25 June 2015
Colin Bettles, Mark Ludlow & John Kerin
SEALED “beef roads” and a new co-operative research centre (CRC) are among the big ticket items Prime Minister Tony Abbott promised last week in launching his Northern Australia White Paper.
He pledged $1.2 billion in new money for roads and dams and relaxed visa requirements for backpackers and tourists as part of a package to unlock the “economic powerhouse” in the north.
A cashed up China eyeing investment opportunities has backed the plan saying its trade deal with Australia will facilitate Chinese investment in farms and infrastructure in the region.
Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said a $75 million northern Australia CRC would also partner with the private and public sector, to concentrate on agriculture, food and tropical health.
“(We will be) the only developed country in the tropics to be a global leader in areas like agricultural research and tropical agriculture, but also tropical medicine, education, tropical sciences and the like,” he said.
The research hub will have offices in Darwin and Townsville, and will prioritise investment into agricultural programs linked to scientific data and co-ordinated with infrastructure development to serve the north’s broader needs and improve market outcomes.
Despite fears the new money, along with the $5b Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund, will result in “white elephant” projects, Mr Abbott said greater economic activity in the top half of Australia would help drive national growth.
“If the north does well, our country does well,” Mr Abbott said.
“We will drive down the costs of operating in the north for business, making it a more attractive place to invest and work.” May’s federal budget included funding for specific measures in the northern white paper and the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, including $100m for beef roads, additional drought support programs, enhanced tax depreciation measures for farmers, and $15.4m to support tropical medicine research.
One of the paper’s main aims is to increase the population of the northern parts of Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory from one million people now to as many as five million people by 2060.
Under the 20-year plan, the federal government will allocate $200m for water storage, including $5m for a feasibility study into the Nullinga Dam near Cairns, Qld, and a further $5m for a detailed examination of land-use sustainability for the third stage of the Ord project.
There will be a further $15m for water resource assessments of Qld’s Mitchell River, the West Kimberley, WA, and the Darwin region.
There was also a $600m roads package to improve key transport hubs in the far north and almost $40m to upgrade airstrips and subsidise air services.
Other aspects include a major investment forum in Darwin targeted at international investors and $12.4m for indigenous rangers.
Mr Truss said the Coalition would attempt to cut red tape to encourage businesses to invest in the north and accelerate pastoral lease reform to allow farmers to undertake more activities on their properties as well as overhaul native title leases so indigenous people could undertake more business.
There will also be schemes to help attract workers to the regions.
Overseas working holiday makers will have their visas extended for one year if they are employed in northern Australia.
The three-year multiple entry visa will also be extended to 10 years in a bid to promote tourists.
Courtesy of The Land