Article – Tight budgets dampen North’s dream

6 June 2014
David Sparkes
Townsville Bulletin

WITHIN the space of a month, we have seen two budgets that show the dream of developing Northern Australia will be a long road.

The Abbott Government’s ambitions of developing Northern Australia are genuine and should be supported, but sooner or later the entire process is going to hit a massive reality check — they will have to spend money.
The Joint Select Committee for Developing Northern Australia has heard some excellent suggestions and feedback from communities and groups on the frontline. If nothing else, this process has sorted the wheat from the chaff as far as ideas go.
There is one important word that keeps coming up in presentations made by every group, from local governments to business organisations.
That word is “infrastructure”.
There is a uniform belief that building the roads, ports, power and water infrastructure is critical to developing the north.
If you build it, businesses will come.
Then there is education, health and lifestyle infrastructure. None of this will be cheap but if you don’t build it, you won’t develop the north — simple as that.
The federal and state budgets were tight this year and the fact is, that’s what we voted for.
Whether or not you approve, these budgets will hardly convince southerners to leap from their cafes and move north.
To be fair, the Federal Government has said it will wait for the white paper on Northern Australia to be completed later this year before making any commitments.
But eventually, the Government will have that white paper and the time for talk will be over.
Treasurer Joe Hockey has told us the purse strings will be tightened for years to come. That is fair enough but how is that approach going to sit with investing in major infrastructure projects in the north?
The Government and all the experts agree most of the heavy lifting would come from private investors, which is a good, but private investors will only jump on board if they see governments putting their money where their mouth is.
So, one way or another, governments will have to pull the chequebook out.
Given the two budgets of the past month, and the financial reality of the next five years, that will be a very difficult balancing act.
Courtesy of the Townsville Bulletin