27 September 2023

Address to Western Queensland Alliance of Councils (WQAC) Assembly, Winton

Address to Western Queensland Alliance of Councils (WQAC) Assembly, Winton


Maximising the future of our regions

Thank you, Uncle Michael, for welcoming us to country this morning.

Today, we acknowledge the elders, the traditions, the culture of the Koa people –

And we acknowledge the generational opportunity the Voice represents –

To recognise, and listen, and get better outcomes for the First Nations of this state and of this country.

Gavin thank you for that kind introduction – and to the Western Queensland Alliance of Councils for bringing us together today.

This is the second stop that Senator Anthony Chisholm and I are taking on a listening tour of regional Queensland.

We started this trip in Rocky for the National Drought Forum –

Visited the Belmont Research Station with Murray Watt to announce five of our drought resilience plans for Queensland –

And we saw CQU’s fantastic school of mining.

We’re here in Winton with you this morning –

Heading out to a sheep farm this afternoon and then onto the Saleyards at Longreach to hear about how we can continue to support the future of your export industries –

And we’ll be opening the new Port facilities in Bundy tomorrow –

A project we’ve supported, which will help ensure Queensland’s growing marine, agriculture, and tourism industries continue to thrive.

By the end, we’ll have travelled more than 3,000 kilometres –

Covered an area that would take up a good chunk of continental Europe –

Home to fewer than 200,000 people.

These communities might be small, but your resiliency, your determination – and your contribution to our nation, is not.

We know this, because it’s not the first time that Anthony and I have made our way out into regional Queensland – and it won’t be the last.

These have been important opportunities.

We’ve benefitted so much from the core decency of these communities –

Here amongst the cattle and the crops –

And been inspired by the hope and optimism you carry for the future.

While it might not be especially unusual for me and Anthony to be here this morning –

As proud Queenslanders who know and appreciate the value of our regions –

It is unusual for a sitting Federal Treasurer.

Your Mayor, Gavin Baskett, tells me I’m the first to visit in living memory –

So, we had it checked, and it looks like I’m the first Treasurer to visit since Earle Page in 1928, almost 100 years ago.

A lot has changed in that time –

Our nation has gone through war, profound economic and social change –

30 different Federal Treasurers –

36 different Federal Parliaments –

But a lot has remained the same too.

There are important throughlines that connect the Winton of then, to the Winton of now –

The vitality of your primary industries, your resiliency, and the big contribution that you make to our country and our economy.

Winton has a proud history, and we want it to have a working future.

That’s why I’m so grateful for the opportunity to say a few words to you this morning –

To address this forum –

Because it gives me a chance to thank you, as Treasurer –

For all the opportunities you’ve created and will continue to create for our communities and for our country.

This area and its surrounds provide us with energy, resources, a thriving tourism industry –

As well as our food and our fibre.

These primary industries employ around 30 per cent of your workforce –

And helped our agriculture sector contribute more than $92 billion to our economy last year.

These are remarkable numbers –

Giving us firm evidence for something that we’ve known for a while now:

A better, brighter future for our regions isn’t optional –

It’s necessary, if we’re to make the most of our national chances and maximise our national opportunities.

Everybody here today, from state ministers, my federal colleagues, people like Anthony and Kristy McBain recognise that.

That’s why we’re helping you upgrade and build the infrastructure you need – better sporting facilities in Cloncurry, bicycle and walking paths in Croydon, roads in Longreach –

It’s behind our decision to bring forward funding for local councils – worth something like $8.8 million to Winton –

$200 million for the councils represented here today –

And even broader than that, it underpins our determination to govern for the whole place –

To make regional Queensland and regional Australia big beneficiaries of the change in front of us –

So that we create a future in which all our people can prosper in the defining decade ahead.

Western Queensland's working future

That’s a big part of what Working Future, our Employment White Paper that we released on Monday, is about.

We see the White Paper as a roadmap for an Australia that makes the most of the big shifts underway in our society and our economy over the coming decades –

So that the people of our regions can thrive and adapt in the right way to the change in front of us –

For the benefit of all of us.

The White Paper is important for a whole range of reasons.

It outlines a new definition of full employment, emphasising inclusion –

Supports a productivity agenda that’s about investing in people –

Highlights the importance of job security, strong wages growth and addressing our skills needs.

But the thing that I think is most important about it for the regions –

Why I’m so glad to have the opportunity to speak to you about it today –

Is the way that it recognises something that you’ve known for a long time now:

That we need to create more opportunities in the regions –

And make sure that more Australians can access them.

