INFRASTRUCTURE and Regional Development Minister Warren Truss says he expects new Northern Australia Minister Josh Frydenberg to play a coordinating role pulling together key elements of the $1.2 billion Northern Development White Paper.
Mr Frydenberg was named as the new Resource and Energy Minister and Northern Australia Minister in Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s new ministry, announced on Sunday.
The Liberal MP was elected to parliament in 2010 to represent the seat of Kooyong which borders the Victorian inner-city seat of Melbourne currently held by the Greens' only Lower House representative Adam Bandt.
The 44-year old was Assistant Treasurer in the Abbott ministry and member of the high-powered Expenditure Review Committee, or “razor-gang”, which oversaw expenditure on the Agriculture and Northern Development White Paper.
In response to criticism from Labor about his lack of northern experience, Mr Truss said Mr Frydenberg come from a Melbourne-based electorate but he was “passionate about Australia”.
“We’ve always been arguing that the northern development proposals are not just for the north, they’re for the whole of the country and the whole country will be enriched if the north is able to achieve its potential,” Mr Truss said.
Mr Truss and former Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced the Northern White Paper in June, containing $1.2b in spending commitments, in the forward estimates.
The items included a $5b concessional loan facility for economic infrastructure projects; $200 million water infrastructure facility; $700m to build new roads; and $75m for a new northern focused cooperative research centre.
Mr Truss said the responsibility for implementing the Northern White Paper package had been spread around a large number of government portfolios.
He currently has responsibility for its infrastructure projects while water infrastructure and dams sits in the agriculture ministry, minerals and resources sit with Mr Frydenberg’s new role and Treasury has the biggest aspect of the project - the $5b financing package.
“I could go through half a dozen other departments with a direct involvement in this package,” Mr Truss said.
“I think it’s a good thing to now have a coordinating minister for this White Paper which will be supported out of my Department and therefore (Mr Frydenberg and I) will have a close working relationship.
“Josh’s role will be a coordinating one and a number of ministers will continue to exercise their authority over the areas within their domain and that includes my responsibility for infrastructure.
“I will certainly be involved in all of those operations.
“I’ve yet to meet with Josh to talk about how we’ll divide those responsibilities but I’ll certainly continue to be a passionate supporter and implementer of the package.”
Northern minister welcomed
Northern Australia Development Office general manager Luke Bowen welcomed Mr Turnbull’s move to introduce Mr Frydenberg as a dedicated Minister for Northern Australia, to maintain and expand the government’s focus on developing the region.
Mr Bowen said it was essential that the White Paper’s implementation was coordinated efficiently across various relevant jurisdictions, not just federal government portfolios like infrastructure, trade and agriculture and water.
He also stressed it was important Mr Frydenberg maintained the strategic involvement of Mr Truss and Mr Turnbull and Trade Minister Andrew Robb who has been heavily involved in developing and promoting policy to grow Northern Australia, in recent years.
“The specific focus of a dedicated minister is a welcome move and keeps Northern Australia right on the government’s radar,” he said.
“But we also need to maintain strong buy-in from all three northern States – the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland – which is critical to the White Paper’s success and to maintain the work that’s already been done.
“A considerable amount of cross pollination is required for Northern Australia to be a success and to continue implementing the White Paper that this government has started.
“Andrew Robb has been a real champion with his work in the trade portfolio and a champion for Northern Australia and we hope he continues to be a central and pivotal part of plans to develop the northern region.”
Mr Bowen said having someone who was genuine and hard-working taking on the Northern Development role “can be a real positive” whether they’re form a city-based electorate or not.
“A fresh set of eyes never goes astray either,” he said.
'Glass half-full' outlook
Mr Frydenberg acknowledged outgoing Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane for his services in the role, as did the Queensland Resources Council.
Queensland Rescoures Council chief executive Michael Roche welcomed Mr Frydenberg’s appointment saying Mr Turnbull “is to be congratulated on discerning the obvious synergies between the Resources and Northern Australia portfolios”.
Mr Frydenberg said he was humbled to be taking on the new portfolio and saw the role as “glass half-full” given current challenges with falling commodity prices but growing opportunities in recently signed free trade agreements with Asian countries like China.
He said the Coalition was the first government to ever do a Northern development white paper which he will continue working on, in areas like infrastructure, water resources and land use policy.
“I see real opportunity in a number of sectors in Northern Australia whether it be mineral and energy sectors, whether it’s agriculture, whether it’s tourism, whether it’s international education,” he said.
“There are a lot of opportunities and that would apply to the Northern Territory, parts of Western Australia (and) parts of Queensland.
“I think with the growing middle class in Asia this produces huge opportunities for our country which we should be ready to seize.”
Don't take north for granted: Snowden
Shadow Northern Australia Minister Warren Snowden said he was surprised Mr Turnbull couldn’t find a Coalition member from the north, for the new portfolio.
“His electorate of Kooyong in the affluent Eastern suburbs of Melbourne is a world away from the realities of Northern Australia,” he said of Mr Frydenberg.
“Mr Frydenberg has a lot to learn about the north and must approach this new job with the intention of seeking and listening to advice from those with the knowledge that he simply does not have.
“I am sure that Mr Frydenberg will be given every chance to demonstrate his bonafides by people in the north but he should not take us for granted.
“Northern Australia deserves someone who knows their way around our issues and has the dust of the north on their boots.”