19 June 2015
The Prime Minister has unveiled his long-awaited vision for northern Australia, releasing a wide-ranging white paper in Canberra that sets out ambitious policy ideas for the next 20 years.
New roads, studies of dam sites and changes to land-use laws formed major parts of the Government’s development blueprint, which is designed to make the north an “economic powerhouse”.
The plan included a $600 million roads package, cash to upgrade airstrips and money to explore rail freight options, in addition to the $100 million beef roads fund and $5 billion concessional loans facility that were announced in the federal budget.
A $200 million water infrastructure fund will be set up and river systems across the north will be studied to see if they can support dams, or other storage options.
Land-use laws in the north have led to long delays and cost blowouts in construction and mining projects over the past decade, so the white paper included support for native title bodies and new surveys to start simplifying land arrangements.
As the ABC revealed at the weekend, the Government has released a new investment pitch to some of the world’s biggest companies and will hold a major forum in November in Darwin, in the hope of attracting billions of dollars in cash from overseas.
A new $75 million Cooperative Research Centre on developing the north will also be set up and there are measures to boost links with the broader Asia-Pacific region.
“We will drive down the costs of operating in the north for business; making it a more attractive place to invest and work,” Tony Abbott said in a statement.
“By making the right regulations and infrastructure investments, we can encourage jobs and tackle the costs of living far from major cities”.
Some ministers were pushing for special visas to allow more skilled migrants from South-East Asia to work in northern Australia.
But MPs involved in developing the white paper described today’s announcement as “just a deposit”, with more policy measures to be put in place in the next few years.
Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory governments are expected to contribute to the cost of new developments.
Federal Opposition spokesman Gary Gray was worried the white paper would be “big on vision but light on achievable measures”.
Grand northern Australian development dreams are nearly as old as the nation itself and have repeatedly failed to materialise.
But ministers said the rise of Asia meant there was now agriculture, aquaculture, renewable energy, tropical medicine and tourism markets the north of the country could service.
They believe big multi-national funds will want to invest billions in the north of the country if the Government puts the right infrastructure and laws in place.
Courtesy of ABC News