Article – Rail network could link northern Australia

30 October 2013
Neda Vanovac
The West Australian
Scepticism about the future of northern Australia is the enemy, the Northern Territory’s deputy chief minister says, calling on Defence to play a part in developing a rail network for the vast, sparsely-populated region.
Dave Tollner says the tropics are emerging as a key region, home to more than 40 per cent of the world’s population who generate about 20 per cent of global economic output.
He cites a recent forecast by Deloitte which shows the Northern Territory will outperform the national economy for at least the next five years, while CommSec’s State of the States report ranks the NT the leading jurisdiction in Australia in economic growth due to booming construction and retail sectors.
“The government is committed to building a Territory with a future across all sectors, rather than relying on oil and gas plants,” he told the Northern Australia Defence Summit in Darwin on Wednesday.
Within a four-hour flight north of Darwin are 485 million people, eight capital cities and 69 international airports, he said.
“The future is massive compared to the other states – there’s no way to stop development of the Northern Territory.”
The government is conducting a scoping study for a possible second port, which Mr Tollner said could be located at Glyde Point north of the city and close to Robertson Barracks, which would make it an attractive proposition for Defence.
He said a rail spur would link the new port to the existing railway, and transport vehicles, stores and equipment from the port to the barracks and on to the National Highway.
“But let’s go a step further and think about linking the north-south rail from Katherine out to the Bradshaw training area,” he said.
“It makes more sense to continue the line to Kununurra and the Ord River Scheme – the line would service not just Defence but growing agricultural industries all around that Ord region.”
He also floated the idea of a rail link from Tennant Creek in central Australia to Mt Isa and the Queensland rail network, which he said would be “a truly strategic result” connecting three army brigades located in Darwin, Townsville and Brisbane.
“Again, the spinoff would be the link to the Mt Isa/Carpentaria minerals province, the Barkly (Tableland) cattle region and the rich food-growing areas of northern Queensland, providing transport through Darwin to the export markets in Asia,” Mr Tollner said.
Key to the development of northern Australia is an increased population and the technology and skills needed to ensure a permanent industrial base, not just one that fluctuates with major projects and the associated fly-in-fly-out workforce, he said.
“Defence industry should have a major impact on that.”
Courtesy of the West Australian