Article – North needs tailored strategies

7 November 2013
Laura Tingle
Queensland Country Life

TAPPING the vast potential of developing northern Australia will require a more sophisticated approach, one that recognises the three different types of region in the area rather than simplistic proposals such as tax incentives, a new study says.
The Regional Australia Institute says northern Australia is being held back by serious bottlenecks in infrastructure and human capital, but strategies for sustainable economic and population growth need to shift “beyond the simple solutions and polarised debate of the past 50 years”.
The paper identifies three types of regions in northern Australia – ­northern cities, industry hubs and the very remote – each of which is underpinned by a distinct economic profile that will require specific strategies for improving the infrastructure and building a healthy, skilled workforce.
Its study of the factors affecting the competitiveness of these ­types of regions is designed to help shape the debate about ­northern Australia ahead of the Abbott government’s proposed white paper on northern Australia, and amid a flurry of ­proposals for special tax breaks for the area that emerged before the federal election from both sides of politics.
Rather than applying an overall ­policy band-aid to the area, the institute argues its different types of regions need to be understood and individually addressed.
It says northern ­cities, such as Townsville, Cairns, Darwin, Mackay and Rockhampton, for ­example, are underpinned by a range of industries including mining, tourism and agri­culture. Their size and economic diversity means they are considered self-sustaining in their own right.
However, isolated industry hubs dominated by only mining, tourism or agriculture require a widening of their economic base to enable them to better withstand external economic pressures. That might mean employing strategies that help such hubs build greater export markets for their local expertise.
In very remote regions, governments tend to dominate local employment, and private sector ­investment is very low, meaning traditional regional development ­strategies don’t work and may require even greater public sector involvement.
“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,” the institute’s chief executive Su McCluskey says.
“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 expanding agriculture will continue to be a central ­concern in northern development.
“Despite work already done, a clearer and more definitive consi­deration of the opportunities, or otherwise, for expansion of intensive agriculture into new areas remains needed,” it says.
Courtesy of Queensland Country Life