Article – Northern Australia must drive tropical economies: Sandra Harding

21 July 2015
Shane Rodgers
The Australian

Australia’s economic future and regional security could depend on how well the nation capital­ises on the role of the north in helping to drive the ­develop­ment of tropical economies across the world.

Sandra Harding, the vice-chancellor and president of James Cook University, believes a “new idea of Australia” is ­required to recognise that tropical economies represent one of our biggest opportunities and greatest risks.

Tropical regions have 40 per cent of the world’s population, 51 per cent of the world’s children and 80 per cent of the world’s ­environmental diversity.

In this economic zone, Australia is the developed country with the largest tropical land mass and advanced expertise in tropical research, infrastructure development, health needs and the various other “nuances” of developing such regions.

“We have the great, good fortune in northern Australia to be residing at the intersection of two great axes of global growth — the Asian axis and the tropical axis,” Professor Harding said. “The tropical axis — its power and its significance — is, I believe, only just being ­revealed for us.”

Professor Harding said, during her recent UN presentation on tropical economies, representatives of the eight key tropical regions supported the idea of a “tropical affinity” group to ­advance co-­operation.

“Part of my concern at the moment is to make sure that Australia is part of that discussion because we are, and could be, key suppliers of expertise and product into that environment,” she said.

“We can’t keep going back to this idea that the south of Australia is the nation’s engine room. The longer we keep telling ourselves that, the more likely that it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy and we won’t then take the opportunity that is before us. We need the north to become more important, not less.”

Professor Harding said Australia’s regional security and broader long-term global security could depend on how effectively developing tropical economies provided opportunities for their young people. Without controlled development, education, jobs and healthcare, mass urbanisation could produce uprisings of extremism.

“If those people can’t be growing up and living a life rich with meaning and can’t be contributing to their economies in a productive and meaningful way then we can’t be surprised if there is a new wave of radicalism and extremism born out of dire poverty,” she said. “You can just imagine that there could well be significant tensions around the tropical world which may end up exacerbating some security ­issues, and not just for us.”

In this, Australian govern­ments needed to start to see northern Australia as a pivotal part of the future, not a liability.

“We are at a tipping point,” she said. “It is a fundamental point of change where there is a new global dynamic, there is a growing middle class, where the weight of the world’s population will be in the tropics and they will demand the sort of specialist ­expertise that we have.”

Courtesy of The Australian

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