Article – Central Australia's role in developing the north

20 May 2014
Lauren Fitzgerald
ABC Rural

PHOTO: The joint select committee on northern Australia hears a presentation from RemoteFOCUS and Desert Knowledge Australia at a hearing in Alice Springs.

A parliamentary committee travelling around northern Australia has arrived in the Northern Territory, with a first stop in Alice Springs.

The committee is asking individuals and groups what needs to be done to develop northern Australia.
Alice Springs is just below the boundary line used to define the north in a white paper discussion on the issue, and was only included a couple of months ago.
Better roads was at the top of the wish list for many of the groups that addressed the committee at the Alice Springs hearing.
The Outback Highway Development Council is lobbying for the sealing of the road network connecting cairns to Perth.
The Federal Government has committed $33 million to the road, but $512 million is needed to seal the entire route.
The Council’s General Manager, Helen Lewis, says a range of industries will benefit from such a network.
“The classic industries include tourism and cattle, and of course there’s lots of mining development as well at the moment,” she said.
“But also I think critically is the social improvements of continuity of health and education services to regional and remote areas.
The Ngaanyatjarra Camel Company agrees that better roads will make a big difference.
They operate a camel mustering business just over the border into Western Australia as well as the APY Lands of South Australia, and sends the camels to an abattoir in Peterborough SA.
The manager of land and culture for the Ngaanyatjarra Council, Alex Knight, says the Outback Way will run right through their communities.
“So tourism is great for us and it’s growing, so improving those roads really improves the ability for the tourists to travel,” he said
“But it also improves the ability for us to transport our camels.”
Investing in Central Australia
Many of the groups that addressed the committee at the Alice Springs are non for profit organisations, that rely mostly on Federal Government funding and grants.
The Centre for Appropriate Technology is one of them, and the CEO Bruce Walker says there needs to be more investment in Central Australian projects if it is going to contribute to the development of the north.
He says the region doesn’t have the same access to markets that other parts of northern Australia does.
“The market in remote Australia particularly isn’t active, it’s very active in Darwin, but it’s not active in the rest of the Territory and is largely government funded,” he says.
“The opportunity in Central Australia is unlike any other town in Australia on the inland, because we will never build another town like Alice Springs.
“There will never be another opportunity to build an inland capital of Australia.
“All the other towns will come and go, they’ll be fly in fly out, mining towns like Mount Isa and Kalgoorlie.
“With its geographical location Alice Springs can service a significant area, the backyard of Western Australia, the backyard of the Territory and Queensland, and the top of South Australia, and the back of NSW if we work hard at it.
“I think we’re at a watershed moment with the Commonwealth Government thinking about north Australia, to actually say ‘let’s think about Central Australia in a way that we can support it, but let’s think about it differently’.”
The committee will hold another hearing in Darwin today, before heading to Gove and Katherine over the next two days.

Courtesy of ABC Rural