That’s why our roadmap outlines over 90 actions implemented, underway or outlined as future directions, for regional Australia –

And it’s why a whole section of our plan is about modernising regional and industrial policy –

Building the foundations for our better future, right here in the bush.

Our goal is to make sure you benefit from the energy transformation –

That more people in the regions can handle advanced technology in ways that work for, not against them –

While building and consolidating your traditional strengths in resources and primary industries too.

Albanese government's agenda for local councils

But this roadmap isn’t just about what we do, it’s about how we do it.

Our government wants to make policy with the regions, not just for the regions.

We know that you’re the ones who understand the issues on the ground –

Because your kids are going to the local schools –

Your businesses are making use of the local roads –

And your neighbours are gathering in the parks, and the pools, the shops, and the pubs.

That’s why in June, we held the first Australian Council of Local Government in over a decade –

It’s why we’re working to make local grant programs more effective –

On funding more regional precincts –

And it’s why we’re putting in place a new Regional Investment Framework.

A new, systemic, and consistent approach to regional development –

Listening and learning from local voices –

So that we can make the right investments, at the right time and in the right places –

Confident that so many of the changes that are in front of us have huge upside for the people of Western Queensland.

Western Queensland and the five shifts

We think of these big changes as five shifts –

Outlined in the White Paper and in the Intergenerational Report before it –

From hydrocarbons to renewables –

From IT to AI –

From a younger population to an older one –

Which changes our industrial base and places a bigger emphasis on finding workers for the care economy –

And from globalisation to fragmentation.

All these shifts are important, and all will have an impact on Western Queensland and our regions.

But today I want to talk about three in particular –

Three, which I think will underpin our success in making Western Queensland the big beneficiaries of change.

A lot of this is about the foundational shifts happening in the geostrategic outlook in our region.

We’re entering a landscape where trading patterns are increasingly being shaped and influenced by national and strategic interests –

Not just economic ones.

These changes might be playing out at a global level –

But they’ve been felt here at home –

Especially by our primary industries.

That’s why it’s so important that we retain and sustain our advocacy for the benefits of free and fair trade –

Why we’ve made an important effort to stabilise our relationship with China –

And why we’ll use our Southeast Asia economic strategy to deliver you new and improved market access to areas where demand for your products will increase.

We know that the economic centre of gravity is shifting back towards our part of the world –

And this Asian Century is also the opportunity of the century for our primary industries.

In 1990 agricultural exports to Asia were worth around $6 billion –

By 2020, that had risen to $30 billion –

And they now sit at around $50 billion for 2022‑23.

All this suggests that you have what the burgeoning middle classes of our region need when they need it –

And that’s something which can help create jobs and opportunities for the people of Western Queensland.

With a growing source of demand in our region for your exports, the shift from IT to AI can help you make the most of it.

Because the benefits of advanced technology can extend beyond manufacturing and factories –

And out onto the farms of Winton, Cloncurry and Barcaldine.

Smart irrigation, biotech, automation –

All of these things can help you maximise the efficiency and sustainability of what you do –

Increasing yields while reducing environmental impact.

That’s important, because you, more than anyone, know that changes to our environment, to our climate, are only going to become more prominent and impactful over time.

You already plan for this, manage it –

But the risk of more extreme, frequent weather events could also translate into lower crop yields and livestock numbers –

Costing our economy about $1.8 billion in today’s dollars –

If we don’t act now.

More broadly though, we know all this has a human dimension –

This isn’t just about dollars, it’s about livelihoods –

Not just about industries, but whole communities that we want and need to keep thriving.

But if we get our response right, we can also create opportunities.

Around 300 km east of here is the proposed new Barcaldine Renewable Energy Zone –

A place that will pioneer the zero emissions production of hydrogen, ammonia, urea –

And that represents so much about what net zero can mean for our regions.

Because by transforming our energy systems we can also create new industries, new sources of growth –

And new opportunities for communities here in Western Queensland and across the country.

Here, in managing climate, maximising energy, the opportunities of digital and the development of new export markets –

We can realise a future of continued prosperity for the people of Western Queensland –


We were appreciative of the way you outlined your priorities to us around housing, digital, energy and infrastructure before the last election.

Making the right investments here is a big part of our White Paper roadmap for the regions.

Investing in the keys to WQ's future

It starts with strong economic foundations.

