Article – Development in northern Western Australia held up by red tape, high living costs, MPs told

6 May 2014
Erin Parke and Gian De Poloni
ABC News
High living costs and government red tape are inhibiting economic growth in Western Australia’s north, a parliamentary committee investigating the development of northern Australia has heard.
A public hearing of the Inquiry into the Development of Northern Australia was held in Broome and MPs heard from more than a dozen organisations about what could be done to boost populations and productivity in the Kimberley.
A recurring theme from those who gave evidence at the inquiry was that they felt misunderstood by Canberra.
Station owner Jack Burton described the costs and delays of red tape as he built the region’s only abattoir.
“Mother nature’s big enough and hard enough kicking the crap out of us without all the regulatory issues,” he said.
“Let me tell you that 99 per cent of the people who have an idea will not have the stamina to get 10 per cent down the track of the crap I’ve had to go through in the last 15 years.
“And that’s what’s a worry; you’ll get good people come to the north, stick their toe in and get it singed off… it’s just too hard.”
Mr Burton said red tape meant valuable land was being wasted.
“You come to the Kimberley and you’ve got beautiful soil and a beautiful climate and we’re doing nothing. It’s embarrassing,” he said.
“We have control of 3.5 million acres of land in the Kimberley and I think the reality’s probably 500,000 acres of that is irrigation or farming country, you know we’ve got 800 millimetre rainfall country and the fact that we run a cow to 20 hectares is a bloody disgrace.”
He said now was the right time for prospective businesses to make an investment in the north.
“The opportunities that are going past us in the north –year after year- it’s quite frustrating,” Mr Burton said.
“There’s seems a fair bit of interest in the north at the moment and I’d like to think it’s great timing for like-minded people like myself to see a great opportunity to develop some of these business opportunities and basically just grow the region.”
Broome Chamber of Commerce president Tony Proctor said a lack of understanding was common.
“I would suggest to you that politicians and the public generally have a very poor understanding of the region,” he said.
Mr Proctor said the cost of living also presents a challenge to residents.
“We have high liveability options, but Broome and the region is expensive and we need to focus on how we manage those costs.” he said.
He also outlined a proposal to build a natural gas pipeline connecting the top half of the state to bring Pilbara gas north in the early years, and to take Canning Basin and Browse gas south down the track.
“An initial cost estimate of pipeline from the Pilbara through to Fitzroy Crossing, about a 250mm pipe, not a very big pipe, would be about $600 million. Not a lot of money to create the opportunities going forward,” Mr Proctor said.
He said the significant investment would be worthwhile.
“Primary industries would benefit from the reduced cost of energy that will make the region competitive and right for development opportunities,” he said.
“Fruit and vegetables, general agriculture and horticulture, processing and packaging of agricultural and horticultural products and, for example, meat processing.”
Diversification essential to future growth
Earlier this month, the committee also visited the Pilbara region.
Its chairman Warren Entsch said the diversification of the region’s industries was essential to its future growth.
He said there were impediments to growth in the Pilbara, including affordability and a lack of social infrastructure.
“We’ve got to deal with accessibility of land so that people can actually buy a home in this region because they want to grow a family here,” he said.
“We’ve got to look at the provision of medical centres and education as well.
“A lot of the kids that are being born in this community don’t necessarily want to be miners, so we’ve got to look at ways we can diversify.
“There’s also a lot of opportunities out there in diversification in terms of tourism, agriculture, aquaculture and other innovative ways.”
Mr Entsch said the committee had to look at how the impediments could be removed.
“Tax offsets definitely needs to be considered in the mix but it’s not the silver bullet, if you like,” he said.
“There’s a whole lot of other things that need to be addressed.”
Challenges to establishing permanent populations
Regional Development Australia’s Pilbara branch chair, Fiona White-Hartig, said towns like Karratha and Port Hedland faced numerous challenges in trying to establish a permanent population.
She drew parallels between an established northern city like Darwin and the two Pilbara towns.
“They’re finding that their population is not growing,” she said.
“They’ve got mining investment happening there and obviously their FIFO [fly-in, fly-out] is increasing.
“So there is a major challenge there and I think we need to look at economic diversification and making the region a lot more attractive for people to come here and live long-term.
“Hopefully the white paper will provide some direction for us.”
Ms White-Hartig said tax incentives should be offered to people willing to make the move north.
“I think it needs to be revisited, it hasn’t been looked at for a number of years,” she said.
“I think it’s still around about $1,200 as a rebate, which really isn’t a lot in today’s terms.
“The district allowance for Government employees made a significant difference. If they did make an extra incentive of say $20 to 25, 30,000 a year, people would look at coming here seriously and look at a long-term plan.”
The committee will report to Parliament at the end of this month in and the Federal Government plans to prepare a white paper by September to guide future development of the region.
Courtesy of ABC News