our federal Northern Territory representatives in parliament and, in that, I will include Warren Snowdon. I have not singled out the CLP federal representative. I have said our federal representatives and they need to be recognised in a motion of this type.
The efforts of LGANT need to be recognised because they have taken a shortfall in funding in order to contribute to the
Roads to Recovery
program to put monies outside of their own local government areas. They need to be recognised. The Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association needs to be recognised for the efforts they have made in cooperation with federal members.
In that regard, Madam Speaker, I move an amendment to the amendment that has been proposed by the government. The amendment, for ease of reading, follows after paragraph (c) of the government's amendment and inserts a new paragraph (d) and new paragraph (e):
(d) the significant effort made by the Commonwealth through GST revenues and the
Roads to Recovery
program to respond to the situation with increased funding; and
(e) recognises the achievements of our Northern Territory federal representatives, the Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association and LGANT to highlight these issues.
And lastly, at the end of the motion add:
Forward this entire debate, with a covering letter co-signed by the Minister and Shadow Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, to the responsible federal minister.
I would like to move that amendment, Madam Speaker, and then speak to it.
You want me to move that amendment now, or do you want to speak to it?
I would like to speak to it.
So you must speak to the amendment.
I am speaking to the amendment and I am speaking to it in the context that this is a genuine amendment to the amendment that has been moved by the government. As you can see, it seeks to not change the words of the government's amendment even though we would take issue with some of the fine points of those words. It does not take issue with that. It seeks to leave intact the whole of the government's amendment and simply seeks to give this debate and this motion the strength that it needs in order to impress the Commonwealth.
The way to do that, I believe, would be to recognise some simple facts. Firstly, we have already recognised the effort that the Northern Territory government is making and continues to make in the original amendment that the minister has moved, but, fairly, if you want this issue to be considered properly by the Commonwealth, we need to recognise that the Commonwealth is making a significant effort, through GST revenue and the
Roads to Recovery
program, to respond to this situation with increased funding. They are doing that with the increased money that they have guaranteed to the Northern Territory and with the undertakings that have been given in the letters that have been tabled by both the former minister and the Prime Minister to undertake to take into consideration these very serious issues.
It is a fact, and you cannot deny it, that the Commonwealth is making a significant effort to find a methodology to work through this situation to advantage Territorians, and that is all we ask. Fairly, we need to recognise the achievement of our Northern Territory federal representatives, the NT Cattlemen's Association and LGANT to highlight these issues because it is very important; it shows that we are working in a bipartisan way and recognises other simple facts. These are genuine efforts that have been made by lobby groups and genuine sacrifices that have been made by LGANT in order to see the priorities of funding being put to the areas most needed.
I cannot see, if we are genuine in this debate and honest in our bipartisan effort, which is what the government stated when moving this amendment, that they would have any concern with the addition of paragraphs (d) and (e) to the original amendment. I say that to emphasise that we are not quibbling with the accolades that the Northern Territory government is giving itself; we are leaving all of those intact. We are saying that to strengthen that argument, the motion and the amendment, recognise the other contributions and undertakings that are being made in order to give this motion more strength.
Third, the amendment at the end states:
Forward this entire debate, with a covering letter co-signed by the Minister and Shadow Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, to the responsible federal minister.
That will have weight. This will not be something that is a news item the next day or that might be played one way or another by some people in partisan politics; it would be seen as a genuine effort by the Northern Territory government to impress upon the Commonwealth all of the issues that we are dealing with.
Sadly, I do not think the federal minister would take much notice of the member for Sanderson's contribution. He would probably flick over that one fairly quickly. The member for Nelson has made some important comments about different methodologies and structures that need to be put in place.
If the Commonwealth does not do it and it is not in this motion, you will need to include the fact that someone needs to check the ledger out. Someone from Treasury needs to make sure that all the figures are right in terms of what the Commonwealth is claiming and what the NT is claiming and how the money is being spent. That needs to be finely done because the last thing we want is go to the Commonwealth with an argument that is depending on the figures in the minister's statement only. I imagine that the Commonwealth would very quickly put holes in that. That needs to be done by Treasury, but that can be separate from this amendment.
In the same way that the government has said that they could not see that we would have any concern with the original amendment, I cannot see why they would not, in a spirit of bipartisanship and presenting the debate in a manner that shows the seriousness of the issue, and demonstrate clearly to the Commonwealth that we recognise where efforts have been made by various parties. It is not the Northern Territory government alone; it is others, including our federal representatives, the NT Cattlemen's Association, and LGANT, and they should all be properly recognised in this motion.
Finally, if it is properly compiled by the government and sent with a covering letter co-signed by the minister and shadow minister to the responsible minister, as the motion indicates, I am sure it will achieve what the government intends. With those words, I ask members to support the amendment to the government's amended motion.
Member for Brennan, before you resume your seat, may I clarify something? We now have an amended motion that runs (a), (b), (c), (d), (e), then calls upon the Commonwealth in clauses (i) and (ii), and then has your piece at the end?
Absolutely, Madam Speaker.
Okay. I just wanted to make sure I had it clear.
Mr WOOD (Nelson):
Madam Speaker, I presume I am speaking to the amendment to the amendment.
Thank you. I support the amendment to the amendment. In fact, as I came in, reading the original, or the first amendment, I started writing '(d) the role of the local government of the Northern Territory'. Then I received a copy of the amendment to the amendment, and paragraph (e) takes up that issue. The original amendment on its own does not take into account the importance of those groups. As I said in my original speech, the Local Government Association has played a very important role and actually controls one-third of the road links in the Northern Territory, and to not include them in the original amendment, I believe, would have been quite wrong.
I notice the member for Brennan has also included the Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association. I believe they are working with LGANT to try to solve some of the issues that concern them as well. This particular amendment does cover the absence of those groups in the original amendment, and that is very important.
I would have thought that perhaps the government could have looked at another clause which specifies that we do have special difficulties in relation to unincorporated areas. That is one of the reasons we have this problem. The overall tenor is basically saying to the government, we need to have more money to fix up our problem with roads. It does not necessarily say that we are going to try to do something to also overcome that matter. One way to try to alleviate that problem is to look at ways of not having so much unincorporated road network. If we can overcome that then we do attract funds. I do not have a problem if we can still attract money without doing that. However, I would have thought, on one hand, that the Commonwealth government would be asking why we are not looking at solutions to a problem that does not exist in most of Australia, and it is mainly in the Northern Territory that you have this issue of unincorporated land and unincorporated roads.
Bearing in mind that some of those statements I have made will already go to the Commonwealth minister, I indicate my support of this amendment. I do have concerns that in this ministerial statement, on one hand we are holding out the olive leaf, saying, 'Dear Commonwealth, please help us, we have these problems', and on the other hand, we have another statement which says the Senator for the Northern Territory is not quite telling the truth in certain matters. There are certain issues which relate more to politics than helping the Northern Territory go ahead as one. It is going to be a bit of a funny statement to give the Commonwealth minister. As I have said, on one the hand there is some political rhetoric in the middle of the statement and, on the other hand, we are saying we all love one another and we wish you could help us with a bit more money for our roads.
I support the amendment to the amendment, Madam Speaker, and I hope the rest of the Assembly supports it also.
Leader of Government Business, do you want to speak to the amendment to the amendment?
Mr HENDERSON (Leader of Government Business):
Exactly, Madam Speaker.
Speaking to the amendment to the amendment, and I think we might have an amendment to the amendment to the amendment, but that has been agreed to by the proposer of the amendment to the amendment.
Well, if you have an agreement we might be able to do it without moving a motion.
The principle of the intent from the member for Brennan, the government is going to accept. As I said when proposing the initial amendment, this is an issue that is significant to the Northern Territory in regards to a Commonwealth program, the
Roads to Recovery
program, that should disburse funds equitably to all Australians. We have reached a position where this parliament is saying, as representatives of the people of the Northern Territory, that the current funding arrangements under this program are inequitable. To take that to the Commonwealth in a bipartisan way, hopefully will lend weight in the consideration - not only of the $400m that is yet to be disbursed through round two, but ongoing funding. One-off funding is okay but, as we all know, in trying to grapple with budgets, it is the ongoing funding issues that are difficult for governments when you are increasing capacity in any area.
The agreement which we have reached with the proposer of the amendment to the amendment, is to delete the word 'significant' in paragraph (d) and to delete the words 'GST revenues and', and the rest of the amendment to the amendment to stand as printed. The reason to delete the words …
Could you read out …
I will now read the agreed amendment to paragraph (d):
The effort made by the Commonwealth through the Roads to Recovery program to respond to this situation with increased funding …
And so on.
