27 September 2019

I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this ancient land on which we are gathered and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.

Can I start by thanking the Derby Chamber of Commerce for the invitation to attend the Kimberley Economic Forum and for me, as Labor’s new shadow trade minister, to talk to you about the economic potential of this region.

I also acknowledge the presence here today of Dean Smith, Senator for Western Australia, as well as our state Treasurer and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Ben Wyatt.

It’s a real privilege for me to be back in the Kimberley – a truly unique part of Australia with a fascinating history, a rich culture and an astonishing beauty.

All of you here today, participating in the Kimberley Economic Forum are the experts on your economy as you live and work this remarkable place every single day.

I am not here today to give advice on matters I am not expert in, but rather I would seek to make a few observations about this important region of Western Australia and the nation.

If only more Australians knew of this very special corner of our continent and could afford to travel here – but that’s a topic I will come back to a bit later.

For a time I worked for the Parliamentary Secretary for Northern Australia and the Special Minister of State, the Hon Gary Gray AO. As many in this room would know, Gary was no stranger to the Kimberley, and was the architect of the East Kimberley Development Package.

When I worked for Gary, I had the remarkable opportunity to visit the Kimberley in 2012 alongside then Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who on that trip became the first Australian prime minister to travel to the Kimberley town of Wyndham.

The Prime Minister was visiting Wyndham to see the results of a massive social infrastructure program that delivered hospital and school upgrades, housing, swimming pools, and the all-important, Anthons Landing community jetty.
The old jetty that sat on a pontoon on the Wyndham River, was low and close to the water made it unsafe in bad weather, but also unsafe for the community to fish there, given the hungry local occupants of the river.

It is a model for how government infrastructure spending can provide an economic and social boost for a local remote community --economic benefits in construction jobs, and providing safe berthing for tourist cruise vessels visiting the Kimberley; and social benefits in creating a safe (crocodile-avoiding) fishing jetty for the local community.

I followed in Gary Gray’s footsteps as the member for Brand, and I intend to follow his important contribution to this region by being an active participant in the development of good economic policy for the Kimberley region.

This is my first time in Derby. I arrived yesterday and enjoyed meeting some of you at the Mary Island Fishing Club. And this afternoon, I look forward to visiting the Mowanjum Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre.

Last year I was thrilled to buy an artwork from the centre that now hangs in my office at Parliament House in Canberra.

The painting, by Kimberley woman Petrina Bedford, depicts Wandjinas (or cloud and rain spirits) from the beautiful Bell Gorge, along the famous Gibb River Road.

The artwork is absolutely stunning and it’s a regular talking point among those who come into my office for meetings.

Indigenous art is a passion of mine -- and it’s where I want to begin today’s discussion with you.

After I was elected to Parliament in 2016, one of the committees I joined involved travelling to Indigenous art centres and art fairs across the country as part of an inquiry into fake Aboriginal art.

I was shocked to learn of the extraordinary proliferation of cheap imitations of the cultural expression of a proud culture that is 65,000 years old.

We obviously can’t allow this to continue unchecked.

The inquiry made a number of recommendations to preserve and protect Indigenous art – including new intellectual property laws – that I hope will one day be pursued by the government.

The inquiry also found that the misappropriation of Aboriginal cultures has a negative impact on Australia's image overseas.

Our Indigenous art is an important industry that it is acclaimed throughout the world and enhances our national identity.

As we know, it also provides substantial economic and social benefit for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

It is therefore highly damaging to our nation, to regions such as the Kimberley where the art is produced, and to the artists themselves, that there have been so many cases of fake art.

I personally came to understand the global significance of our Indigenous art on a holiday to Paris several years ago.

After ascending to one of the higher levels of the Eiffel Tower, I was drawn to an unexpected sight below.

As millions of other tourists have also discovered, there on rooftop of the Musee du quai Branly is a vast and spectacular work by Kimberley artist Lena Nyadbi, of the Kija people.

Her painting, Daiwul Lirlmim, is based on the Dreamtime story of the barramundi that got stuck in the narrow gap of an East Kimberley hill range.

It is the single largest contemporary art installation ever seen in a European city.

How remarkable that a woman from the Kimberley has produced a work that is now indelibly etched into the Paris skyline. It truly is a marvel and something all Australians should be extraordinarily proud of.

It is somewhat ironic that Indigenous art is being spoken about as an emerging industry for the Kimberley, given it is central to the heritage of this land that stretches back thousands and thousands of years.

The region’s established industries – tourism, mining, agriculture, pastoralism, construction and retail -- will continue to be the key contributors to the Kimberley’s economic output in the years ahead.

But new industries will emerge.

The possibilities are endless - because the Kimberley’s human capital, its economy and its infrastructure are all at relatively early stages of development.

And so the Kimberley will be of increasing economic importance to this state and this nation in the decades ahead.

The tourism sector, in particular, has massive potential. The Kimberley is about more than tourism but this important sector puts the Kimberley region on the world stage.

And how could it not, with world-class attractions like Cable Beach, Lake Argyle, the Mitchell Plateau, the Gibb River Road, the Buccaneer Archipelago, Cape Leveque and the World Heritage-listed Bungle Bungle Range.

All these places produce iconic imagery that is shared all around the world on social media platforms.

