Article – Budget boost for WA’s north

5 May 2015
Nick Butterly and Andrew Probyn
The West Australian
Australia’s economic engine room — northern WA — will be at the heart of a multibillion-dollar Federal Government plan to boost resources and food exports to Asia and the southern States.
The West Australian understands almost $2 billion will be set aside in next week’s Federal Budget to develop infrastructure and agriculture in northern Australia, with a big focus on outback roads.
Karratha, the population epicentre for iron ore and liquefied natural gas exports in the Pilbara, will be among five cities across WA, the Northern Territory and Queensland to get special attention.
Kununurra in WA’s far north will benefit from a renewed interest in the expansion of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme.
Treasurer Joe Hockey’s second Budget on Tuesday will reveal the Commonwealth has opted to combine funding for the Northern Australia and Agriculture White Papers because they are thought to have considerable overlap.
Neither White Paper has been released publicly but Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Nationals leader Warren Truss will be in Cairns on Friday to unveil some elements of the Northern Australia White Paper.
It is understood the White Paper’s final report has been influenced by a cross-party parliamentary inquiry into the development of northern Australia, tabled in September, which found that upgrading roads was critical to economic and social development.
The inquiry nominated the Tanami Track and Outback Way for upgrades “as a matter of priority” along with national highways and so-called “beef development roads” across WA, the NT and Queensland that were built for smaller freight vehicles.
The Tanami Track is a 1000km stretch of mostly dirt road between Halls Creek in the Kimberley and Alice Springs. The Outback Way, dubbed Australia’s longest short cut, is between Laverton in WA and Winton in Queensland.
Sealing the Tanami Track would allow primary producers in WA’s far north better access to southern markets by creating a direct freight corridor between the Kimberley and South Australia, shortening the journey by 1100km and 17 hours.
This would aid the Ord River Irrigation Scheme, which under Stage 2 will double to 28,000ha.
Stage 3 would expand the scheme across the NT border.
“Sealing and flood-proofing these roads along their entire length would allow year-round access for industry, tourists and residents, significantly reduce travel times and facilitate economic opportunities improved roads renewed,” the parliamentary inquiry chaired by Liberal MP Warren Entsch found.
Controversially, Mr Entsch’s committee recommended the Government consider making northern Australia a special economic zone.
Northern Australia – defined as north of the Tropic of Capricorn – has long been a policy conundrum.
It covers 40 per cent of the land mass but has just 4 per cent of the population. It has some massive water reserves on top of its mineral opportunity and is on the doorstep of Asia and the tropical world, which will have half the globe’s people by 2050.
Northern Australian ports dispatched 55 per cent of the nation’s sea exports in 2012-13, worth $120 billion, of which 84 per cent were coal, petroleum, gas and iron ore.
Full release of the Agriculture and Northern Australia white papers is being controlled by the Prime Minister’s Office, which is causing some aggravation within Government.
Budget boost for WA’s north
Courtesy of The West Australian