It certainly gives me pleasure to rise and stand in support of the member for Herbert's outstanding motion in confirming the government's commitment to the delivery of the white paper on the development of Northern Australia. There have been proposals on this since 1935, and a whole lot of opportunities that have been squandered in the past. There is no doubt about it: this government is absolutely committed to deliver on this one.
The white paper was due out at the end of February. Unfortunately, with the change of Queensland government, we have to wait until the Queensland Premier signs off on it, because it is important that the state and territories have ownership of that. We will certainly have the white paper out well and truly before the May budget, and there is no question about that for those that may be concerned about it.
I was the chair of the committee that travelled around looking at opportunities that were there, and the opportunities are endless. I notice that the member for Herbert, rightfully so, boasted about recent achievements in relation to the Townsville Airport. We are recommending that our regional airports in Northern Australia increase capacity and are given the opportunity to do that.
If I could just do a little bit of boasting of my own: our humble Cairns international airport last year had 4.3 million passengers. This year over 4.6 million passengers are expected through the airport—not a bad achievement for a small, regional airport—and we are certainly looking at growing.
When we talk about customs and border security, again we are talking Townsville Airport, but we also need that expanded right across Northern Australia. Our border security agencies are based here in Northern Australia. I have been arguing very strongly that the HMAS Choules should be removed from Sydney and based in Far-North Queensland. We would love to have it at HMAS Cairns. Given that the LHCs have been recently retired, it would help to replace that capacity.
There are lots of other things. We also should be looking at CSIRO, if we are going to talk about expanding our agriculture, which we definitely have to do. We need extension offices there, and we need agencies like the CSIRO expanded into our regions to be able to offer those services to support the growth in that area.
I heard the member for Kennedy talking about water. He is absolutely right: of course we have learnt a lot from the past but we are effectively able to build dams these days considering all of the likely impacts. We talk about Nullinga on the Walsh River, which he talked about, which will significantly increase the capacity of the tablelands with the addition of the Tinaroo Dam. It will also give a long-term water supply for the growth of Cairns as a city. The triple benefit is that it will ensure that the existing hydro station at Barron Gorge can reach full capacity, so providing a baseload for renewal power.
In our report—and we are really looking forward to it—we talked about roads, we talked about the Hann Highway, we talked about the rebuilding of the beef roads, and we talked about the Tanami. They are all very important things that we need to do.
The member for Perth mentioned the integrated energy power grid at the Pilbara. Absolutely that is a recommendation that we have in the report. She talked also about the university involvement, and I am looking forward to going to Perth to speak to her universities, because it is very important that they come on board with JCU, Charles Darwin University and, of course, CQU to get that northern Australia expertise. Those universities are going to play an integral part in a whole range of opportunities that will be available there.
We talked about agriculture. We talked about fisheries—expanding on fisheries. Aquaculture is another one. You have to ask the question: why is it that there has not been a new project on the eastern seaboard for 13 years, yet according to CSIRO we have 1.3 million hectares across northern Australia that is suitable for aquaculture?
So there are lots of opportunities out there. We are certainly very much looking forward to capturing many of those opportunities in the white paper when it is released in the not-too-distant future. Once we have those opportunities identified in that white paper, we are certainly looking forward to the opportunities we can create for private enterprise to invest and for enabling legislation to happen. I think northern Australia has a great future.