The federal government addressing a press conference at Beef Australia in Rockhampton. (From left) Susan McDonald, Scott Bucholz, Michael McCormack, Keith Pitt, Mark Coulton.
The federal government addressing a press conference at Beef Australia in Rockhampton. (From left) Susan McDonald, Scott Bucholz, Michael McCormack, Keith Pitt, Mark Coulton.

Revealed: Sneak peek of Northern Australia budget projects

The Federal Government has announced millions of dollars in funding for regional connectivity projects across Australia, which will be part of the upcoming budget to be revealed on Tuesday.

Making the announcement at Beef Australia in Rockhampton on Thursday, May 6, Minister for Northern Australia Keith Pitt said $190 million would go toward funding the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) along corridors from Townsville to Mount Isa, Gladstone to Cairns, Darwin to Kununurra, and Darwin to the Beetaloo Basin.

Mr Pitt also announced $9 million would be focused on a pilot program on those corridors for the projects.

“We have to ensure that Northern Australia is connected to the world, and it is this government that is delivering to the north,” he said.

He also announced $68 million would go towards digital connectivity, including fixing black spots.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re in Canberra, Kununurra or Cairns, you should have the same level of connectivity as any other Australian,” Mr Pitt said.

He said the Prime Minister would announce a $1.2 billion package for the digital economy soon.

Minister for Regional Communications Mark Coulton announced another round of the Regional Connectivity Program that would be part of the federal budget.

“The first round was very, very successful, and as a matter of fact, some of the applications … that weren’t funded will have an opportunity to be funded this round,” he said.

The Federal Government outlined 26 projects as part of Round 1 of the Regional Connectivity Program totalling more than $24 million already announced.

It was announced that $130 million would go into the Regional Connectivity Program.

“The 2021-22 Budget includes $105.8 million funding for Round 2 of the hugely popular Regional Connectivity Program, $45.6 million of which is quarantined for projects in Northern Australia – a vital strategic growth area,” Mr Coulton said.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the program would open opportunities in central and north Queensland that wouldn’t have otherwise been available.

“It’s connecting them to the world, but more importantly it’s connecting the world to them,” he said.

He said he drove along the ‘beef roads’ all the time and said they needed to be fixed.

“Somebody in fact yesterday called me ‘chicken man’, in Rockhampton. I thought he was being offensive when he said, ‘you’re everywhere, you’re everywhere,” Mr McCormack said.

“So, I took it as a compliment. I get around anywhere.”

He accused Labor of only delivering roads in the inner-city, saying the roads did not stop at Queen Street in Brisbane.

“I’m happy to work with any government, of any political persuasion, to get bitumen down,” he said.

But Shadow Minister for Northern Australia Murray Watt, also in Rockhampton on Thursday, was dubious about the new Regional Connectivity Program.

“We don’t have very much information about this (the Regional Connectivity Program), it’s only what we’ve seen in the papers ourselves, but the senate inquiry that I chaired about the Northern Australia agenda identified that the lack of connectivity, whether it be about roads or telecommunications or other things between Northern Australia and the rest of the country, is really holding back the north,” he said.

“We know that many people in Northern Australia live in remote areas, they face the tyranny of distance, so overcoming that lack of connectivity through more investment in roads and telecommunications can only be a good thing.

“I will believe it when I see it though. This government makes a whole lot of announcements, whether it be about roads, telecommunications, about beef, about resilience funding and they never actually follow through.

“We’re still waiting for them to spend a single cent from a four billion dollar disaster mitigation fund that they announced two years ago in the budget. So it’s all very well to have little announcements dropped out in the run up to the budget, but what really matters is what actually happens on the ground.”

He also slammed the Federal Government for it handling of the NAIF funding, labelling it a ‘failure’.

“Federal Labor has been calling on the government to overhaul the NAIF for years. We have been putting up constructive suggestions about what the NAIF could be doing differently for years,” he said.

“It is a shame that it has taken the government as long as it has to actually take some action. There is legislation that has finally been introduced by this government into the parliament to free up the NAIF, Labor has supported that legislation in the House of Representatives, we will have some amendments to try to improve it further in the Senate when it is debated there, but seriously, if a fund that has $5 billion in it can only spend six per cent of its funding after five years, it’s a failure.

“They have let down the people of Northern Australia and they have got to get moving.”