Article – Call to think again if the north's to grow

7 November 2013
Joe Kelly
The Australian
NORTHERN Australia should avoid a simplistic one-size-fits-all approach to driving growth, with infrastructure and human capital constraints the key issues to be tackled by policymakers.
That is the warning of a development report released today by the Regional Australia Institute intended to help guide debate on the government’s promised white paper on the development of northern Australia due by next September.
The paper advocates a new approach based on strategies aimed at the area’s three prevalent regions, including: major towns such as Townsville, Cairns, Darwin and Mackay; mining, agricultural and tourism hubs; and remote pastoral areas and indigenous communities.
The study is based on an analysis of the seven Regional Development Australia areas and 74 local government areas north of the Tropic of Capricorn.
“Northern Australia has too often been the recipient of one-off strategies that may be positive in isolation, but add up to little long-term change,” RAI chief executive Su McCluskey said.
“This will be a core challenge for the current government, which has the opportunity to revolutionise the north and the role it plays in Australia’s future.”
The paper says that northern Australia’s access to infrastructure and essential services is below the national average, including access to primary and secondary education.
“Very low competitiveness in access to technical or further education requires further investigation to reveal the factors creating barriers to participation,” the report says.
In terms of human capital, the report finds the workforce available in northern Australia is not as attractive to potential employers in terms of English proficiency, school performance and university qualifications held.
The report warns the limitations in infrastructure and human capital “risk creating bottlenecks to growth in the north” but acknowledges the economic competitiveness of northern Australia is high, having been boosted by the mining boom. It recommends a “comprehensive and strategic audit of existing infrastructure and expansion priorities” and encourages the government’s white paper to look into the conditions needed to link industries and communities with export markets and supply chains.
Ms McCluskey said the paper was intended to stimulate consultation with community, business, and all tiers of government.
Courtesy of the Australian