The wealth of information from stakeholders across the north that our inquiry drew out and assembled is valuable for its comprehensiveness in breadth and detail, and for the fact that in my view it confirms the key challenge holding back the development of northern Australia: poor governance in federal and state governments.
In my view poor state and federal governance is the core challenge that must be addressed for development of the northern half of our nation, being 45 per cent of Australia's area.
Firstly, my acknowledgment of, and thanks to, the secretariat for its support, diligence, and perseverance in serving our inquiry. The secretariat faced a difficult task logistically across northern Australia, made so much more challenging with various governments' COVID-19 restrictions.
The secretariat's work in inviting suggestions for visits and for witnesses and the secretariat's diligence in organising these ensured the committee's success in being able to listen to and question so many excellent people in the north.
Secondly, I acknowledge and thank Senator Watt for his chairing of our inquiry and Senator MacDonald for her work as Deputy Chair. Cooperation and teamwork were strong among all members of the committee and I appreciate the Chair and Deputy Chair for their ability to work together and to consider others' views and suggestions.
Although politics and partisanship taint some senate inquiries and while politics always plays a part, it is pleasing that in the information gathering, tours and hearings this committee was not unduly political.
Thirdly, I recently visited the Shire councils in the Mt Isa corridor being Mt Isa, Cloncurry, McKinlay, Richmond and Flinders to listen to their needs and challenges and to learn of the opportunities each sees. All impressed with their dedication, knowledge, and commitment. To varying extents, all are rightly frustrated with state and federal governance.
Fourthly, once unlocked northern Australia's potential is a huge opportunity for generating enormous wealth for our entire nation. The people with viable dreams including well planned projects ready to start are truly inspiring yet these people and their talents and resources are being suffocated under a morass of bureaucracies and politics around national political agenda.
That leads to what is, in my view, the root cause holding back and restricting northern Australia: decades of poor governance in state and particularly federal governments leading to misinformed decisions and a lack of genuine government support.
One disappointment is the fact that due to various circumstances the compilation of our inquiry's report was rushed and the Chair's report therefore not part of a process that involved debate and discussion of the material and the facts. While the inquiry report fairly presents a representative sampling of the wealth of diverse input from stakeholders across northern Australia, the Chair's report itself is, in my view, subjective and contains important recommendations that contradict data or are not reliant on solid data. It is for this reason that my report that was initially intended to be Additional Comments is instead a Dissenting Report.
Ironically, in some ways the inquiry's rushed writing of the report with limited discussion among committee members reflects what I see as the major challenge that needs to be addressed before the north can develop, being poor governance in federal and state governments and political parties.
Together with the remarkably different climate of northern Australia with its wet and dry seasons, the fact that our north contains contains just five per cent of our national population reflects serious yet surmountable challenges to the north's development and to its people.
The major challenges to be addressed in developing northern Australia are clearly:
Electricity – price, availability, reliability of supply, stability, and security of supply.
Water – availability, reliability of supply, price;
The opportunity for aboriginals to rightly share in the north's development and wealth;
Economic environment including productive capacity, being in part infrastructure with priorities on water, transport and communication infrastructure;
Government meddling and bureaucratic ignorance, red tape, green tape, blue tape;
High cost of living due in places to remoteness or diseconomies of scale (low population) or lack of competition from providers of services and goods to the people of the north;
Governance and particularly the coordination of local, state and federal government agencies and their astounding and confusing multiplicity, intricacy and duplication.
It is important to note and understand from this list that much of the north is starting from a low base in terms of fundamental services, education, access to advisers, housing, jobs and infrastructure.
These challenges lead to social challenges in housing, unemployment, health, mental health and services as well as restrictions on the north's productive capacity. The above list constitutes the key factors that need to be addressed comprehensively, holistically and responsibly.
In the north these issues are clear. Sadly, while these topics have in the past been well covered and taken for granted in the south, poor governance in recent decades is destroying the southern base and creating many of these as issues in the rest of Australia. At a time when we need as a nation to solve these issues for the north, we are creating them in the south.