The reason for deleting 'significant' and 'GST revenues' is that there has been a small increase in the ongoing allocation to the
Roads to Recovery
program, but it is still way short. It is not a significant effort by the Commonwealth through that program; it is a start. We believe that there is a long way to go. In a spirit of cooperation, we are recognising that the Commonwealth has made an effort, even though it is only $1m per annum ongoing, and we are arguing for at least $5m. The reason to take out 'GST revenues' is that GST revenues should not - and in terms of the agreements with the states - will not be accepted by the states as a way for the Commonwealth to walk away from, and abrogate, its responsibility in regard to other funding streams. Very clearly, the
Roads to Recovery
program needs to be delivered to the states in an equitable way. For us to have to divert our increases in GST revenue to where the Commonwealth funds in every other states to this program, is not appropriate. The government does not accept that we should have to use those increases in GST revenues to fund Commonwealth programs, where those programs are funded by the
Roads to Recovery
program in other states.
I am pleased that the member for Brennan has agreed to those changes in a spirit of cooperation and bipartisanship, as I said. This road funding issue is a major headache for the Northern Territory. The Commonwealth has a clear and direct responsibility to fund those roads under the
Roads to Recovery
It is only due to the fact of an accident of our government's make-up in the Northern Territory that we do not have local governments in these areas and those roads are unincorporated. For those Territorians who live in the bush, and those Territorians who are trying to run commercial enterprises in the bush - whether they are cattle or tourism or mining - this statement sends a very clear signal to the Commonwealth that we will not be treated like second-class citizens. We deserve equity with the rest of Australia. We are happy to accept the amendment to our amendment. I thank the member for Brennan for being constructive in that regard.
Mr McADAM (Barkly):
Madam Speaker, I also speak to the amendment to the amendment to the amendment. I am not too certain of the protocols in respect of this whole exercise. Certainly, I am very encouraged by the bipartisan approach in respect to dealing with this very pressing issue which impacts on many people in the bush and impacts on the capacity of the Northern Territory to develop as it should.
Prior to these amendments, the tenor of my speech was, essentially, to work in partnership with a whole host of stakeholders, industry providers, and other groups within the Territory, in addressing the roads issue. That is why I reiterate my gratitude to the opposition in dealing with this matter. Clearly, the minister indicated this previously, when he indicated that he was working with LGANT in forming an alliance to secure a fair and equitable amount of the remaining $400m for regional strategic land transport projects, and this is to be applauded. This is also part of the bipartisan approach of this Assembly.
I would now like to just refer to some initiatives in my electorate and I will return ...
No, member for Barkly, you can only speak to the amendment.
Madam Speaker, the point I am trying to …
The Clerk has informed me that, yes, you can speak to the whole statement now because you have not spoken before on it.
Thank you very much, Madam Speaker, because I would sincerely trust and hope that my contribution would perhaps highlight to some of our federal colleagues the importance of this particular issue.
You will be aware that in this year's budget, $4.8m was allocated for the Carpentaria Highway and the Woollogorang Road to the Queensland border. The allocation of these dollars is the first phase in a longer strategy to improve access to Borroloola and the Queensland border. All weather access to this region will make a difference to all sectors of the industry; I refer to the community, the pastoral industry, the mining industry and the tourist industry. It is important to understand that almost without exception, transport operators into Borroloola are held up almost every year for weeks, even months and, on many occasions, weight restrictions apply which effectively means that food prices go through the roof, mail deliveries are restricted, business people cannot get parts, and building companies cannot get materials for their projects. A good example of this is the Women's Refuge in Borroloola. That is probably about six to eight months behind, which is probably due to the road being inaccessible during the Christmas period and contractors could not get the materials in.
Another impact upon people in that region is that people cannot get into Borroloola, Katherine, or Tennant Creek for shopping. People cannot travel outside of Borroloola to visit their friends for social outings. People are restricted in accessing doctors and specialists. The mining operations at McArthur River Mine, Xtrata, being the miners, are curtailed in getting their product to Bing Bong. Cattle properties cannot get fuel supplies; fuel supplies are rationed in Borroloola; and the list goes on. It is an intolerable situation that certainly would not be accepted by people in other parts of the country.
Included in this first phase is a provision to upgrade the Woollogorang Road as I mentioned previously, and this will provide greater access to the communities and pastoral properties, the tourist industry along that road to the Queensland border. The tourism industry is growing in that particular area and the upgrade of the road, which is part of the Savannah Highway, will also allow more opportunities for recreational fishing. I know indigenous and non-indigenous people in that area who want to set up ecotourism-type business opportunities. They want to set up recreational fishing camps and, obviously, the input for the upgrade of this road will go part of the way in determining whether those people choose to develop businesses.
The same applies to Vanderlin Island, part of the Sir Edward Pellew Group. That is an area of immense potential for recreational fishing and tourism opportunities. What the $4.8m for the Carpentaria Highway and Woollogorang Road means is more jobs and more dollars into the region. It enhances the capacity of the Territory.
As you travel around bush electorates, the issue of road conditions is always contentious and invariably arises. If you fix roads in the bush, you go part of the way to fixing the Territory's economic and social development. Members have heard me speak in the House about opportunities that exist in the bush. I am not afraid to say that I honestly believe that the bush is a paradise; it is an area yet to be truly developed.
This bipartisan approach sends a very strong message to government that we have to do everything we can to ensure that there is an opportunity for real jobs, wealth creation and, most importantly, to improve the quality of life for people. God knows that is our biggest challenge.
Yesterday we heard some very passionate and honest speeches about protecting our children. I applaud the Minister for Family and Community Services for her statement. Whilst we have a responsibility to ensure that we protect our children, we also know that it is a very difficult exercise to even attempt because many of our communities are isolated. Unfortunately, there is little or no employment. There is still a dependence on welfare, excessive alcohol and drug abuse, drunkenness and, as someone mentioned yesterday, gambling. All of those issues impact on our capacity as Territorians.
It is important for people to understand that if you do live at one of those small communities, the chances are probably in excess of 90% that you are going to be on CDEP and you will draw something like about $200 per week. When you take into consideration rent, food and clothing components, the fact that you have to visit towns to buy diesel, fuel, visit specialists, and to attend to other needs, you are not left with much. The only way you can get into town from many small communities is by road.
That is why this bipartisan approach is important for the Territory and how the message is conveyed to the Commonwealth. We cannot address all the issues that are impacting upon our children; we cannot address issues of social disadvantage unless we put in place appropriate infrastructure that gives those people the same social and economic opportunities that are enjoyed by most people throughout Australia.
In the minister's statement - and this is indicative of the partnership and bipartisan approach - mentioned the sealing of the West MacDonnell and Mereenie Loop Road. There is no doubt that this will provide direct opportunities for indigenous and non-indigenous communities to engage in the tourism sector and to develop new businesses. That is what it is all about. The minister has set up a reference group to deal with the issues arising from this proposal. He has included in that group the Central Australian Tourist Industry Association, Glen Helen Resort, Kings Canyon Resort, NT Gas, Santos, Central Land Council, Areyonga Council and the Hermannsburg Community Council.
Again, it comes back to the point that you can achieve things if you work in a partnership in a bipartisan way. That is why I welcome the contribution of the member for Brennan. He referred to the need to incorporate LGANT and the NT Cattlemen's Association. I know that people like John Armstrong, president of the NT Cattlemen's Association, and Stuart Kenny, the Executive Director, and people like Ross Peatling, who manages Alexandria Station will embrace this approach and work in partnership with this House to improve our roads.
I believe it is also important to incorporate other industry sectors in this exercise. I am not in any way suggesting how it should be set up. What I am asking is for consideration to be given to other people who have an interest in this particular area. I have already referred to LGANT. Also, the tourist industry has a role to play, as do indigenous organisations, particularly the Northern Land Council and the Central Land Council. I am sure it is something that Mr Ross from the CLC and Mr Fry from the NLC would be happy to support. I imagine that the horticultural industry would also like to provide input and, I understand, the NT Minerals Council, the mining industry representative body, would also be very keen to be part of this.
The team that I have just referred to, I gave the title of the Building the Bush team. I guess the position that I put is most certainly in the spirit of the existing position that we have before this House.
There is one other matter I want to refer to. When we are talking about building the Territory by providing better roads, better infrastructure, obviously, from that approach, it must follow that there will certainly be more employment and training opportunities for people who live in the bush, and certainly enhancing the existing businesses that work in the bush. However, one of the most important challenges that we can tack on to this is to ensure that there is a real job creation strategy. Most members over the last two to three years would have heard me speaking about the Warrego to Lajamanu road. It is a matter still very much under discussion with the Central Land Council, the traditional owners in Tennant Creek, traditional owners at Lajamanu, particularly those people who live at Mungkarta, and also some of the traditional owners who have linkages at Ali Curung.
The advice that I have received as late as lunchtime today is that there is a very strong desire to work towards opening up this road, very much subject to further discussions, further negotiations, but it highlights a need of the indigenous community in that particular area wanting to negotiate an outcome about that road. They know full well that it would provide opportunities in the long term, and I am referring to opportunities in regards to potential mines because that area is very prospective. They realise that. They know the only way to get off welfare - to get away from this welfare mentality - is to work in with the private sector, the mining industry, and develop partnerships and try to get jobs.
