Audio – Northern development should focus on urban centres

18 November 2014
Cameron Wilson
Bush Telegraph
A ‘green paper’ was released a few months ago by the federal government on northern development which focused on expanding resource, agriculture and tourism industries. But the author of a different report commissioned by local governments argues the importance of such industries will continue to decline.
The Sixteenth Annual State of the Regions report points out nearly half the area of Australia lies north of the Tropic of Capricorn, but it has less than six per cent of the national population.
It says there are three broad explanations for the failure of northern Australia to develop at the same rate as the south:
– The north lacks resources to support development. Apologists for the slow rate of northern development have often emphasised unreliable rainfall, poor soils and uncontrollable pests.
– The north is remote. It is generally harder to develop regions which are remote from the centres of national political and economic power than to add incremental development to the major centres.
– Apart from a few eccentrics, the settler population doesn’t want to live there. For example, generations of Commonwealth public servants regarded Darwin as a hardship post.
The annual report says the future of the country’s north will depend on developing new urban centres.
One report author, Peter Hylands, says development has been hampered by unreliable rainfall, poor soils, pests, remoteness and an unwillingness of people to move there. He argues the region needs better infrastructure, particularly roads and telecommunications, improved scientific understanding of the environment and water resources, and it should develop knowledge-based centres in the university cities of Darwin, Townsville and Cairns.
Mayor of Townsville Jenny Hill is keen too see any move that creates employment. She points out that government has been pulling out of research, closing down a diagnostic laboratory where she used to work.
Councillor Hill said the city ‘desperately needs’ the NBN, cheaper locally-produced electricity, and access to gas reticulation.
Adjunct Research Fellow at James Cook University in Cairns Jim Turnour grew up on his parents’ farm in the Northern Territory and has spent most of his working life involved northern Australian agriculture. He was also the Labor member for the seat of Leichhardt between 2007 and 2010.
He says big irrigation plans, like those suggested in last week’s federal government green paper, will probably prove too expensive to build. He says the focus should be on research and development to improve the existing industries on family farms – beef, sugar and horticulture – and on creating create supply chains into Asia and the Pacific.
Listen to the audio here.
The wall of the Argyle Dam on the Ord River in Western Australia.
Courtesy of the Bush Telegraph and ABC Rural