Specifically, I refer to the destruction of our electricity supply in the form of absurdly and artificially high prices with the federal Energy Minister himself now admitting that he is concerned about prices, reliability and implicitly stability.
Another example of poor governance in the south is the Murray Darling Basin Authority's needless and highly detrimental choking of water supplies meant for irrigation for food production. I refer to the stealing of farmers' rights to use their land. I refer to the severe and increasing restrictions from needless/unfounded and unjustified rules and regulations including significant impediments from unelected, unaccountable internationalist bureaucrats that compliant and ignorant state and Australian governments allow to impose their will on our nation. I refer to the destruction of our nation's productive capacity and specifically the inability or unwillingness of state and federal governments to provide the capital investments that history shows only governments can provide in the form of assets needed to create an economic environment for investment and employment. I refer to a tax system that is arguably the most destructive system in our country or possibly the second most destructive system after the federal parliament and associated bureaucracy.
The factors that need to be addressed to enable development of the north are the same factors that have been under siege in the south since 1975 and particularly since 1996 that are eroding our nation's productive capacity, economic sovereignty and national governance.
Sadly, many people in federal politics peering myopically within the confines of the electoral cycle and lacking the courage, integrity and ability to communicate a vision. People looking through the blinkers of limited experience outside politics or through the prism of self-interest or political parties are yet to feel the deterioration already choking Australian families and employers.
Additionally, the high and at times prohibitive cost of insurance is killing investment and making living difficult for inhabitants of the north or unattractive for newcomers.
The absurdly huge and rapidly growing debt in Queensland and in the Northern Territory are products of failed governance and render these governments incapable of providing the necessary sound governance.
The vast area of the north and sparse population spread across vast distances means that electricity supplies are expensive and often unreliable. Worse, the unfounded political whim of shifting to unreliables – wind and solar – is worsening all aspects of the north's electricity supply.
Although I believe private investors should not control essential services such as electricity, water and roads the CopperString project needs to proceed immediately. It will provide power for maintaining and expanding employment in northwest Queensland – either in the hands of well-regulated private investors or the state government.
This applies across the north.
The policies of the federal government and opposition are aligned in that both now approve of continued exports of coal from northern Australian coalfields in Queensland's Bowen Basin, yet both oppose the use of our coal to generate affordable electricity in Australia. With electricity today the greatest cost for manufacturers, our international competitors are at a significant economic advantage. Yet as both parties espouse empty slogans in support of Australian manufacturing, their policies and actions kill manufacturing and export manufacturing jobs overseas.
Water is like gold in agriculture in that it can change low productivity land with rich or suitable soils into high productivity bonanzas that bring wealth to entire regions, states and nations. There are projects ready to proceed and I initially single out the Richmond Agricultural Project, RAP, that awaits only one thing, being the state government allocating water allocations to landowners. This project has minimal environmental impact and would be strongly positive for the environment in the Flinders catchment because of the wealth it will generate to the region. It will have no impact on the Gulf of Carpentaria fishing industry and environment. It is duplicable and thus after proving the RAP could be extended downstream. There is no downside in any aspect and only upside – huge upside.
Although not as advanced or apparently as detailed in planning, Flinders Shire is host to two irrigation projects of considerable potential and deserving of support including the council's project and the Hughenden Irrigation Project.
This applies in other areas in the north.
The provision of reliable water leads to higher population and greater services including health and housing. Water is abundant in the north yet is poorly managed and even ignored. It is a key to unlocking the north for the benefit of all people.
Significant privately owned initiatives are already underway, for example at Etta Plains north of Julia Creek township and among established graziers in the McKinlay Shire. Mt Isa City and Cloncurry Shire have substantial concepts for unlocking water from the land and from the state bureaucracy.
Many northerners note land tenure as a substantial block to the development of aboriginal communities across the north and to investment in the north within and outside aboriginal communities.
Organisations aiming to lock up the north in the guise of claims about climate alarm, nature or aboriginals pose a substantial threat. Some are ideologically driven and funded from overseas.
Land is meant to be used for the benefit of inhabitants, particularly locals. The myth that humanity is contrary to nature is an ideological nonsense fabricated to control land and thereby control people. History shows to the contrary that when people become wealthy the community can optimise protection of the natural environment.