The same applies to tourism. Most people may not be aware, but I have said it in this House previously, that the Warrego to Lajamanu road that I referred to will be the shortest route to Broome from the eastern seaboard. It can be developed as a niche 4WD market and arising from that over time, hopefully there will be some real employment opportunities for indigenous people.
This is just food for thought but there are some real short-term opportunities regarding employment prospects and it can provide some opportunity for people in the long-term. In my electorate, we have had any number of civil construction-type training - VET accredited training - at Ali Curung. They have a great team of people who know how to operate bulldozers and graders, as do the people in Tennant Creek. I also know that the people at Lajamanu have the same opportunities to gain the skills in the civil construction area. However, in many instances, many of these people secure the appropriate training but, unfortunately, at the end of the day there are no the real jobs in it. There is a real opportunity here for the people in those communities. It would be subject to compliances, and maybe subject to some sort of partnership with the private sector in the Territory or, more specifically, in Tennant Creek, the idea being that those people would be given the opportunity - as I say, subject to all compliances such as the tender process, and they have to be competitive – to open that road up if the negotiations and the outcomes are successful.
It is for those reasons that I support the amendments in regards to this very important issue described by numerous speakers as the lifeblood of the bush, that being roads. I applaud the commitment and the dedication of the appropriate minister. As I have said right from the very beginning, and part of the focus of my speech, is that there has to be a partnership developed. The minister has shown that already with his dealings with the NT Cattlemen's Association. I know they are very appreciative of that approach, as is the group of people that I have referred to in regards to the West MacDonnell/Mereenie Loop Road. It is the way to go, and the commitment and the support from the opposition is much appreciated.
Madam Speaker, not only do I support the ministerial statement, I also support the amendments to the amendments to the amendment.
Mrs MILLER (Katherine):
Madam Speaker, I have not spoken at all, so I am speaking to the amendment to the amendment, and to the statement. Is that correct? I am speaking to the lot.
I thought this was going to be a fairly short day. It has turned out to be quite and interesting debate and it has raised many issues. I am very pleased to see that it is going to be a bipartisan effort by the members of this Assembly to go forward to develop a road system. We all rely on very good roads to get us from point A to point B because we have such long distances. I can speak from experience as I am on the road all the time, as are quite a few people in this House. I could probably put my car in Katherine on remote control and say go to Darwin and it would know how to do it.
When we first came to the Territory in 1989, my husband and I were very impressed by the roads, and were really quite surprised to have roads of such a good standard in the Northern Territory. I do not know what we expected but we were pleasantly surprise. The roads have a huge burden on them with road trains; they are just enormous and there are still plenty of them on the road. We have increased tourist traffic and hopefully we are going to have more. The roads have deteriorated to a marked degree, and I notice it especially between Pine Creek and Katherine. They have deteriorated to the point where in some areas they are quite dangerous. We are trying to encourage tourists to come to the Territory with their very flash four wheel drives and their expensive caravans and campervans and most of them want to stay on-road. We have always been known for our good, wide roads and that is our main highways and we need to make sure that we maintain those.
One of the things that I am also very keen to see continued, and it has stopped since the Martin Labor government has been in, and that is passing lanes. I am specifically talking about between Katherine and Darwin because that is where the density of the traffic is. Katherine is the cross roads is the joining place of Western Australian roads, the Victoria Highway and the Stuart Highway. We do get a lot of traffic from Katherine coming to Darwin. It is especially noticeable from April to September. It is very frustrating when ordinary people of the Territory are trying to go about their business and trying to get from Katherine to Darwin as fast as they possibly can without being ridiculously dangerous, to be able to get past caravans, and usually there are two or three or four of them and we welcome them, and also road trains. The passing lanes are a safety aspect that I would like to see continued. I would like to see additional passing lanes installed between Katherine and Darwin.
I support what the member for Daly has said about Hayes Creek. The roadside stop at Emerald Springs has always had road trains pulled in it. They use it as a rest stop, not necessarily to refuel, but to have a feed and mainly rest. That is an extremely important safety aspect for the road trains and fuel tankers, etcetera. When they get to Hayes Creek it is extremely difficult to get off the road, and it is quite dangerous to get back on. There is not a lot of visual distance before you get to Hayes Creek to allow you the time to slow down if you are like I am and tend to be going at a reasonably fast speed at that particular point. I support what the member for Daly has said and I encourage the minister to look at that particular location. It is a half way spot between Katherine and Darwin, and would encourage road trains to get off the road and rest and also the caravan people and those with campervans.
One of the issues I have noticed in maintenance of roads in the last couple of years, more so this year, and I spoke to contractors about it, was the reduction of road side grass slashings of the verges, and the number of cuts that have been contracted out. This is a safety aspect that I would like to see restored to former levels. It is very important to have edges of roads clear because of wandering stock; they are darn large if you are looking at the buffalo between Adelaide River and Pine Creek. The verges should be cut more regularly, or at least once more, so that it makes it safer and gives drivers more vision.
It is fabulous that we are going to have a lot more money spent on our roads to upgrade and maintain them. One thing that bothers me is that you must never forget that you cannot go any further once you reach a river crossing if the crossing or bridge is inadequate. This has happened in many instances, and I know other members have spoken about the Victoria River Bridge. I will add to that because the Victoria River Bridge has been washed out every year for considerable lengths of time, even since the new bridge was finished in 1990. Of course, it was never going to flood and we were always going to have access to Western Australia for 12 months of the year. It has been under water every year. That crossing prevents much food produce from getting through to Katherine from Western Australia and it has been a huge monetary loss to not only businesses in Katherine, but also to drivers of the transport in terms of loss of time and to suppliers of the goods. We should not forget that we have to look at the Victoria River Bridge as another area to address.
Maud Creek Bridge stops many tourists from experiencing the gorge. Whilst it is in the Wet Season and we do not have a huge number of tourists at that time, it has changed. Things have completely changed with the arrival of The Ghan. Passengers pay for their trip to the gorge and their two-hour tour up the gorge before they get to Katherine; they pay for it on the train. We have had many dozens of Ghan passengers extremely disappointed because they have been unable to access the gorge because Maud Creek is flooded. It does not present a very professional outlook and does not encourage the tourists to promote Katherine if they cannot see the gorge which is the icon of the town.
The member for Barkly has touched on this, but another area is the McArthur River Crossing. Upgrading that crossing is very important because it is part of the connection of the Savannah Highway, which comes from Queensland through to Borroloola and then on to the rest of the Territory and through to Broome.
I would like to see river crossings and bridges addressed. We can have the best roads in Australia but without the crossings being accessible during the Wet Season, they are going to fall short and we will not have achieved our goal.
The member for Barkly made an interesting comment in relation to the Warrego/Lajamanu Road. I am very interested in developing four-wheel drive tracks in the Territory, and I have mentioned this before and to the Tourist Commission. We have a huge market from interstate which comes to the Territory to drive four-wheel drive vehicles on dirt roads. They arrive nice and clean in what we refer to as a Toorak Tractor, because most times it has never been off the bitumen, but when they come to the Territory it is the outback, and they want to experience a four-wheel-drive experience. An area that I have always been keen on, and a lot of work has been done in that area, is the Daly River road via the Edith Farms Road. The member for Daly has already touched on that.
I had not considered - and I probably need to discuss this with the member for Barkly - the Warrego/Lajamanu road which would give four-wheel drivers the opportunity to go through that way to Timber Creek and then onto Broome, or either cut across to Halls Creek. We need to develop these areas.
Involving the indigenous communities in many of these programs of developing roads is an excellent idea. It would provide employment and training with real jobs. I will give you one example of one particular community where I know that they need some help, and I know that they would be able to certainly learn a lot and be employed and trained for some time. Just recently, I attempted to access Beswick Falls. I had received from the Tourist Commission this wonderful glossy brochure that said Walking with Spirits – a presentation was going to be put on at Beswick Falls. This has been going on for three years now. Arts Katherine and the Katherine Region Tourist Association have had a lot to do with it. One of the sponsors was the Northern Territory government.
Walking with Spirits has received many reviews and Tommy Lee has been encouraging me to go out and see it, so this year I thought, okay, this looks just fabulous, I am organised and I am in town – we will go. So two friends and I went to Beswick Falls. We turned off the road to Beswick, turned left, I was in my Commodore - and I travelled about 12 km and thought this is not funny because, number one, I could not see a thing for the bull dust, number two, I knew I probably would not get out if I continued any further. I was fortunate enough to be able to get off the road onto a reasonably firm patch, and several four-wheel-drives went past at that time, and all advised that you would probably get bogged; and several people did. I turned around and went out, but by the time I had travelled about 7 km, I was stranded in the middle of the road with my sump sitting on a very hard piece of dirt, but total bull dust on either side. This was promoted as a tourist event 'that was not to be missed', and those who were lucky enough to get into see it said it was that. Those of us who got bogged on the way in said, we did not. We had a great time. We were three country people who knew how to get ourselves out of a bog, but it took us an hour and half.