Macroeconomic settings which promote full employment –

Progressing a productivity agenda based on human capital, digital, care, harnessing the energy transformation effectively –

And, for Western Queensland, making sure that people can move to and live where good jobs are available –

So that your businesses can operate at their full potential –

And so, your communities can thrive in the decades ahead.

That means we need to build more homes.

We know and appreciate that every single local council represented here today has published its own Housing Action Plan –

That you take this issue as seriously as we do –

And that there is a pressing need for more housing in places like Maranoa, Boulia and Burketown.

That’s why we put so much effort into passing the Housing Australia Future Fund –

To help you build the homes that you need.

And that’s not where our agenda ends.

We’re incentivising the states to build even more homes –

We’re expanding NHFIC’s capacity to lend to community housing –

Introducing new incentives to encourage build‑to‑rent projects –

And upgrading the ambition of our Housing Accord – with the goal of now building 1.2 million more, well‑located homes over five years from 2024.

All this will help put the foundations in place for people to live where they can best work –

As we make investments in improving workforce planning.

We’re convening the Agricultural Workforce Working Group – to better understand what kind of labour primary industries need, and where –

Tasking Jobs and Skills Australia with better understanding where regional opportunities are being created –

And building a bigger, better, regional skills base.

That means focusing on making sure all Australians get access to the foundation skills that they need –

Ensuring they can better adapt and adopt to technology –

Investing in Regional University Study Hubs – like the ones In Mt Isa and Roma –

While putting in place migration settings that work in our interests.

Accelerating visa processing –

Tripling permanent migrant places for regional Australia –

And a Migration Strategy coming soon, focused on helping us address key workforce shortages.

We’re also elevating regional and industry policy to create bigger and better opportunities for Western Queensland.

We’re developing a decarbonisation plan for the agriculture sector focused on creating a clear pathway and growth opportunities for primary industries –

We’re establishing a new Net Zero Authority that will make sure the energy transformation works for and through the regions –

Set aside hundreds of millions for investment in value‑adding in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food and fibre through our National Reconstruction Fund –

While strengthening our biosecurity system.

We’re making big investments in climate adaptation through our Disaster Ready Fund –

And funding each year from the Future Drought Fund will support the resiliency of your industries and enhance the wellbeing of your communities.

These investments will be maximised in a digital regional economy –

Underpinned by our investments in better connectivity –

And more effective mobile broadband.

Things which will improve the efficiency of your industries –

And improve access to the high‑quality remote health support that your communities need –

While we build and strengthen the infrastructure that connects you to the rest of the country.

We’ve allocated funding to improve your roads –

To upgrade the Queensland Beef Corridors –

And to improve airstrips in Burketown, Croydon, Camooweal, Eulo, Normanton, Toompine and Wyandra –

Making it easier to move what you grow and produce out of Western Queensland, and away into the world.

I said I’m probably the first sitting Federal Treasurer to visit Winton in just shy of 100 years –

But you have had a Prime Minister or two in these parts during that time.

In 1995, Paul Keating was here celebrating the first performance of Waltzing Matilda at the North Gregory Hotel 100 years before.

Some of you in this room today might remember his visit.

In his speech, Paul spoke about how that song and its impact –

Elevated the spirit of the bush in our national consciousness –

Making it an indelible part of our collective Australian identity –

And that of the Labor party – born in Western Queensland.

That spirit is about optimism, it’s about resiliency, it’s about fairness, it’s about community –

It’s about meeting a generational responsibility to make things better for those who come after us.

You take all of this very seriously, and so do we –

Knowing that if we act in that spirit, the way forward is clear:

The people of our regions can be big beneficiaries of the changes underway in our economy and society –

Managing the challenge of climate change, while maximising the opportunities of the energy transformation –

Harnessing the benefits of advanced technology –

And tapping into the developing markets of our region –

To create a better future.

That’s what the Employment White Paper’s all about –

Setting out a vision for a strong regional labour market that taps into these opportunities and a roadmap to meet it –

Through strong economic foundations, better workforce planning, investments in skills, migration settings which work in our interests and elevating regional and industrial policy.

Our government understands that a bigger, better future for Western Queensland, for regional Australia –

Is the key to a better future for our country too.

That’s why opening today’s assembly is such an honour –

Why I’m convinced what follows over the next two days will be productive and useful –

And why I’m so looking forward to contributing to the panel discussion ahead.

Thanks very much.