Article – Northern plan gains political momentum

1 March 2014
John Kerin
Australian Financial Review
The Northern Territory’s Chief Minister, Adam Giles, has claimed infrastructure in the territory is 150 years behind the rest of Australia and it needs more federal assistance for economic ­development.
Mr Giles and Prime Minister Tony Abbott briefed journalists in Darwin on the scope of a “white paper” on developing Australia’s north to grab a bigger slice of the Asian economic boom.
The strategy paper will come up with a plan for economic development of northern Australia, a long-held goal that many experts say is unrealistic.
“The opportunity for food bowl and other development in Northern Australia is quite significant. Two-thirds of the nation’s rainfall falls in the top third of the country,” Mr Giles said.
“What we know from the Northern Territory point of view is we are around 150 years behind in terms of infrastructure that will develop the north, and we are looking positively to working with Tony Abbott.”   Economist Henry Ergas said the Northern Territory had been generously treated by the Commonwealth Grants Commission, the body that allocates federal money to the state and territory governments.
“The infrastructure of the Northern Territory doesn’t look lamentable to me, and they do have that rather magnificent railway from Darwin to Tarcoola,” Professor Ergas said.
“It seems to me the best deal South Australia got was when it turned the NT over to the Commonwealth.”   Both the Coalition and Labor gov­ernment promised northern development plans before the Septem­ber election.
A discussion paper released by the Coalition in June committed the Abbott government to boost food production in the north in an effort to double annual output, grow visits by tourists to 2 million a year and increase energy exports by $150 billion by 2030.
The policy commits the government to examining personal and business tax incentives to encourage Australians to move to the north.
The Queensland and West Australian premiers and Mr Giles have agreed to form a new strategic partnership to work with the federal government on the effort. An advisory group involving business, community and indigenous leaders from the north will also be established.
“We want to back investment with a strategic vision that will help make northern Australia one of the great contributors to the extraordinary economic developments we see to our north in China, India and elsewhere,” Mr Abbot said.
Mr Abbott says he hopes to hold a summit with the premiers and Mr Giles in Darwin before the May budget to launch a “green paper”, a preliminary strategy that would be followed by the completed document within 12 months.
Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett said he wanted the white paper team to look at the expansion of the Ord River irrigation scheme into the Northern Territory and the development of a supply base for offshore oil and gas facilities.
A cross-agency taskforce headed by Mr Abbott’s department will review Northern Australia’s economy and assess the risks and impediments to growth. The team will be required to recommend ways to ensure the right conditions for private investment can be put in place and identify the critical economic and social infrastructure needed to support long-term growth.
It will also consider personal and business tax concessions.
Courtesy of the Australian Financial Review