Beswick is definitely one of the communities that I know could benefit from some money to give them some real jobs, as we have talked about many times before: we need to give real jobs with their employment and training. If that was just one community that has this appalling road, that gets to a most beautiful icon of Beswick Falls, a beautiful place, there must be plenty of other communities out there that have the same challenges with their roads.
I noticed when I was doing some checking today that there is over 680 000 km of roads in Australia which are owned and maintained by local government. That is 85% of all Australian roads. It shows just how much money is needed in that area and how much support is needed there.
One other area that needs to be addressed, minister, when you are looking at roads, is the Stuart Highway south of Katherine. As you know, we had some major flooding of that area earlier this year in the Wet Season. Whilst some work has been done there, we need to look long-term at what can be done to lift that road even further and improve the drainage underneath it. It is going to be ongoing. We are going to continue to have huge challenges with that road – it is a main highway – and it is not going to get better in the Wet Seasons to come. I encourage you to look at doing some major upgrading of the Stuart Highway south of Katherine. With that particular highway out of action, it will disadvantage the people who live at Tindal. So, it is not just tourists and locals not being able to go to Mataranka or south, it is the people at Tindal not able to access Katherine either.
I commend the bipartisan approach that we have in this House to the issue of roads in the Territory. They are vitally important not only for people who live here, but for the tourism industry on which we are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars yearly to promote intrastate. I fully support what both sides of this House want to do, and support the action of getting more money to make sure that the roads within the Territory are constructed and maintained to the highest standards of safety, and provide safe travel for those people on them.
Ms MARTIN (Tourism):
Madam Speaker, this is a very important statement that the minister delivered earlier today. The employment creation through the roads program is a very clear strategy from government. When I heard previous speakers talk about the importance of roads in terms of communities being able to access other communities, enterprises, road trains, buses, the tourism component, primary producers – they are all things that we accept regarding how we need to build our road network. However, a key part of building roads, which has seen over this budget a 22% increase in the dollars going into that roads program, is to make sure that the employment we achieve through building those roads goes to local contractors and, importantly in our remote areas, is able to create jobs.
The title of the ministerial statement is a very clear one, and one that this government is targeting:
Employment Creation through Roads Program
. We are not simply saying let us do this road, and let us do that road, but actually seeing how much local employment, how many apprentices, what training we can get going, what opportunities for local Territory companies we can get happening through that expenditure on our roads. Therefore, it is not just about sealing roads - which is important in itself – it is also about access for industry, particularly tourism, and creating those links with jobs.
Often, when we look back over the past, it has been difficult to do. A contract has been put out to tender, and the best tender, the lowest tender, gets it. What we have to make sure of is that we get smarter than that. We are actually making sure that when there is money being spent - particularly in those remote areas of the Territory where it is difficult to get ongoing job creation – that we are linking up the money that we are spending on roads to that local job creation. It equally applies to housing. I know it has been a challenge for a long time, but we have to achieve it. Much work is being done so that we can see job opportunities develop round the Territory as we are spending this increased money on roads.
As has been recognised in this debate today, we are not being well served by the federal government and their lack of recognition of our unincorporated roads. The pressure needs to come from both sides of this House. We need to be joined in a bipartisan way to get those dollars into our Territory road network.
There are many issues to talk about when it comes to roads. I want to focus specifically on our tourism roads. Improving access and improving our roads underpins most tourism development in the Northern Territory. It is critical to its continued development particularly in the shoulder and Wet Seasons and it impacts on efforts to encourage future tourism investment. The drive market is very important to us with over 70% of interstate and almost 35% of international holiday visitors preferring to self-drive when they are in the Territory. This equates to 261 000 interstate and 143 000 international drive/holiday visitors and that was in 2002-03. We are certainly expecting an increase over the last financial year in those numbers. With that kind of impact of tourism on our roads, it is very important that we are looking at how we can grow roads and grow tourism and mesh those two. It is vital for the continued growth of tourism throughout the NT and particularly to support new investment opportunity.
The 2004-05 roads capital works which others have spoken about, but I want to talk more specifically about, totalled $70m, that is for tourism related, including the Mereenie and Litchfield Loops. Expenditure on road maintenance was increased this financial year and that will be further increased in 2004-05 to almost $30m. These funds will be directed at roads that lift economic growth and generate jobs. The government's record infrastructure program is targetted at tourism, roads, and strategic development projects. And as you would be aware that record infrastructure program this financial year, 2004-05, is $441m.
Tourism will receive an infrastructure boost of more than $60m over the next three years and that excludes expenditure on the waterfront. Combined with the additional $27.5m announced by government late last year on additional marketing money, tourism will be the focus of around $90m of additional expenditure. When you consider that tourism is our second largest industry, and directly and indirectly employs something like 15% of our workforce, we have to be strategic about the dollars we are spending that can actually build our tourism product. Over 950 jobs are anticipated to flow directly from that $27.5m injection into the Tourist Commission into its marketing and most of that jobs growth will be in small business. Even more jobs will directly result from the investment in tourism infrastructure. Our roads are one of the big winners in that infrastructure budget.
The Mereenie Loop is the big one with $38m to seal the Mereenie Loop over three years with $10m in cash allocated in 2004-05. The Mereenie Loop has been one of the outstanding issues and coming from Central Australia, Madam Speaker, you would know how it has been an icon for the tourism industry in Central Australia. The Mereenie Loop takes in Uluru to Watarrka through to Hermannsburg, Glen Helen back to Alice Springs so that you are doing a loop rather than backtrack, and to have that road sealed would really grow some opportunities for tourism in the Centre. Previously, we looked at the road and found that the expenditure was significant and decided that we would have a program that over 10 years put $3m a year towards it. However, that is not going to get the tourism benefits we need. So the decision was made that we would turn that equation around; rather than 10 years and $3m each year, we would have $10m each year for three years, and we were delighted at the response that we had from tourism and the community, and particularly our indigenous community in Central Australia.
As I am sure this House is very aware, the Mereenie Loop consists of 200 km of gravel road. Some of that is sealed. It runs through Aboriginal land holdings between Glen Helen, Ntaria, Hermannsburg and Kings Canyon (Watarrka). The Loop passes through some of our most spectacular countryside and offers an alternative route for visitors travelling to and from Uluru and Alice Springs. I can admit, and it was a bit embarrassing that I had not done it before, but I did the Loop in April and was just stunned by the opportunities that sealing that road would bring.
I had never been to Gosses Bluff before. I had not been to Kings Canyon (Watarrka), and it is a spectacular tourist experience. Gosses Bluff is unexploited in terms of bringing tourists there, and having product that actually enhances their experience of Gosses Bluff. But we need to seal the road. You cannot get private hire on that road. The buses will not use the road currently. So we are missing significant tourist opportunities.
There are a number of objectives in sealing that road; one is to improve traveller safety. Having stayed overnight at Kings Canyon, the community informed me that it is frustrated at the number of accidents that happen on the unsealed road, particularly for international travellers. Safety is of key importance, but there are economic opportunities arising from the road.
The Tourist Commission has commissioned a study to research the impact that the sealing of the Mereenie Loop Road will have, to anticipate changes in tourist traffic along the route and to identify infrastructure requirements and business development opportunities for stakeholders in the region. Those results are expected by the end of October. The study will examine extensions to existing accommodation facilities and new facilities. You can see opportunities for expansion of product. There is an opportunity for a resort like Glen Helen if the road is sealed, then add to that some of the ways we can enhance the experience of the Larapinta Trail for walkers by sealing the loop road.
The resort at Kings Canyon would be well served by a sealed road, which would mean that they would look at expansion. That is important for both Kings Canyon and Kings Canyon Station. There are opportunities to expand what they have there and to bring more tourists into the region. There are possibilities for development of the Larapinta/Ntaria intersection. By sealing that road, we will provide opportunities for tourism accommodation product and opportunities for real job creation on communities.
There is potential at Gosses Bluff at the intersection of Namatjira Drive and Larapinta for a wayside inn, some accommodation and some tourist product there. It is one of the most spectacular parts of the Territory. Central Australians might argue that it is the most spectacular, but for tourism, it is an experience that many who come to Australia are looking for.
Accommodation and product are important parts of what we think will be facilitated by the sealing of the Mereenie Loop to which I am very committed as tourism minister. I will be talking to those who have existing developments in the Territory and looking at how they can expand their facilities, talking to Territorians about new tourism investment and to those outside the Territory who have existing developments or who may be looking at new ones so we can actively pursue new dollars for our tourism industry.
Improved signage is part of what we will do around the Mereenie Loop in the form of road safety precautions and information points, and taking account of the Tourist Commission's study in respect of emergency services, and medical and vehicle recovery facilities.
The sealing of the road will lead to further increases in regional dispersal of visitors and in the average length of stay of visitors in the region, resulting in positive economic benefits. I am delighted at the way the tourism community in Central Australia is working with us on this, and I add into that organisations such as the CLC and other indigenous organisations in the Centre that really are looking to build on what we are doing with public money in sealing the Mereenie Loop and for indigenous organisations to see those enterprises commence.
