ABC NORTHERN TERRITORY COUNTRY HOUR
WEDNESDAY, 13 APRIL 2016
Subject/s: Food Futures Conference; Northern Australian White Paper.
MATT BRANN: As mentioned we are here with Joel Fitzgibbon he’s the Shadow Minister for Agriculture, he’ll be up on stage in a moment as part of the Food Futures Conference. Let’s talk about policies. Are you getting the feeling that there is bipartisan support for the policies and the projects that were currently seeing in Northern Australia?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY, SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AFFAIRS: Matt I have no doubt that there has always been bipartisan ambition for the North. I think it is true that all political players in Canberra want the North to thrive and want the North to further progress and of course we largely agree on how we might get there although I think there is some differences in emphases For example, there are some things Government needs to do certainly - strong leadership, providing strategic plans, sending the right signals to investors in overseas jurisdictions and of course some of the infrastructure which needs to be partly funded by the public purse because the benefits can’t fully be captured by any individual investor. They're the things I’m sure we all agree on. I hope we agree on. I think one of things that's missing largely from the Government’s Northern Australia White Paper are the key questions like one, can we deal with the North as one defined market. It’s a big area - bigger than most countries and what is it that we are planning to do exactly? What commodities are we talking about doing more in. What strategic and competitive advantages are we looking for? Are we looking to do more on volume or value? In other words, before we start talking too far down the track about the infrastructure I think we need to understand our potential markets and where the opportunities are.
BRANN: The private sector has made it pretty clear at this Conference they want political stability of policy. Have you got any ideas on how Governments can give investors that regardless of who’s in power?
FITZGIBBON: Well again I think there has been a pretty much bipartisan view on the North for a long, long time. There is nothing in the Northern Australian White Paper that is of substance that the Labor Party would disagree with. I mean there is a lot of spin and rhetoric in there too that’s meaningless but again, the one thing that I’d like to see more of is discussion about where exactly we believe these opportunities are.
BRANN: Have those discussions already been had thou I mean there has been a lot of talk about Northern development isn’t it time to get going and do something?
FITZGIBBON: The great missing piece in the Northern Australian White Paper is markets and commodities. No where there - is lots of talk about leveraging money to build things - but as David Williams the Investment Banker said yesterday, what you really need to do first is determine what you want to do and then build the infrastructure to do it. And I’ve asked a number of key players around the place over the last couple of days where they actually believe the food opportunities are for the Northern Territory. Which commodities would it be, are we chasing further up the value curb or are we again just talking about greater volumes? We're typically price takers. And in which areas do we find competitive advantage for the North? In other words, here in the North where things can be tougher in terms of agriculture, where do we actually have competitive advantages over others.
BRANN: That is happening though isn’t it? I mean we heard it at a presentation this morning about big sugar plans in North Queensland.
FITZGIBBON: Its happening I think in the private sector where all the smart people know where the returns will be but again I go back to the Government’s White Paper - you’ll see no reference to these important questions what so ever.
BRANN: Is that because of the old saying Governments aren’t good at picking winners?
FITZGIBBON: Well we don’t want Government picking winners but as David Williams again said yesterday...
BRANN: So we don’t want them picking winners but you want them to be naming crooks and stuff
FITZGIBBON: No no, we want the Government consulting with the experts. Look, David Williams said yesterday he saw this wonderful White Paper on Aquaculture. He’s the biggest Aquaculture player in the country and no one came to him to discuss the issues, the challenges and the aspirations etc. So what I am saying is that before you build the dams and the railways and the roads - although doing some of it concurrently might not be a bad thing because they are going to be slow to do- we need to fully understand exactly what it is we will be growing, where we believe we are exporting, where we are going to find the competitive advantage these are all important questions to be asked before we make decisions about what sort of infrastructure we need.
BRANN: Over the years there’s been some politicians with a real passion for a certain project. Here at this conference we’ve got Brendan Grills from WA who was described as a champion for the Ord Expansion. If you find yourself as Minister for Agriculture later this year do you have a project in the North that your passionate about and can be a champion for.
FITZGIBBON: I have a passion for championing the projects which are the most likely to attract the private sector money needed to be successful and they will be the projects in which the private sector has determined the returns are greatest and where they believe the returns are sustainable.
BRANN: In your seat down in the Hunter Valley do people stop you and say how great would it be to develop the North or is it on the radar cause as it’s been mentioned there’s got to be people down South convinced before this can happen.
FITZGIBBON: Absolutely, I think in the broader community generally across the country people can see that the North needs further development and to them it seems a no brainer that proximity to Asia -where those big markets are emerging - provides a very significant opportunity for the North across a range of economic sectors. And I agree with that and I think there is a role for Government but let’s not miss the important pieces to the jigsaw. Having an idea of where you might be able to sell what, and at what price is a pretty good place to start.
BRANN: Thanks for your time on the Country Hour I shall let you go because you’ve got to go and get on stage and have a chat to Brent Finlay.
FITZGIBBON: I’ll go and try and stir them up a bit.
BRANN: Holy dooly, have you seen this boat behind you?
FITZGIBBON: It is fantastic. It is a cruise ship that we are talking about
BRANN: The Golden Princess
FITZGGIBON: I’m thinking about stowing away.
BRANN: You could put some cattle on that, you really could. Thanks for your time on the Country Hour, really appreciate it.
FITZGIBBON: It’s a great pleasure Matt