The state of many aboriginal communities is testament to almost fifty years of failed patronising and paternalistic policies based on emotion, ideology, and political whims instead of open, honest discussion based on objective facts and observations.
This dishonesty is a disservice to aboriginals and aboriginal communities. Its consequences are inhuman.
In Nhulunbuy NT, we learned from witness Mr Jeff Cook, Manager, Laynhapuy Homelands Aboriginal Corporation that the mental health of some remote aboriginal communities is in fact superior to that of most non-aboriginal communities in Australia. This is highly encouraging for many reasons, including the following:
The challenges in many aboriginal communities plagued with violence, substance abuse and lack of hope are not racially based. Instead, issues are typical of the human condition;
The issues are solvable and in future preventable providing one firstly digs down to identify and understand the root causes and then identify the solutions including locality history, family structure, personal and community responsibility and re-establishing solid values;
These core solutions and markers for success are being undermined, dismantled and dissolved under policies designed and applied in capital cities and, at times, overseas. Sadly, some are being implemented with the aim to control people rather than to set people free. Control brings its own subsequent problems and stifling of the human spirit.
In our Mt Isa hearing I could sense that Father Mick Lowcock and Mr Colin Saltmere wanted to discuss the realities and so I asked questions that led to both engaging in discussing the real issues. A productive discussion followed. While acknowledging the unease for some in discussing this difficult topic my listening to aboriginal people and elders and community leaders confirms they are tired of politicians and bureaucrats avoiding the realities and the core issues. Their ongoing suffering has developed a need for real care and for honest and frank discussion of facts.
As a result, in some regions aboriginals confirm that there is now an aboriginal industry that skims taxpayer money; controls land, resources, funds, opportunities and people; while diverting taxpayer funds from their rightful use and thereby trapping aboriginal citizens in poverty, disease and unwarranted deprivation of opportunities to fulfil basic universal human needs. This is to the detriment of everyday aboriginals and more are beginning to speak out.
Instead of listening to and diverting taxpayer funds to ivory-tower academics, out-of-touch bureaucrats, greedy consultants, loud-mouthed activists and some self-serving unrepresentative elite members of the aboriginal 'industry', state and federal governments need to start listening to people – everyday Australians – in aboriginal communities. Money needs to get to the people in ways that develop responsibility and independence to end the victimhood of dependency all too prevalent. Communities need autonomy and rights as a prerequisite for responsibility and seizing opportunities.
Having visited many aboriginal communities in the north it's clear that state and federal governments are imprisoning aboriginals in a hellhole of mental health misery, poor health standards and a lack of purpose. Yet there are proven examples of what is needed including Steve Fordham and Glen Finnan whose Blackrock company in NSW provides aboriginals with purpose and meaning leading to genuine and lasting rehabilitation of prisoners. The One Community One Standard combination of aboriginal elders working with other leaders in the Townsville community are desperate to address the core issues currently sending juveniles on crime sprees and deeper into misery: lack of family, lack of purpose, lack of meaning, lack of effective support, lack of genuine care and lack of personal responsibility. The "secrets" to restoring community are well known yet governments lack the ability and especially the will to address these and instead currently destroy or prevent family, purpose, care, and personal responsibility.
There is a need to openly, plainly and bluntly discuss the core issues facing so many aboriginals in many places and causing communities to stagnate, crumble and wither. Avoiding the real issues prevents the root causes from being discussed and therefore prevents real solutions while continuing the massive unmeasured waste of resources and aboriginal lives.
Aboriginals have achieved success in many fields across our country and need autonomy to use their skills and take the mantle of freedom that brings community and individual responsibility. Aboriginals, like all people, need an environment to apply innate and learned skills rather than to continue being treated patronisingly as victims dependent on others. People need a fair go.
While acknowledging that there is a gap, indeed a chasm between many aboriginal communities and mainstream Australia, the reality is that as humans we tend to achieve what we focus on because that is where our energy is directed openly and subliminally. Focusing on the gap will perpetuate the gap. Instead, we need to focus on the potential, strive for measurable standards and milestones and then track progress toward these. In conjunction with honest, competent and energetic committed leadership the most powerful system driving human behaviour is the measurement, analysis and reporting system. When well-designed in guiding people toward fulfilling basic universal human needs this aligns, unites, and motivates people.