The sealing of the Mereenie Loop is not just about sealing the road. It is not about spending those dollars. We will look at how we can get as much local employment in the sealing of the road, but the real opportunity is, as we seal that road, what we can gain in private sector investment working in a complementary way. It is a very exciting project and I cannot wait to see the end result and the sealing of what is a magnificent road.
Complementary to that in the Top End is the sealing of the Litchfield Park Loop Road. There is 44 km to seal there and $15m is allocated over the next three years, with $4.5m in the 2004-05 budget. The sealing of the road will assist in park development opportunities for all visitors and will support development of environmentally sensitive tourist accommodation facilities.
The same rationale that applies to the Mereenie Loop will apply to the Litchfield Park Loop sealing – you can actually leverage from the public money spent on sealing that road and start enhancing the tourist product and tourist accommodation in the Litchfield area. We love Litchfield, it is a great park, it is accessible and it is close to town, and areas like Wangi, Tolmer, and Florence and Buley Rockhole are places we know well. The opportunity is there to see some expansion of where we can visit once we get the Litchfield Park road sealed, and we start looking at a parks master plan exercise for Litchfield Park.
Whilst I am talking about Litchfield, it is important that we start looking at Litchfield and Kakadu as complementary experiences. The days of saying Litchfield is better than Kakadu, or Kakadu is better than Litchfield does not serve tourism in the Territory, and what we have to see is complementary experiences. They are very different experiences, and the work being done by John King and John Morse on a revisioning strategy for Kakadu will show that Kakadu is a very different product from the one we have at Litchfield, and we need to grow both. They are different experiences and, as Tourism minister, I want to see the dollars go in to make sure that our visitors understand exactly that: that they are two very different experiences and smart visitors will experience both.
I was disheartened recently, though. Somebody wrote to me and said that on a quiz show a contestant was asked where Litchfield Park was and they had no idea. This particular contestant said it was in South Australia - shame. So we have a bit of work to do and we have to spend a bit more of that marketing money showing the location of Litchfield Park.
The same rationale applies to Litchfield as does to Mereenie. The road will be safer, cars and buses that currently will not use that road, or use the extension of the road through the Cox Peninsula Road, will be able to use it. In 2003, Litchfield Park received nearly 250 000 visitors, and we believe that with the sealing of the road we can certainly increase that.
The Tourist Commission's Tourism Drive Market Strategy will be updated to refine the direction for future development and marketing of themed tourism drives across the Territory, with the objective of increasing visitation and length of stay, particularly in regional areas. The Tourist Commission will be collaborating with the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Environment in the development of an updated tourism drive strategy.
Also in this budget - and again this is part of our overall tourism strategy - is to update our roadside amenities. I am talking about shade and shelter, ablutions and parking areas, both for, importantly, commercial wayside inns and also our non-commercial facilities. The opportunity for wayside inns to access what is a $500 000 tourism development fund is now established. What that will mean is a form of a grant to be matched dollar for dollar by the applicant to be able to upgrade those wayside inns up and down the track. It is very important, as you look at what wayside inns are offering in other parts of the country and the standards they have, that we can match it and match it proudly. That does not mean wayside inns like everywhere else. We want to be uniquely Territorian. Certainly, one of things that I would like to see is that we do have amenities that match in standard what is offered, but do it in a Territory style. As you look at the growth of the grey nomads, the retirees and self-driving market, everyone seems to have a digital camera, and if you could stop at a wayside inn, get on to an Internet site and download your pictures to family back home, it would be terrific to be able to offer that service at our wayside inns. To have facilities that say you are in the Northern Territory but offer those kinds of standards is really important.
So we have that grant program - there is $500 000 in that. There is also $500 00 committed, through Tourism, and that is separate to the Infrastructure, Planning and Environment budget, to look at our non-commercial facilities, the standards there and how we can upgrade them. That, together with the $1m through Tourism, the $1m which is spent every year on our roadsides through DIPE, I believe, will certainly make a difference to what we are offering on the road.
With Territorians' natural hospitality and, often, idiosyncrasies, we can have a stunning product for our drive market. We have put our money where our mouth is in what we are saying. I hope that our owners and managers of our wayside inns take it up, because we can work together to lift that product. It needs money in, and that money is there this year. Putting dollars in is not just about the jobs it creates while you are putting those dollars in, but the flow-on jobs and the opportunities for enterprise development that come from enhancing our product.
We should be enormously proud of our tourism product; it is terrific. However, we can do so much more with it. It is a critical industry for our future. This statement that looks at roads is a key component of that. There are all the other elements, but our drive market is expanding. We want to make sure that, for the long distances our tourists have to travel, they going to get the best and the safest experience. Madam Speaker, I commend the minister on his statement.
Mr MILLS (Opposition Leader):
Madam Speaker, I note that this debate and all that has led up to this point has covered a lot of ground. I commend all members from both sides of this House who have contributed to this debate. We too often take roads for granted. The only time that we notice roads is when they are in need of repair. That is for just the average day-to-day driver.
However, for those of us who had time to consider the history and the development of our nation - our state, wherever we grew up - we have that sense of memory of the time when there were no roads, or when roads were being developed, when towns and communities grew and roads were built to open up areas for development. I always hark back to history to see that first as a dream to achieve something. In my early days in Western Australia as a student in primary school, I learned about the gold rush in Western Australia. There was news that gold was to be found and wealth to be had in the gold fields around Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie. There was a dream and people found their way, one way or another, to where that gold was reported to be. There are amazing stories of people who picked up wheelbarrows and put all their goods on those wheelbarrows and pushed to the bush to get to where that gold was reported to be.
When I think about it a bit further, I realise that we presume that there was a road there, but there was no road. We also presume that they had pneumatic tyres and rubber tyres filled with air. No, they did not. They had iron wheels on their wheelbarrows – those who had the luxury of a wheelbarrow. Others carried their goods on their back. As that dream became reality then, bit by bit, roads were built and they were strengthened and widened, and a community were serviced. However, it started with that dream. The debate here recognises how important the roads are in accessing our dreams.
Continuing with my story about Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie, for those of us who have driven from Perth to Coolgardie or Kalgoorlie, we do not even notice the road, except those who remember the history. Consider, for a moment, those who pushed for the bush with iron wheeled wheelbarrows through the sand dunes, fuelled by a dream. Now you do not even remember and pay any attention. You just wonder how long it is going to be before you get to the service station. 'How much longer, Dad?' before we get there. Then we pull up and have a cool drink and buy an ice cream. 'How much longer before we get there?' It is a matter of hours before you are in Coolgardie or Kalgoorlie.
It is the same here when you read the story of the history of each of the different highways - wonderful stories. For those who have driven to the Timber Creek area, which is a favourite place of mine, those roads that access parts of Gregory National Park and the history that there is behind a gravel road or a dirt road and what lead to the creation of that road. Wonderful stuff. Once a road is fully developed we really pay no attention to it until it declines.
For those who have had any time in the pastoral industry, if you have ever loaded a cattle truck with cattle you will know that it is an almighty job. It is not easy to put a steer or a heifer or a cow onto a truck. Once you have finished that job, you wash your hands of it and away goes the cattle train. If the road is good, then it is fine but too often those roads are corrugated and that journey is an immensely difficult one. There are times when the cattle industry has to make a conscious decision to bypass certain roads which would be quicker to access but are not convenient to travel on due to the damage not only to the truck but also potential injury to cattle.
So, if you have heard those human stories and you have been involved in that, as many Territorians have, we realise that there is much more to these roads than meets the eye. The average person drives on them and pays no attention. It is when they start to deteriorate that we have that dream of what could be. We know what can be accessed by the road, and we force the will of opposition and government at a state level to collectively lobby the federal government to strengthen our roads network. It is the most important infrastructure to the building and strengthening of the wealth and the wellbeing of the economy of this Northern Territory.
For those of us who know the story of Stuart and travel on the Stuart Highway, I am never quite sure where it is but somewhere around Elliott there is a lancewood forest through which the road passes. I often think of Stuart when I am driving on the Stuart Highway because I have read his story many times, and remind myself that he walked and rode on a horse, and he nearly died. He did it a couple of times, unbelievable! When you go through that lancewood thicket around Elliott, I will stand corrected on that, but there is a band where there is very thick forest of narrow timber, and in his journals he talks about how it was impossible to penetrate. They had to skirt right around this thicket of lancewood, as he called it, and after there were some other difficulties they encountered. Whenever I drive through it, I consider how difficult that would have been. No road. It is why history is so important to teach our young ones, and to remind each other of the stories that have gone before, so that we do not take for granted what we have. We must recognise the progress that we have made, and our obligation to make sure the infrastructure that is in place is maintained and strengthened so that we can access and realise the true potential of the Northern Territory.
I commend this House on its current position with regards to recognising the importance of this approach in delivering genuine support for our roads infrastructure. I will finish with this: it is when roads are functioning well that we pay little attention to them. It is only when we have the agitation of a dream, we know what can be achieved, we know that tourism can be strengthened, that our product can be revealed, that more people will be able to see these wonderful places when our roads are created and built. It costs now but the benefits are immense in the future. It is only when we have those dreams and that sense of vision of what is possible that we will focus on the building of roads.
