28 June 2013
By David Sparkes
OPPOSITION Leader Tony Abbott’s announcement last week about his vision to develop Northern Australia received virtually no scrutiny from the Federal Government, which was busy eating itself alive.
That is a pity, because a genuine interrogation of Mr Abbott’s policy would have shown it to be a bit of a joke.
Not that northern Australian lacks potential for further development.
Clearly, it has that potential.
The problem with Mr Abbott’s announcement is that it overestimates the role a government can play in building northern Australia and underestimates what governments from either side of politics have already done to facilitate growth.
Northern Australia will continue to develop, but it will not be caused by the Coalition’s grand vision.
Mr Abbott’s plan (or plan to create a plan) puts the cart ahead of the horse.
He talks of creating a $150 billion energy export sector. Sounds great.
There’s just one problem governments don’t actually decide to export more gas or more coal, even if they want to.
The main determining factor is the global market.
How much does the world want to buy and how much are other countries producing?
Again, the role of a government is to facilitate growth in the energy sector.
Before Mr Abbott’s announcement last week, had no government ever done anything to develop the north?
He seems to think so, but maybe that is because he forgot to do a quick Google search.
The Northern Australia Ministerial Forum has met twice a year since 2010.
This includes two weeks ago in Cairns.
It included seven ministers from the Commonwealth, Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, as well as other experts. At this month’s forum, one of the highlights was a visit by officials and business leaders from China.
So, Mr Abbott is hardly Robinson Crusoe.
Another bizarre aspect of Mr Abbott’s plan to create a plan is the suggested use of tax breaks, or tax incentives, or tax whatevers to attract a bigger population.
The Budget is in deficit, as Mr Abbott keeps reminding us, and I would have thought cutting revenue would be the last policy to introduce.
Northern Australia will continue to develop, but it will develop because there is genuine demand for what the region offers, not because Mr Abbott is a visionary.