Governments providing taxpayer funds need to objectively measure progress toward community and individual standards to assess whether aboriginal lives in aboriginal communities are improving and to identify what is truly needed on the ground.
In many ways this is the most destructive system in Australia and the mishmash of sub-optimal, unproductive, counterproductive taxes driving counterproductive and economically destructive behaviours. It needs to be urgently addressed holistically.
While beyond the scope of this report, the taxation system needs to be comprehensively reviewed and reformed starting with basic principles for honest, fair, and efficient tax collection systems driving economically efficient individual and corporate behaviour in Australia's national interest.
Until then, perhaps an assessment could be made for an Economic Zone in the north to promote development as has been used successfully elsewhere in the world.
Economic environment including infrastructure
Northern roads have improved due to federal government initiatives yet more needs to be done to reliably connect producers with markets.
Honest appraisals and discussions need to be had of infrastructure. For example, the deterioration of the Mt Isa-Townsville rail line is economically destructive as a result, according to locals, of three parties avoiding responsibility or blaming the others.
Cabotage needs to be discussed and restored on Australia's coast after first having an open and frank discussion about what destroyed cabotage, about taxation and what is needed. How can our nation as the largest island nation in the world be without cabotage? This is more than a matter for northern development, it is a matter for national security.
Investment bank—people's bank
The Fisher Labour government in 1911 created the Commonwealth Bank, a people's bank that proved highly successful in developing the south and inland Australia and led to new and lasting industries. Under its first governor, Denison Miller, it was remarkably successful. Yet after his sudden and unexpected death Labor and conservative governments dismantled it until PM Paul Keating sold off what remained of it from 1991 through 1996.
Formed in 1919 the Bank of North Dakota (BND) is a state-owned, state-run financial institution based in Bismarck, North Dakota, USA. It is the only government-owned general-service bank in the United States. Reportedly it is the only major bank that has made a profit in every year of its existence. The bank was established to promote agriculture, commerce and industry in the state and has been an outstanding success.
A return to a people's bank will not only provide competition and accountability for the big four banks that dominate and form a powerful oligopoly in Australian banking it will be, as was the Commonwealth Bank, a prudent lender for small and large businesses and for infrastructure.
Addressing the high cost of living, unemployment, low availability of housing and similar
These and other issues fail to be addressed when government attempts or pretends to address them directly. Although these can be economic levers the reality is that low costs of living, employment and affordable housing are outcomes of an efficient economy whose fundamentals are sound through appropriate use of economic factors, such as affordable energy prices and especially sound governance.
The natural environment
As is often the case these days, implicit in the inquiry report is the concept that human industrial activity and even human civilisation is contrary to the natural environment. This myth and demonstrably false assumption is pervasive in western society. The reality though is that the future of human civilisation depends on having a healthy natural environment. At the same time a healthy natural environment in the future depends on having healthy industry and human civilisation. The natural environment and human civilisation are not mutually exclusive, they are mutually dependent.
This needs to be the basis for and embedded in any regulations imposing environmental standards.
Evidence of poor governance in northern Australia include the following:
The interference, overlap and duplication of government agencies suffocating the north;
Instead of decisions and policies based on objective data and proven facts, it is clear that decisions and policies today are often based on political expediency, ideology, unfounded opinions, serving vested interests and seeking party donations;
Emotions and catchy yet short-lived empty slogans have replaced substance and service;
Excessive, unfounded or needlessly coercive regulations driving political objectives;
UN policies controlling aspects of people's lives, land, water, resources and commercial activity including fishing and agriculture that do not operate in Australia's best interest.
Government sales of strategic public assets putting ownership of essential services such as electricity networks, rail and road in the hands of privatised monopolies, or worse, foreign control;
The separation of water allocations for farm use from farmland ownership.