Anyone who has been involved in building roads, smelling the dirt when it has been graded and trying to get it as smooth as you can so that you do not even notice the road, should know what a wonderful thing it is to be involved in a parliament that collectively combines its will to lobby the federal government to ensure that we continue to access and to develop the Northern Territory.
Madam Speaker, I commend the minister and all those who have been involved in this debate.
Mr MALEY (Goyder):
Madam Speaker, I am indebted to the minister for allowing me to speak. I wish briefly to put on the record a few comments from the perspective of my electorate in relation to this statement. I note that the opposition has supported the sentiment of the statement, in addition to the amended amendment to the motion.
There are a few things I wish to raise that relate to the electorate of Goyder. I am not going to re-hash many of the things already stated by members on both sides of the House. My electorate is approximately 52 000 km² and obviously there are numerous major arterial roads that service the horticultural and cattle industries. During the course of moving around my electorate, I travel on those roads in their various states of repair and disrepair. It has been a constant source of complaint from constituents, that notwithstanding they are our lifeblood, for some periods of the year, particularly in the Top End, our roads cannot be used. The need for bridges, infrastructure and upgrading is crucial. I am told by those in the know in the industry that with better roads they can better service their stations and properties. They can better extract produce from those properties and they can keep a regular agistment of cattle on the properties close to the major arterials so they can be transported into Darwin and interstate so that their cash flow is more regular.
The statement begins with a number of motherhood statements, an example being:
It is with pride that I take this opportunity to inform the Assembly of the economic developments that will flow from this government's decisions to substantially increase the level of the Northern Territory's road program for the 2004-05 financial year.
It is a fundamental role of the government to maintain infrastructure, including roads. To consider for a moment that the government was not going to spend money on roads and put into place fundamental infrastructure is a bit of a concern. There is little doubt in my mind that for the past three years, the Martin Labor government has not taken the issue of roads seriously; roads like Gunn Point Road, the road to Dundee, the road to Point Stuart. These roads have not been properly maintained and probably account for half the complaints that come into my electorate office.
Not only cattle and horticulture benefit from the upgrade and investment in roads. As members on both sides have already articulated, tourism will benefit. There is a huge drive market. More and more when I visit establishments, particularly on the Arnhem Highway, Corroboree Park Tavern and the Bark Hut, the numbers of tourists who are part of the drive market seem to be growing. They provide an important source of income for those local business people.
Coupled with the income, there is local employment. There are many people now who live in the Marrakai region who are employed, either directly or indirectly, with industry associated with the drive market. We have a mechanic shop, we have a fellow who does nothing but services wheel bearings on trailers and caravans, and there are other people who are running small tours and the like, and have set up a bit of a one-man-band, with brochures printed on his own computer which he puts in the local pubs. Tourists come in and see that and take the opportunity to look at some of the more local highlights of the Corroboree/Marrakai regions and Mary River regions.
Gunn Point Road – admittedly, there is only one big station, that is Koolpinyah Station, but it is a road which I do not think is specifically named …
A bone rattler.
Yes. It is not specifically named in this ministerial statement, but it is a road which does attract an enormous amount of traffic, mainly local people going to use Salt Water Arm, or Leaders Creek boat ramp, or sometimes to just enjoy a relaxing afternoon on the beach with their families, or take their horses for a swim. The road is particularly rough, even with a grade. Two or three weeks later, the road is, effectively, too dangerous to drive any quicker than about 40 km to 50 km per hour. If you have a two-wheel drive or a trailer, there is a chance you are going to lose a mud guard or you are going to rattle to death. The shock absorbing system on a car is not made to deal with corrugations, and there is about 20 km of corrugations from the Howard River bridge all the way to Leaders Creek boat ramp.
This is a ministerial statement and a ministerial initiative which is probably a little too late in a sense. There have been three years of social experiments, with disasters such as pool fencing, and we have seen $8m wasted there. We have recently seen money wasted on the Warren Anderson debacle. The real work of government should be securing and maintaining these important assets. We have had numerous questions and matters brought before this parliament, also during the Estimates Committee, about the fact that a number of road verges were not being properly maintained and were not being slashed. The former member for Katherine was fairly passionate about some of those issues which this government, sadly, failed to properly address.
In any event, credit where credit is due. The fact is that the government is now dealing with the issue, and the opposition will support the ministerial statement and the amended motion. However, there is a lot of work to do. The proof will be in the pudding. From my limited experience in this place, it is great to see ministerial statements. You can trawl through them and see lots of lovely motherhood statements but, at the end of the day, there is not a really detailed breakdown of precisely where the money is going to be spent and the precise time lines when this is expected to occur, to create the element of certainty which business people could rely upon.
I know the Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association and Stuart Kenny have done a good job liaising with the government, and credit where credit is due, and the government has been mindful of those suggestions and has taken on board many issues which they have put forward.
I checked on what has happened in other jurisdictions. During the course of this debate I typed into the search engine of my computer 'roads and economic development' and read some of the economic and social statements. There are strategic plans for economic development of various cities, rural portions of United States and just general web sites about the economic development strategy and how important roads are. Most of the sentiment which is contained in this statement in relation to the benefits which will flow to the general community by the investment in roads has been articulated and reduced to writing, time and time again.
This government is doing precisely what the Northern Territory electorate would expect them to do; that is, maintain probably the single most important piece of infrastructure which links not only industry, but people, together. I am going to support, along with the members of the opposition, the statement and the amended, amended motion.
Mr ELFERINK (Macdonnell):
Madam Speaker, I am speaking to the amendment to the amendment to the amendment – or however that goes. The reason I am speaking to it at this stage is because I know we have not taken any votes. This debate seems to have become more organic than structural in following the rules of debate but, because there is a settled position, I do not think it matters very much and my comments will be fairly short.
The government came into this Chamber after lunch with a suggested amendment to the motion, which is quite unusual in the way that they have done it. There was no advice given to this side of the House that the government was going to do that. Perhaps - or perhaps not, I am not going to speculate - it was an attempt in some way to entrap or corner us. However, it has turned out to be one of those lucky accidents that occasionally happen in parliaments. The reason that it is a lucky accident is because the government couched their amended motion in such a fashion as to try to engage a spirit of bipartisanship, which the CLP has been happy to rise to the plate and say that yes, we will play along with that, and made some certain offers of amendments - a bit of negotiating behind the scenes while people talked. Lo and behold! We got a motion which is acceptable to every member of this parliament, I imagine.
I believe that the member for Nelson has no major problem with it. I am unsure about the member for Braitling, but I am sure she will probably place on the record, at some point or another, her position – certainly, if she disagrees.
It is one of those lucky accidents and, as a consequence, we now have an opportunity as a united parliament and a united Territory to go to Canberra and do something that I have been arguing for, for a very long time; that is, do it together. I was not kidding when I said I will happily go to Canberra with any minister, sit next to him and lobby for roads funding.
The only issue that I flag is the comment about the $20m shortfall and the call on the government to provide the $20m existing shortfalls. Make sure the numbers are right so we have not painted ourselves into a corner. We have to rely on Treasury and government figures for that. Therefore, let us make sure the numbers are right; that we accept the government's figures. As a consequence, I put on the record my gratitude to all members of this parliament for being prepared to engage in a bit of to-and-fro to get an acceptable motion up. For pity's sake, let us hope the result of all this is some better roads for our industries to roll over.
Do you want to close debate, minister?
Yes, Madam Speaker …
I believe there is one more person who wishes to speak to the amendment.
He has already spoken.
We will allow the member for Nelson to have ...
A point of order, Madam Speaker!
What we could do is we put the amendments and then work backwards. Then he could speak like that.
I want to speak to the original amendment, Madam Speaker.
Okay, let us do that. You will recall the member for Brennan put forward an amendment, and there were some changes agreed to by government. Therefore, the question is that the amendment moved by Mr Henderson to the amendment to the amendment as moved by Mr Burke, be agreed to.
Motion agreed to.
The question now is that the amendment to the amendment of Mr Henderson as moved by Mr Burke, as amended, be agreed to.
Motion agreed to.
The question now is that the amendment moved by Mr Henderson, as amended, to the question – That the Assembly take note of the statement, be agreed to.
Mr WOOD (Nelson):
Madam Speaker, I wanted to speak to this amendment because I would like to reiterate my concern, and I did mention it with the previous amendment, that I believe that the government is not giving enough emphasis to the role of local government. I heard the minister speaking at the third amendment about how the Territory by some accident had a lot of unincorporated land. I do not believe that is right.
Local government has slowly developed in the Northern Territory from a basis of no local government and has slowly developed over the last few years. Local government is the body which the Commonwealth funds to deliver road maintenance and road building money. The Territory, because it only has a small area covered by local government, does not get the same amount of money as other states would get. Now, is that a problem with the Commonwealth or is it a problem with the Territory not addressing the issue of incorporated land?
