Article – Tony Abbott's northern Australia development plan will help NT play 'catch up', Adam Giles says

29 June 2015
Nadia Daly
ABC News

The NT Chief Minister says Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s vision for northern Australia “isn’t rhetoric” and will help the Northern Territory “play catch up” to the rest of the country.

Speaking after the Prime Minister released his 20-year-plan for the north of Australia, Adam Giles said it was “a sign” the NT and Canberra were on the same path.

“Today, in seeing the Prime Minister deliver the white paper on Northern Australia, it is a sign there are two governments, both the NT and Australian government, who are clearly aligned in wanting to develop the north … to create equity for Australians and jobs for Territorians.”

Mr Giles said the plan, which included a $600 million roads package, cash to upgrade airstrips and money to explore rail freight options, “isn’t rhetoric, it’s a about real tangible investments in northern Australia and in particular the Northern Territory”.

What the paper means for the NT

  • Major investment forum in Darwin on November 8-10
  • Northern Australia Environmental Resources hub led by Charles Darwin University to undertake research to support sustainable development in northern Australia
  • ‘Single point of entry office’ in Darwin to help investors deal with regulatory requirements
  • $5 million allocated to examine feasibility of Ord Stage 3 on the WA-NT border
  • $600 million for key roads (including $100 million for beef roads) in NT, WA and Qld.
  • $5 billion concessional loans facility
  • $200 million water infrastructure fund – river systems studied to see if they can support dams
  • $75 million Cooperative Research Centre on developing the north
  • $110 million towards finalising native title claims within 10 years
  • Qld, WA and NT governments expected to contribute to cost of new developments

“It’s about the Prime Minister saying ‘yes, Chief Minister, we like your plan, we want to work together with your plan’,” Mr Giles said.

“Everybody understands the amount of vast landscape we’ve got, the geographical opportunities, the rainfall, the water content, the opportunities to drive revenue and growth.”

Mr Giles responded to questions about the level of roads funding, given it would be split with Western Australia and Queensland.

“Yes, I understand the Cattlemen’s Association want to see more and more roads sealed to higher standards, but we are in a lot of ways 150 years behind the rest of the nation in infrastructure,” he said.

Mr Giles said much of the cost of sealing Territory roads would come from private sector investment.

“We’ll never seal every road in the Northern Territory. What we can do is put a sign on the door that says to the rest of the nation and to overseas investors, that northern Australia is open for business,” he said.

“Tony Abbott’s white paper … puts us a few steps forward in terms of playing catch up.”

Mr Giles praised the focus on infrastructure, growing private investment and a new $75 million Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Developing Northern Australia.
He said he hoped the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin could play a leading role in the paper’s focus on research on tropical medicine.

‘Very large market on our doorstep’
Greg Bicknell from the NT Chamber of Commerce said the white paper was good news for the Territory and that the overall money committed to developing the north was a “sizeable commitment” from the Federal Government.

He said the $75 million CRC was a particularly good initiative to set the Territory up for longer-term growth and hoped it would be based in Darwin.

“We’ve got a very large market on our doorstep, and with innovation and productivity increases we can potentially be meeting a lot of those demands out of that region.”

Mr Bicknell said he would be watching closely to make sure the Government followed through on all of the big promises.

“What I really like is that the plan sets some definitive targets for two years, five years, 10 years, and the charter of our alliance will be to make sure the Government keeps on track with those targets.”

‘Very little conversations with Indigenous people’, NLC boss says
Mr Giles said the $110 million allocated for finalising all native title claims within 10 years and $20.4 million to assist native title holders in their negotiations with businesses were a positive step.

“This is great news for both Aboriginal people who are seeking a real economic future and business who want to pursue opportunities ranging from aquaculture to tourism on Aboriginal land,” Mr Giles said.

But the Northern Land Council (NLC) said it was taking a “cautionary watch and response” approach to the paper.

“There’s lots of big, grand visions in there, but it’s not at this point clear as to what exactly Indigenous people can hang onto and say ‘this is something that’s going to benefit me, my clan and future generations’,” NLC chief executive Joe Morrison said.
He said traditional owners were sceptical about yet another promise to develop the north and said there had been “been very little conversations with Indigenous people”.

He said the points about township leasing were “concerning”.
Mr Morrison welcomed the funds allocated for finalising Native Title claims within a decade.

“At times, there is too much red tape constraining bargaining.”
Mr Morrison said the “devil would be in the detail” and the council wanted to see more information on what these proposals would entail.

He also said the onus was on the Government to provide the council with more resources to speed up the processing of applications.

Fishing lobby group disappointed
The Amateur Fisherman’s Association of the NT (AFANT), was disappointed with the white paper’s push to harness water in the north.

Executive officer Tristan Sloan said southern agriculture methods were not applicable to the north.

“There seems to be a view from the Government that the water that falls on northern Australia and runs off into the rivers and ecosystems is wasted and it should be kept for irrigation,” he said.

“It’s not wasted. The runoff from these rivers is vital for the whole Territory-wide ecosystem and vital for fisheries of prawns, mud crabs and barramundi.”

PHOTO: A triple road-train on the unsealed Kintore Road in the Northern Territory. Courtesy of ABC News

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