Institutionalised abuse and/or corruption is clear with examples in recent Senate and joint select inquiries and Royal Commissions, including but not limited to the following:
Hayne Royal Commission into financial institutions;
Heydon Royal Commission into trade union governance;
Joint Select Committee on Australia's Family Law System
Senate Select Inquiry into Lending to Primary Production Customers;
Royal Commission into institutional response to child sexual abuse;
Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of people with disability;
The Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory;
Recently announced Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide.
Any misuse of federal funds is clearly a huge and likely risk where there is so little accountability and so much bureaucracy combined with duplication and overlap of jurisdiction.
Governance in Australia needs honesty and objectivity based on data and impartiality. Governance needs to return to making decisions and policies based on solid data and objective facts. Across the north and across Australia data needs to urgently be gathered and honestly shared to inform people, justify decisions, and identify opportunities. Until this occurs, ineffective and counterproductive policies and decisions will continue to choke the north.
Until one steps outside the prism of party politics is it possible to see the root cause of what is holding back the north and preventing its development? If the current myopic view continues the current challenges facing the north will be perpetuated while the nation's foundation in the south will continue to be eroded and become less able to invest in the north.
Clearly this small sampling reveals underlaying issues that reach to the heart of federal governance. Unless this is addressed, and despite the initiative, fine work and commitment of people in northern Australia, the north will continue undeveloped, or at best, sub-optimally developed.
In our country, government no longer serves the people. Instead, the people now serve government and are in many ways slaves to government.
Federal and state governments are starting to recognise that the people with the skills, motivation and responsibility are those directly involved and have the most to lose and gain. ie, the citizens working in and investing in commercial initiatives;
A meaningful federal independent crime and corruption commission with teeth to improve governance;
Policies independent of race. ie, not racially based. Instead of patronisingly economically isolating, segregating and suppressing aboriginal people governance needs to play to people's strengths and give greater autonomy and with that greater responsibility;
Develop a more concrete vision for northern Australia and then identify and connect the opportunities so industry can develop plausible plans and possible paths. For example, the Iron Boomerang has strong interest from major steel producers and provides a remarkable economic opportunity for our country to add value to raw materials. When connected with a revised and improved Inland Rail extended to Gladstone it could form a national rail circuit, develop the inland and develop major industrial and infrastructure centres in north eastern Queensland and in the Pilbara.
History shows repeatedly that economic and social progress come from meeting people's needs for opportunity not from government control.
The north presents an amazing opportunity for people to create immense wealth for our nation and for the people of the north
The core issue for the north, in my view, is clearly poor governance from a broken parliamentary system infected with party agenda driving policy directives from overseas and particularly from the UN. These are destroying our national sovereignty and our ability to develop the north for all Australians, and particularly for residents of northern Australia.
Positions on the Chair's specific recommendations
Given the absence of opportunity for discussion over the individual recommendations as a committee, I provide the following comments.
Recommendations with which I agree
8: without researching the priorities in the national Road Safety Program;
18: in principle without specifics and provided responsibility is allocated to relevant stakeholders;
24: While supporting this in principle I oppose racially based policies. I am supportive of policies that apply across the north and involve getting back to basics;
Recommendations with which I agree in part or in principle or disagree with in part
The refreshing of challenges and opportunities associated with COVID-19 needs to be based on solid data that has been sadly lacking in state and federal government actions to date;
Broadening the agenda to include value adding and new and emerging industries and addressing the social and environmental challenges: I support
Improving social and environmental outcomes in Northern Australia: I support providing environmental assessments are based on objective data and not masquerading as a means of locking up land;
Addressing the extensive and severe nature of aboriginal Australians’ socioeconomic disadvantage: I support providing this is based on lessons from objective assessment of the failures of national and state governance for the last half century that has resulted in the current terrible state for many aboriginal communities and that the future focus is on getting back to basics and giving aboriginals within aboriginal communities autonomy leading to responsibility;
Facilitating aboriginal Australians’ participation in the Northern Australian economy: I support providing it is not racially based and is instead based on needs and applies to all people across the north;
Emphasising value adding and capturing new industrial opportunities: I support;