It seems to me from what the minister said earlier, that we will now have sections of land, freehold land, like Dundee, like Marrakai, which will not pay any rates yet will receive funding for their roads. I believe that people in areas like Litchfield would say this is a form of discrimination in reverse. Many municipalities, and people who own freehold land, pay rates. The federal government then funds those sections of land through FAGs money and they get their roads maintained under that scheme. The government cannot go to the Commonwealth government on the one hand and say please give us money because we have unincorporated land and this is an inequity, unless they show the Commonwealth that they are trying to address the issue of unincorporated roads, or unincorporated land. There is nothing in this amendment that says that that is what they are going to address.
I will still support the motion but I am hoping this statement I make tonight will be read by the minister so that he understands that although I support both the opposition and the government asking for more money, I certainly think that the Commonwealth has to say to the Territory, 'Hang on, what are you doing to raise revenue for yourselves?' It was always an argument with local government in Litchfield Shire. I remember a statement by the then Minister for Local Government, Mr Barry Coulter, who claimed that we had to have local government in the Litchfield area to attract funds from the Commonwealth. It is one of those famous statements. I must admit that when I went out to Marrakai to argue the same thing one time, he happened to be at the meeting where they did not want to be involved in local government and that particular argument was not heard. But I think the Commonwealth would surely be asking the Territory how it is fixing up this anomaly, and what it is doing to raise some revenue. That does not come through in this motion.
I certainly will be talking to people in the rural area saying, 'Well folks, do you know that people over the road there in Dundee who have the same size blocks of land as you are now going to get Commonwealth road funding? And they do not pay any rates'. 'Well then, why should we? We should be asking you for a reduction from our council'. It does not seem fair to me that the government can apply two rules to freehold land. They have to look at that issue.
Madam Speaker, I believe that the statement is good except that it has not recognised the problems of unincorporated land or unincorporated roads, and it should be promising the Commonwealth it will be making an attempt to fix up that issue.
The question now is that the amendment moved by Mr Henderson, as amended, to the question – That the Assembly take note of the statement, be agreed to.
Motion agreed to.
Now, minister, we are at the stage where we have a motion that has been amended. Do you wish to sum up and close debate?
Dr BURNS (Transport and Infrastructure):
Yes, Madam Speaker. I compliment all members for their contributions to this very important statement. It underlines the importance that all of us place on roads. Summing up would be difficult in a very extensive way because all members have been very clear in their offerings, and it would be redundant of me to go over each and every one. I will try to select the highlights and some issues as I have noted them.
I compliment the member for Macdonnell. I think it was he who really kicked off the spirit of bipartisanship and set minds thinking on this side that here was an opportunity to engage in a bipartisan way to put the Territory's case to Canberra. It was a very good suggestion of his. He raised some very specific issues about the Plenty Highway and I will be attempting to follow up on those.
The member for Macdonnell asked whether this is just an increase on the back of a cut. My information is that this is the largest spend in 10 years, so it is a large increase. We have to accept it as that. He also asked some very specific questions about the cost per kilometre of the various classes of roads. When I made inquiries, because I wanted to assist him with some hard figures, I was informed that it is very difficult to put precise estimates on roads because of the geographic diversity of the roads that are built within the Northern Territory, and the different materials used, what is available, the terrain they traverse, there is a range of issues that impact on cost. I am not trying to be unhelpful to the member for Macdonnell, but perhaps the best guide is the figures that are published in the
in relation to successful tenders.
The member for Macdonnell asked about a start date on the Mereenie Loop and pointed out that work has started already. He asked a very specific question about 4 km of widening around the Hermannsburg section and about the remaining 36km. I am informed that there is substantial other work within that section of road. We see that area as being very important and, indeed, the whole Mereenie Loop and the logistics of it, and there will be some announcements very soon about advertisements for design consultancies for various sections of it.
As the Chief Minister pointed out, the Mereenie Loop is absolutely crucial to the development of tourism within Central Australia. I was interested to hear that she had visited Gosses Bluff. I am keen to visit there; I have driven past it a couple of times and it looks a very beautiful and eerie place. There is a bit of science and Aboriginal stories mixed up in Gosses Bluff. I am keen, on my next trip to Central Australia, to visit because it is a reserve within our parks system. I look forward to meeting the traditional owners and Parks and Wildlife officers involved both at Gosses Bluff and Kings Canyon. I will be checking out the road at that time, too.
The Minister for Primary Industry and Fisheries gave a perspective on the worth of our roads in respect of the live cattle industry and, along with the member for Macdonnell, about the importance of roads to the development of horticulture in the Northern Territory. He mentioned quite a few roads which he has travelled on, in the mighty HRONOS, which is his own vehicle, and when you see that vehicle along the highway you know that it is time – it is time, it is moving along.
The member for Nelson gave a contribution from his perspective, which comes heavily from the corner of local government, and that is a good thing for this House to bear in mind. I take on board what he said. When I was talking to one of the amendments, I outlined that it is difficult. We are dealing with the situation as we have inherited as it is today, and there are many reasons for that, and there are probably many different ways that you could go about trying to address that issue. I did mention the
strategy of my colleague, the Minister for Community Development, and that is a way of drawing together diverse interests that might co-exist in a region such as cattlemen on pastoral leases, Aboriginal communities on Aboriginal land. These unincorporated roads go through a lot of cattle country and they also go through a lot of Aboriginal land. It is important to get all those interests together and work through the issues.
He also mentioned Lambrick Avenue and Chung Wah Terrace, and I have to confess, that particular project has caused me a number of headaches, and I have asked a number of times about progress on that particular project. I share the frustration and understand the frustration of residents who had to contend with that intersection at its worst. It was of great concern to me. I take onboard what the member for Nelson has said, that we are talking about high voltage lines here. It does raise questions about a whole range of issues. Thankfully, the project is completed, and although it cost $200 000 more than its original estimate, it was a job that needed to be done because of safety and traffic aspects at that particular intersection. I did not misread you; I did not think you were saying that the money should have gone elsewhere. I am sure the residents, with their new upgraded intersection, are very appreciative of the way it is and I suppose it is a better intersection.
Only for the bicycle path.
A bicycle path. Yes, well I have been out there and looked at the bicycle path.
The member for Brennan approached the issue in a very statesmanlike way and I think …
I did not hear that interjection, but I enjoyed his contribution, and along with the member for Macdonnell, I believe was the reason why we are able to come to a bipartisan position on this particular issue, and I compliment him on that. He talked about funding issues, as did the member for Nelson. I am quite prepared to offer both the member for Nelson and the member for Brennan briefings on roads funding, because I share some of their puzzlement in terms of funding, I am not afraid to admit it. It is very complex. There are many different funding bodies. There are many different funding programs. I might even sit on that briefing as well, because I think I need reminding of all the different figures, and all the different sources and all the different projects, and how they work together. I reiterate that I offer them a briefing on that issue.
The member for Brennan also complimented the alliance between government and the Local Government Association of the Northern Territory to make approaches to the federal government on the issue, and along with the cattlemen, who have been very active on this issue. That has been a very productive relationship. I believe now with this bipartisan position and bipartisan motion that that will arm us up even further and make the alliances closer, and make it a more powerful lobby group to ask Canberra to put more funding into our unincorporated roads.
The member for Brennan also raised the issue that he heard rumours somewhere about prime contracts within government - that is, just having one main contractor who lets out subcontracts to the smaller contractors. I would like to assure the House that that certainly is not government policy. I am unaware of any move in that direction. The strength of our contracting industry is that we have a range of contractors of various sizes - you have very large contractors down to smaller contractors. I would like to see that situation keep going. I know during the construction of the railway, which I think may have had a prime contractor arrangement, there were complaints made to me by some of the smaller contractors about a whole range of issues. Basically, I do not want to see us move down that road of having prime contracts, and it is not the policy of this government.
The member for Drysdale got off the track a little. Originally, this was a statement about roads, about jobs and economic development. He mentioned that it was light on, in his view, in terms of road safety. It was not the focus of this particular statement. I agree with the member for Drysdale that it is an important issue and, at some time in the future, I should bring a statement to the House on road safety. There is consultancy happening. Mr Peter Metropolis has looked at the issue of road safety, Road Safety Councils, regional councils and how we can have more impact on road safety issues in the Northern Territory. That report is currently being considered by the Road Safety Council. They will bring forward some suggestions to me. That might be an appropriate time to present a statement to this House on road safety.
I want to clarify one issue. The member for Drysdale was trying to insinuate that road conditions in the Territory were the major contributor to road deaths. He was quoting, I assume, from this
Reduce Road Trauma
publication put out by the government and the Road Safety Council which states the major causes of road accidents and deaths in the Northern Territory are related to increased blood alcohol concentration. It says on page 8 of that publication:
55% of all drivers, riders and pedestrians killed and 15% of those seriously injured have blood alcohol concentrations equal or greater to the legal limit of 0.05.
