Article – Northern Australia report: 'Serious impediments' blocking development in Queensland, WA, NT

4 September 2014
ABC News
The chairman of the parliamentary committee considering development policies for Northern Australia says there are serious impediments that must be addressed.
The Government wants to develop Northern Australia over the next 50 years, focusing on areas including agriculture, tourism and infrastructure.
The committee has today tabled its final report, naming more than 40 recommendations to boost economic growth in the region.
They included calls for a range of new road, rail and water projects, as well as a full investigation of the potential and practicality of special economic zones.
It has also recommended a new government department be created to promote development in Northern Australia.
The committee chairman, Coalition MP Warren Entsch, said obstacles to growth needed to be removed.
“There are serious impediments blocking Northern Australia’s development which must be addressed,” he said.
“To do this the committee has recommended improved regulatory arrangements for aquaculture and better regulations for fisheries to enable sustainable growth of the industry.
“Since 1937 there have been numerous investigations, reports and recommendations aimed at developing Northern Australia which are certainly gathering dust on shelves.
“It is now up to us to prove the sceptics wrong and get things moving.”
Recommendations include new department, road upgrades
The final report recommended the creation of the Department of Northern Australian Development, and that it be based in the region.
It also recommended that the Federal Government identify key road structures and commit to funding their upgrades,
Projects to consider would include the continued upgrade of the Bruce, Stuart and Hann highways, Peninsula Development Road, Outback Way, Tanami Road and beef development roads such as the Barkly Stock Route.
The report also called on the Australian Government, in conjunction with the Queensland and Northern Territory Governments, to fund a cost-benefit analysis of a rail line linking Mount Isa and Tennant Creek, and passing lanes on the Stuart Highway from Darwin to Alice Springs.
Over the past few months, a Federal Government joint select committee received hundreds of submissions and held more than 20 public hearings from witnesses across Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
‘Best chance in lifetime’ to focus on Northern Australia
Mr Entsch said the process represented the best chance in his lifetime to throw the spotlight on Northern Australia.
“Everywhere we went we were met with a great deal of optimism and a great deal of enthusiasm but we also met with a great deal of scepticism because there’s been talk about the north since 1937,” he told ABC’s AM program this morning.
Mr Entsch said the committee’s report would feed into the Government’s White Paper on Developing Northern Australia, which promised to be a blueprint for action.
“I think this is the best chance that I’ve ever seen certainly in my lifetime to see a real focus on Northern Australia,” he said.
“You’ll see in the recommendations that come out today that there is a serious focus from our perspective on it.
“We would expect from our committee that our focus will continue and we will make sure we do everything we can that it does.”
Mr Entsch acknowledged changing the mindset about where to spend taxpayer cash, particularly when it came to infrastructure, would be tricky but crucial.
“I accept there are issues we need to look at in relation to cost-benefit analysis, particularly in relation to evaluating something in Northern Australia compared to one of metropolitan cities,” he said.
“So we’re aware of that and we’ve certainly put forward a recommendation that would address that particular concern.”
NT needs help to develop: Chief Minister Giles
The Northern Territory Government’s submission for the white paper was also due to be released today.
It will paint the Territory as having untapped riches and big potential, but needing help to develop.
Chief Minister Adam Giles said a special economic zone could help attract private investment.
He also wanted a major boost to federal infrastructure spending in the Northern Territory in spite of its small population.
“Developing Australia’s North to its full potential will be the biggest national-building exercise this country has ever seen and I want to make sure the Territory is at the heart of it,” Mr Giles said.
“Two firm policy considerations have emerged as being key to the future of the North; the first is the need to invest in economic and transport infrastructure as a national priority.
“The second policy consideration is the need to address labour and skills shortages. Currently we lack the population base and therefore the workforce to realise our true potential.”
The NT has yet to do the numbers on the returns on investment to win the hearts and minds of taxpayers and politicians in southern states.
Courtesy of ABC News