Audio – Northern support for development plan

8 September 2014
Cameron Wilson
Bush Telegraph
In the very first sentence of the report Pivot North, Inquiry into the Development of Northern Australia, the chairman, Warren Entsch admits the inquiry has been greeted with much scepticism about its possible outcomes, and acknowledges there have been quite a few reports into the north.
The report is the latest government assessment of developing that region.
Luke Bowen, General Manager Northern Australia Development Office, Northern Territory supports a number of recommendations, including the road funding, the proposed rail link between Tennant Creek and Mt Isa, and Ord stage 3.
But he thinks the recommended cost benefit analysis is a double edged sword. ‘It is fine where you have big populations but a lot of northern development can’t be argued on that basis.’
Mr Bowen says only about one million people live in the top half of the Australian land mass.
‘You should draw a line across the north and treat it like a developing country: it has a low population base and low economic base. You need to approach it as long-term investment that looks at future potential, at a whole range of needs beyond pure economics,’ he said.
Director of the Environment Centre NT, Dr Stuart Blanch, says the report is realistic, ‘it is hard to do development in the north.’
The first recommendation of the report is for a Department of Northern Australian Development, based in northern Australia. But Dr Blanch says ‘I want a Department of Northern Australia that is not just about large industry or intensive development.’ He argues there needs to be a common vision, held by all the participants including indigenous stakeholders, the environment movement, the cattle industry and fishermen.
Professor Stewart Lockie is the Director of The Cairns Institute, James Cook University, Cairns.
‘You have to ask, why do we want to realise the development potential, for whose benefit?’ he asked.
‘Is increasing the population of northern Australia going to resolve the issues faced by disadvantaged communities, already resident in northern Australia?’
He says the report is based on the assumption that the benefits of development will trickle down, but he doubts that will be the reality. His vision is of a northern Australia that takes advantage of the social, cultural and natural assets.
Mr Bowen says the future will lie in very high value products, like the chia industry at the Ord, which was developed from the market back to the paddock. ‘If Australia does not tackle the long term sustainable development of northern Australia, Australia will slide further [economically]. It is part of Australia’s future.’
To listen to the audio, click here.
Pivot North recommends better road and rail connecting Australia north with the east coast.
Courtesy of Bush Telegraph