Grog is a major contributor to road trauma and death in the Northern Territory. It is timely that the government has brought out its Alcohol Framework, because it is that high consumption of alcohol in the Northern Territory that I and many others believe is a major contributor to road death and trauma in the Northern Territory. Alcohol consumption is an issue that, as a community, as a parliament, we have to come to terms with. We have to have a really serious discussion about it and look at strategies for reducing harmful alcohol consumption in the Northern Territory. I have said before that I enjoy a shandy on a hot day; I like a drink along with everyone else. However, all of us have to come to the conclusion, the point, and recognition that it is doing a lot of harm within our society. That is comment that I would like to make about what the member for Drysdale had to say.
The member for Daly said some very good things, and recognised a number of things. He has written to me about the Hayes Creek roadside stop. That is currently with the department for examination and, if I can help there, I certainly will. I take on board what he is saying about the Emerald Springs Roadhouse, unfortunately, being closed.
He raised the issue of procurement and civil contractors. I am in discussion with the civil contractors. They have raised a number of issues with me about procurement and pricing of jobs. I am more than willing to continue that conversation so that we can have some outcomes that are favourable for this very important sector of our engineering industry in the Northern Territory. There is more work out there. We want them engaged. We want them involved. We want to listen to what they have to say. In terms of procurement, there will always be problems with procurement when there are jobs out there, when there are monies involved, people miss out, there are always complaints. I am interested in any remedies that we can have to improve our procurement process. I know the minister for business is always looking at this issue. I am always open to suggestions on how we might improve that and make it better for everyone concerned, both the contractors who are tendering and for the public of the Northern Territory to ensure they get value for money, efficiency and a good job at the end that is going to benefit our wonderful Northern Territory.
The member for Barkly spoke with much passion about the social importance of roads. It just becomes evident listening to him how important they are to the fabric of the community that he serves. I compliment him on his offering.
The Opposition Leader also commended the House on the result of the debate today and the statement and the amendments. He talked a little bit about the history of roads and the history of Stuart. I could not help but think when he was talking about that thicket around Elliott that was too hard for Stuart to penetrate that he had to go right around it, when I first met Territorians and people who had lived in the Territory for a while, this was in my early 20's they used to use this phrase, 'Oh, we will scrub around that', 'Will we go to this place?' 'Oh no, we will scrub around that'; and that is a very strong memory that I have. Maybe it comes from those days when Stuart had to scrub around Elliott to get to somewhere else. I compliment the Opposition Leader on his contribution to this debate.
To sum up, to all members who have contributed and there have been many, and I know I have missed some out, they have all been very good offerings, very good contributions. The outcome of the debate today, and the result of this statement, has been very positive for the Territory and let us carry on the good work.
Motion, as amended, agreed to
Dr BURNS (Transport and Infrastructure):
Mr Deputy Speaker, I move that the Assembly do now adjourn.
Mr VATSKALIS (Casuarina):
Mr Deputy Speaker, today I would like to speak about a beautiful celebration that we had the other day in the Main Hall in Parliament on Monday, 23 August. On Monday, I attended a function for the Indonesian and Sri Lankan communities of Darwin and to welcome performing artists from India and Sri Lanka who were participating in the 2004 Darwin Festival. It was wonderful to have members of the two communities meeting at this function and enjoying each others company. A comment I heard from an Indian gentlemen was that it was the first time they had actually been together at a function and that it was a very good idea because after all their countries are next to each other.
It was terrific to hear the Main Hall reverberate to these powerful drums and dances of Sama Ballet from Sri Lanka and the rhythmic music of the
Purna Das Baul
group from India.
Purna Das Baul
's soulful, ecstatic songs and dances enchanted not only the audience of Garma festival at Arnhem Land but also those who attended the Kultura in the Botanic Gardens a fortnight ago. They even had some of the guests at the last evening's functions taking to the floor to join the fun. We had a brief glimpse of the vibrant rhythms of Sri Lanka when the three dancers and a drummer from Sama Ballet from Sri Lanka that performed for the guests at last evening's function. They were performing along side Tracks Dance Company dancers when they performed
Snakes, Gods and Deities
as part of the Darwin Festival from Wednesday, 25 August to Sunday, 29 August at the Garden Parks Golf Links.
I hope that as many people in the Top End will go to see the performance. I have to say that it was absolutely fascinating to see those two young Sri Lankan men gyrating, jumping, turning so fast that in the end they became a blur. If you actually concentrated on them you would get very dizzy. They seemed to be quite happy to continue to do that for minutes at a time.
I congratulate the Indian Cultural Society and the Tracks Dance Company, with the assistance of the Sri Lanka Australia Friendship Association, for taking the initiative to enrich our enjoyment of the Darwin Festival by bringing world renowned performers from the Indian subcontinent.
Those groups, before coming to Darwin, were travelling overseas and the Sri Lankans had just arrived in Darwin from Spain. However, the most amazing thing, as my colleague, the member for Wanguri, said was to see these traditionally dressed young men with all the silver and the gold on their arms and chests sitting there while everyone was drinking a VB. That was really a fantastic photo for an advertisement. I wish someone had have taken a photograph and sent it to CUB. That would have been absolutely great.
I would like now to concentrate on my electorate of Casuarina, and I want to talk about the farm at Alawa Primary School. I have spoken about the farm previously. The farm was established on the initiative of teaching staff at the school. The farm has been expanded and has incorporated a fenced area. I was very pleased to help the school to secure funds for the establishment of the fence. They now have many animals; geese, ducks, goats, chickens, and kids get a buzz out of the farm and the animals. During the breaks, they spend most of their time at the farm tending the animals, or the trees and vegetables, rather than playing with the other kids. Different groups of kids have given different names to the animals.
The teachers told me that they would like to provide a garden as part the farm, a garden that will screen the farm from the main street but also provide the children with some trees and other activities. I was very pleased to buy eight citrus trees to donate to the farm. The Citrus Association donated two citrus trees to me personally which also were also donated to the farm. As a result, 10 citrus trees – lemon, limes, mandarins, cumquat, and oranges – will grow at the farm. The kids were very pleased because it will be the beginning of a new garden.
Schools are my favourite subject. I always support schools in my electorate. I believe every person in this House should support schools in their electorate; after all, schools are our future. They provide education for our children. I have made a custom at the beginning of every semester of putting on a morning tea for all the teachers in my schools. I hosted one for Alawa a few weeks ago, and last week I hosted one for Nakara. I was pleased to attend the morning tea and try some of the beautiful delicacies that were purchased and put on the table.
It is a very small token of recognition for the fantastic job that teachers do in our community, a job that not many people recognise. Being married to a teacher, I know how much work and effort they put in, not only in educating the children during school time, but also preparing material, doing the marking, attending after-hours sessions and speaking to parents. Sometimes they spend hours after coming home from school poring over documents and books when other people are sitting around having a beer or watching television.
Congratulations to all teachers. I will continue to support them in the fantastic job they do. The teachers at Nakara and Alawa are worth every cent we pay them. They are worth more than that and they are worthy of our continued support.
I come now to a very hot item. In the past few days, and even today, there have been items in the newspaper about laneways in the suburbs. The Darwin City Council has 162 laneways under its control that connect various streets in various suburbs. Unfortunately, in the past few years, these laneways have become sometime the focus for antisocial and undesirable activities and escape routes for petty criminals. They have become a very difficult issue to manage for the council. In Wagaman, residents formed the Wagaman Residents Association and demanded that the council close those laneways because they wanted to eliminate the antisocial behaviour in the region. We have raised the same problem in Casuarina. I have been approached by a number of residents in Casuarina. I have even been approached by the police in Casuarina who have asked me to help write to the council demanding the closure of the laneways.
In Casuarina, not only in Nakara but also in Alawa, I have people complaining to me that there were incidents involving young kids at night throwing stones to smash windows or onto rooves of houses. One particular laneway in Kilfoyle Crescent connects Johnston Park with the bus stop in Casuarina, and lately that has become the focus of antisocial and undesirable activities.
I am very keen to see the council take some action to eliminate that problem. Many people talk about closing the laneways. Other people support leaving the laneways open. However, there is general agreement that something has to be done so the laneways do not become a refuge for criminals at night and people feel safer in their own homes.
When young children want to cause havoc, all they have to do is walk down the laneways and start banging the fences and all the dogs in the neighbourhood wake up and bark, and there is no sleep in the neighbourhood for the next half an hour.
I am putting a call to the council through this House tonight, to please address the issue of the laneways. They do not have to be closed. Just evaluate the laneways. I know that the council has done a review in the past year and a decision has not yet been made. My suggestion is to identify the strategic ones, the ones you do not need to sell to the adjoining neighbours if the community does not want it. If the community wants the laneways, the best solution is to identify those to keep open during the day and provide a gate on both sides at night, so the rangers, council and police will only have to lock a small number of laneways compared to the 162 that are currently open.
Many people support this idea. I am prepared to take up a petition from the Casuarina residents and present it to the council if necessary. However, I hope logic will prevail before we resort to a petition, and that council will make a decision about the laneways and, finally, the problem with the laneways will end.
Motion agreed to; the Assembly adjourned.