Undertaking a serious examination of, and response to the risks posed by climate change to the region and greater engagement with local communities: I support with the proviso that it be a serious scientific examination using a scientific approach. ie, it cites specific empirical scientific evidence within a logical scientific framework proving cause-and-effect and quantifies the specific effect(s) of any claimed causes of climate change, due to natural causes or due to human causes. I note that the term “climate change” has become politically charged to the extent that it is now commonly used to imply or assume claims of climate change due to carbon dioxide from human activity and that is affecting climate and is used to advocate that human carbon dioxide needs to be cut. No one anywhere in the world has specified scientifically the specific quantified impact of human carbon dioxide on temperature, rainfall, drought, storm frequency and severity or any other climate factor. Personal meetings with CSIRO’s climate team and with the previous Chief Scientist, letters to ministers and former ministers in governments of both parties, personal discussions with senators and members of the House of Representatives, discussions with climate scientists, Freedom of Information requests on government departments, parliamentary library research, discussions with former CSIRO research scientists and senior officers, and other discussions and requests show there has never been any scientific evidence presented to justify climate and energy policies now destroying industry, agriculture, household wealth and our nation’s economy. Neither Australia, nor especially the north can afford to continue wasting money; continue handicapping people; continue diverting attention, time, energy and resources from real and serious environmental challenges and humanitarian challenges to this unfounded diversion; continue crippling our national economy and productive capacity; continue destroying our sovereignty through various UN climate “agreements”/protocols/declarations; nor, continue destroying our national governance. Recent international summits and gatherings show the enormous difference and divergence of political and economic actions and policies that confirm and highlight that climate claims are not data-driven and instead are political constructs. The same can be said of transient and changeable positions among members of parliament in both the major parties/coalitions. Instead, we need to restore scientific integrity and integrity of governance.
10: while supporting this in principle with this I add the provisos that:
the federal government needs to work with the states and leave ultimate responsibility for decisions on water to the states;
The inclusion of cultural heritage should not be racially based and should apply to all Australian cultures;
The inclusion of cultural heritage should not be used as it has in the past as a strategy to apply international directives aiming to lock up vast areas of land to prevent development;
12: while supporting this in principle I add the proviso that ultimate responsibility for decisions needs to be left to the states;
16: given the federal debt I disagree with imposing additional spending on the federal government. There is a need for the governments to understand the impact of state and federal policies on housing and to revise policies;
23; while agreeing with the principle, it needs to be left to state and Territory governments and not be racially based. eg, Mt Isa City Council has a potentially very attractive concept of providing a true rehabilitation service for people whose connection with family is strong;
26: Supportive of providing a strategy based on solid data is first developed for managing COVID-19. We have yet to see such a strategy and plan as evidenced in the jumbled mishmash of responses across the states to date. There is more to be gained in getting back to basics through reassessing tax and other policies and systems.
Recommendations with which I disagree
13: this is yet another infringement of states’ rights and responsibilities when Australia’s poor governance across state and federal jurisdictions is in significant part due to federal encroachment of states responsibilities;
14: this is yet another infringement of states’ rights and responsibilities when Australia’s poor governance across state and federal jurisdictions is in significant part due to federal encroachment of states responsibilities. Secondly, it is racially based;
17: This is racially based. The housing shortage across northern Australia is widespread and not limited to one race. Housing needs to be based on needs and affordability and on that basis housing for many aboriginal people would be a high priority;
21: This is racially based. This should be based on needs not on race and as such the unique needs of aboriginal communities would be accommodated. Without such objective needs, it would be difficult to fairly allocate a proportion of funding. NAIF needs to develop policies and application processes that are fit for purpose for the environment in which it is working whether these be aboriginal communities or mixed communities or established towns or new settlements. Assessment of projects and the means of their support should be based on the needs of the community - large or small - and the needs of the market that a proposed industry will serve;
22: see preceding comments. Additionally, I cannot support the so-called carbon dioxide “industry” that is based on a lie (see comments on climate in my notes discussing Recommendation No.1, above). In places carbon dioxide sequestration is sterilising productive land and thereby rendering it worthless and a blight imposing additional costs on neighbouring landowners.