Many tourists who come to the Kimberley want unique experiences and they particularly want to learn about the region’s Aboriginal heritage – an area that offers enormous opportunities for indigenous employment and enterprise.

They also want to see some of the hundreds of thousands of rock art paintings that are hidden in the outback bush galleries of the north Kimberley.

The West Australian state Labor government’s initiative in securing affordable airfares from Perth to Broome is an important step in actually getting more people to this region.

I note also that direct flights between Melbourne and Kununurra are due to begin in May next year, to complement the start of the peak tourism season up here.

Just imagine how appealing the Kimberley’s tropical climate will seem to a Melbournian slogging away in a bleak winter. Especially those supporting Carlton or St Kilda. Or Melbourne.

I congratulate the McGowan government for these successes.

I’d also like to spend a couple of minutes talking about the Kimberley’s natural resources industry.

Like so much else up here, it is unique.

This is a region that accounts for all of Western Australia’s diamond output and produces about 90 per cent of the world’s supply of famous pink diamonds -- thanks to Rio Tinto’s Argyle mine.

Gold was first discovered in the Kimberley (at Halls Creek in 1885) a full eight years before the celebrated gold rush in Kalgoorlie.

And WA’s very first iron ore mine began construction in 1944 on Cockatoo Island – well before the larger discoveries in the Pilbara.

These days, major economic benefits are flowing from the bountiful deposits of natural gas off the Kimberley coast.

From a trade portfolio perspective, the multibillion-dollar LNG projects in these waters are critically important to Australia’s export-focused economy and our links to our Asian neighbours.

The combined capital spending on Inpex’s Ichthys plant and Shell’s Prelude floating LNG project was more than $80 billion – mind-boggling amounts.

Broome has become an important logistics hub for both of these projects, employing hundreds of workers. The town also serves as a base for aviation and marine services for the projects.

It’s especially pleasing to see benefits flowing to local Aboriginal communities such as Djarindjin, 170km north of Broome, where helicopters travelling between Broome and the Ichthys gas field land for refuelling.

There is a clear role for governments in stimulating the economic development of the Kimberley – in the provision of infrastructure and in supporting projects that create jobs.

But I would argue that the Coalition government in Canberra has not achieved these objectives.

I would also say that has it has failed monumentally in the way it has managed the $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund.

Four years after the NAIF was launched, the Morrison government has released less than $40 million for just three projects -- two in the Northern Territory and one in Western Australia (in the Pilbara).

At this rate, it will take the Government 500 years to distribute all of the NAIF’s $5 billion in funding.

This failure of the NAIF – which should support the economic development of the Kimberley – should be compared with the success of the East Kimberley Development Package I referred to earlier.

This was a social investment package that was developed by a Federal Labor Government with the close cooperation of the Liberal -National State Government of Western Australia and delivered through the Shire of Wyndham East Kimberley.

The investment in social and common-use infrastructure and its delivery was an exceptional demonstration of what a partnership of federal, state, local governments, indigenous organisations, and meaningful community consultation can achieve.

The Government should be encouraged to look to this program as a model that it might integrate into the vast, sadly unspent NAIF. It should not matter which side of politics developed this model – if it works, and it did, use it.

I will conclude with some observations about the ongoing trade war between the United States and China.

I am worried about the impact of this dispute on Australia, because we have been a beneficiary of the multilateral system that is founded on trade liberalisation and adherence to transparent rules.

We have long rejected unilateralism and protectionism.

One in five Australian workers is now employed in trade-related activities.
We are now among the world’s biggest exporters of iron ore, coal, natural gas, wool, aluminium ores, beef, cotton, wine and education services.

While this trade war drags on, we must look to other avenues to support the rules-based global trading system.

For this reason, Australia must play a leadership role in negotiations for a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

This is a comprehensive agreement that would include the 10 countries of Southeast Asia as well as Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

These 16 countries account for almost half of the world’s population, over 30 per cent of global GDP and over a quarter of world exports.

Finalising a high quality trade agreement for the region would be great news for export-oriented businesses in Australia, including for those here in the Kimberley.

After all, here in Derby we are closer to Southeast Asia than to Perth.

So whether you’re a live cattle exporter, a mining company shipping out commodities, or a local tourism operator, you are well-positioned to capitalise on the Kimberley’s proximity to some of the world’s fastest-growing markets.
I understand there are special challenges for business people in remote areas.

But I want to see all level of governments in Australia, working together productively and – doing everything possible to support you in your endeavours.

If I can make one final point. More of an idea. Once every year in Parliament House in Canberra there is an event called ‘Facing North’.

It is a remarkable showcase of Northern Territory tourism, art, industry and development. It is supported wholeheartedly by the Chief Minister of the NT, Michael Gunner, and he comes to Canberra every year to participate.

This event is an excellent opportunity for business, for chambers of commerce, local government authorities, and development groups to create interest in what they produce. It brings the NT to Canberra.

Western Australia should do the same. There have been great efforts to bring a taste of WA to Canberra, but while the WA event in parliament is an excellent start, it is a shadow of the NT’s.

I would urge the Western Australian Government to support a greater presence for WA in this form which puts the produce and the people of Western Australia – all of Western Australia - in front of the eyes of the people making decisions that will have great bearing on the future of the State, and the extraordinary Kimberley region.

Thank you all for all you do for the Kimberley region and thank you for your time.