Article – CSIRO’s dam hunt helps plan for north

10 June 2014
Sid Maher
The Australian

The CSIRO will conduct a “rapid’’ study of all water catchments across northern Australia to identify potential new dam sites as part of the Coalition’s plan to dramatically increase the development of the region.

Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss will today launch a green paper on developing northern Australia that will examine special economic zones, changes to indigenous land tenure to allow communities greater economic use of their holdings and the potential use of foreign aid to train students from developing countries in northern universities.
The water study could be used to develop plans ranging from small-scale on-farm infrastructure to large dams and reservoirs.
The government is also considering the establishment of a water project development fund for northern Australia to drive new projects.
The plan, promised during the federal election, calls for the development of a food bowl, including premium produce, which could help to double Australia’s agricultural output.
Mr Truss said the government also wanted to build an energy export industry worth $150 billion to the economy and grow tourism visits to the region to two million international visitors a year.
The government has also promised a rolling 15-year infrastructure priority list for the region, relocating elements of some commonwealth departments to the north and creating a co-operative research centre focused on developing the region.
Northern Australia is broadly ­defined as the area above the Tropic of Capricorn spanning Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland.
The green paper sets out six priority policies, including further infrastructure development, improving land use and access, improving water access and management, promoting trade and investment, boosting education, research and innovation and enhancing governance.
The document — which seeks comments until August 8 and which will be used in a white paper on developing the north — cites interest in special economic zones covering parts of northern Australia. “The zones, which often seek to make business easier by reducing taxes and red tape, exist in around 135 countries and are estimated to account for over $500bn in global trade,’’ the green paper says.
But it says the merits of such arrangements, and implications for other parts of the country, need to be “carefully examined’’.
It says the Constitution places constraints on the laws that can be passed by the federal government. “Federal taxation cannot discriminate between states (or within states) and preference cannot be given to one state (or part of a state) over another in laws or regulations of trade, commerce or revenue,’’ it says.
On land use, it floats the prospect of less restrictive leases in an area that has large areas under restrictive pastoral leases, more privately owned land and longer tenure. It says some stakeholders question whether current land-use reforms go far enough.
“Indigenous communities in northern Australia should be able to use their land for further economic development,’’ it says.
On indigenous land, it calls for the exploration of new ways to convert communal land holdings to unrestricted freehold if desired. It argues existing indigenous land tenure makes it impossible for landholders to raise finance to fund business ventures.
It cites Northern Territory and Queensland reforms allowing transferable 99-year leases to support commercial enterprises for indigenous landholders, which “makes it easier for people to own their homes and establish businesses on indigenous land’’.
It also cites opportunities to improve the efficiency of the ­native title system to reduce the average time of seven years to resolve claims. But further reforms would need to be consistent with “fundamental legal principles’’.
The green paper also cites northern expertise in tropical health and medicine, and disaster response as potential growth areas. It says there may be opportunities to train doctors, nurses and other health professionals from countries such as Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and the Pacific Islands in northern Australia. “The white paper will explore the possibility of accessing funds, through competitive mechanisms, from the foreign aid budget where activities meet the criteria of official development assistance,’’ it says.
Mr Truss also announced a Northern Australia Advisory Group to provide advice to the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, the premiers of Queensland and Western Australia and the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory.
Former NT chief minister Shane Stone will chair the group, which also includes indigenous self-determination advocate Wayne Bergmann. Other members include pastoralist Jack Burton, businessman Ken Chapman, James Cook University vice-chancellor Sandra Harding, community consultant Noeline Ikin, Ord River horticulturist David Menzel, businessman Nicholas Paspaley, Advance Cairns head Trent Twomey, north Queensland grazing identity Ken Warriner and northeast Arnhem Land indigenous leader Djawa Yunupingu.
Mr Truss said the Coalition wanted to “put regional Australia at the heart of a national economic recovery’’.
“Further growth and investment will, of course, have direct benefits across northern Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, but that prosperity will spread to all Australians,” he said.
Courtesy of the Australian