October 01, 2020



SUBJECTS: NAIF overhaul; no jobs plan from Morrison Government; manufacturing announcement; NT Federal seats legislation; NT Summer Sale.
KATIE WOOLF, HOST: Now joining me on the line to talk about this from the opposing perspective, obviously, is Senator Murray Watt, the shadow minister for Northern Australia. Good morning to you, Senator. 
MURRAY WATT: G'day Katie, how are you going?
WOOLF: Yeah, really well. Now Senator, obviously, the Minister said earlier this morning that these changes are going to streamline the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility and hopefully make it sort of, I'm hoping, make it easier for people to access these funds. Do you think that's going to happen? 
WATT: Well, look, I really hope that he's right this time. But you'll have to forgive me for being a bit sceptical, because we've heard it all before from the government about the NAIF. Only about eighteen months ago they made, what they said were major changes after getting a Senate Inquiry report and an Auditor General's report that said that the NAIF needed to be streamlined. And we're still sitting here five years after this fund was announced with it only spending about three per cent of its five billion dollar budget. So perhaps this time they'll get it right. And we certainly welcome them making some changes. Federal Labor's been calling on the government to make major changes to the NAIF for about three years now. So I think they're long overdue and I really do hope that these changes work so that we can actually start seeing some money get out the door to the Northern Territory and across the whole of the north. 
WOOLF: Senator, why do you think we've seen a situation here where the NAIF really hasn't had money flowing out as quickly as what many of us would have hoped? 
WATT: Well, I think it's a bit characteristic of this government as a whole under Scott Morrison. What they really are concerned about is getting out there and making big announcements, getting the big photo ops. But they never think about the follow up. They never think about the delivery. I mean, we've seen it again today. There's another new announcement from the government that they're going to have a manufacturing plan. They've been in power for eight years now. And now they're saying their manufacturing plan will take ten years to deliver. It seems to me that all they really care about is getting the headline and then they don't worry too much about following through. Unfortunately the NAIF is probably one of the best examples of that. There's a reason people call it the No Actual Infrastructure Fund, because after five years, it's basically delivered bugger all to the north. 
WOOLF: Well, I know for us here in the Northern Territory, we are hoping that things start to move along sooner rather than later. I mean, today on the front page of the paper, there is talk of job cuts at Inpex. Yesterday, we caught up with Charles Darwin University, the university that is here, and they're obviously streamlining things. It will mean that there are seventy seven jobs lost. I think that when jobs are lost, what we all worry about is it will lose Territorians to interstate. The big thing that really needs to be happening in the territory is that diversification of the economy and trying to bring industry to the Northern Territory. How do you reckon we do that? 
WATT: Look, I couldn't agree with you more. Right now, what the Northern Territory needs is not just another announcement. We actually do need some investment and infrastructure projects to start happening. I mean, over the last few days we've seen JobKeeper and JobSeeker cut by this government. It's the complete opposite of having a jobs plan. What they're actually doing is cutting jobs by cutting funding, rather than investing. So I think that - some of the things that Labor has been talking about for a while now is bringing forward some of the infrastructure projects. I mean, again, we've seen the government make all sorts of announcements about investing in Kakadu. None of that money has been spent. We've seen them talk about mango roads, they're still waiting to be delivered. There's all sorts of highways that they've promised to deliver that haven't been delivered. So if we can actually just get the government to deliver on some of the things they promised, that would actually create a whole lot of jobs across the Northern Territory. But it's also, you know, there's some obvious opportunities in things like gas and things like renewables and things like manufacturing. It's a bit of a shame I haven't been able to get up to the Northern Territory, because of travel restrictions. But having been there a lot last year, every time I was in the Northern Territory, you just walk away with such a buzz because the potential of the place. I'd just like to see this government actually get behind the Northern Territory rather than always just cutting funding. 
WOOLF: Well, Murray, I think what you said there about the fact that, you know, we do see so much potential here in the Northern Territory, but we seem to be in this situation at the moment and we have been for some time, where not just on a federal level, but on a Northern Territory government level as well, people really feel as though things aren't happening as quickly as they could or should be. Even when we speak to the Minerals Council of Australia here in the Northern Territory, there's a lot of talk about the delays in mining approvals and different mines being able to get off the ground. I mean, how do we as Territorians really move forward or how do we get the Northern Territory government working with the federal government, whether it's Labor or Liberal, to try and make things move along faster?
WATT: You know, look, I think at the moment, people do want to see a bit more bipartisanship across party lines to get things moving on. From where I sit, it does feel to me the Northern Territory government has worked pretty cooperatively with the federal government through COVID. It's a pretty big contrast to my state of Queensland where the Feds are always picking on the Queensland Government. Might have something to do with there being an election around the corner? But I think, from what I've seen, there does seem to be a bit of an attempt by the Northern Territory government to work cooperatively. I think, you know, what we need also is to see the LNP and the CLP representatives from the Northern Territory taking these issues up in federal government. It's pretty unfortunate that right now the federal government's actually wanting to get rid of one of the seats in the Northern Territory. All that would do is actually reduce the say that the Northern Territory has in federal parliament. So we're certainly hopeful that we can get them to backtrack on that. And if we can get those governments working together, the only people to gain are people in the Northern Territory. And that's a good thing. 
WOOLF: Murray, when are we going to have an answer on those two seats and whether we continue to have two seats or whether we go down to one? 
WATT: Well, it's pretty much in the government's hands now. It's very clear. It can only be done by legislation and obviously that means they've got to get the numbers in the parliament. We have introduced legislation, Federal Labor, to try to stop that change happening, to try to make sure that the Northern Territory hang onto those two seats. We know we've got the numbers in the Senate and full credit to Sam, the CLP senator, for backing that in. But it's pretty unclear what's going to happen in the House of Representatives and whether the National Party members there would actually side with Labor to stop that seat from being cut. I certainly hope that they would. I mean, I think it's pretty ridiculous to think that an area as big as the Northern Territory with, let's face it, some extreme disadvantage across its geography, could only be represented by one person. Right now, I reckon, you know, we need both Luke Gosling and Warren Snowden in there, fighting for the Northern Territory. And I'm certainly hopeful that we'll be able to convince the government of that. 
WOOLF: Yeah, so am I. Well, Senator Murray Watt, the shadow minister for Northern Australia, good to catch up with you today. And mate, we've actually got the NT Summer Sale kicking off today where anybody who lives interstate has got the opportunity to take advantage of a bit of a scheme to try and lure tourists back. You'll have to tell everybody in Queensland about it for us. 
WATT: Well my family and I had intended to come up for holidays in the middle of the year. But of course, with all the border restrictions, travel restrictions it was a bit difficult. But I'm certainly going to be getting back up there as soon as I can, and I'll always spruik the benefits of getting up north. It's beautiful. 
WOOLF: Good stuff. Good on you Murray Watt, thanks so much for your time this morning. 
WATT: You too Katie, thank you.