Our North, Our Future: A Vision for Developing North Australia

18 June 2015
Government of Australia

The Government has today released its White Paper on Developing Northern Australia: Our North, Our Future.

This is Australia’s first White Paper on developing Northern Australia, building on our Green Paper and pre-election statement.

It is an essential part of our plan for a strong, prosperous economy and a safe, secure Australia.

With a land mass covering over three million square kilometres, and a population of over one million people, the north has untapped potential.

It is home to some of our most treasured icons including the Great Barrier Reef, the wet tropics of Queensland, Uluru, Kakadu and Cable Beach.

The White Paper is a roadmap for achieving our vision for the north by 2035 and we are starting work right away – alongside the people who live and do business in the north.

We have set out an ambitious long term reform agenda for the north because a strong north means a strong nation.

The White Paper delivers an initial investment of $1.2 billion.This is in addition to the $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility to provide concessional finance for infrastructure projects in the north.

The Commonwealth Government has already committed nearly $5 billion of its $50 billion nationwide investment in transport infrastructure to the north (including $3 billion for northern sections of the Bruce Highway, $172.2 million for the North West Coastal Highway and $90 million for the Northern Territory Regional Roads Productivity Package).

The White Paper includes measures to unlock the north’s potential across six key areas: simpler land arrangements to support investment; developing the north’s water resources;  growing the north as a business, trade and investment gateway; investing in infrastructure to lower business and household costs; reducing barriers to employing people; and improving governance.

Land in the north has the potential to support greater and more diverse economic activity. But the complexity of land arrangements has slowed development to date.
The Government is supporting simpler and more secure land arrangements in the north, by investing:

  • $20.4 million to support native title bodies to realise their potential and negotiate more efficiently with business;
  • $17 million to support secure property rights for cadastral surveys, area mapping and township leases; and
  • $10.6 million for pilot land tenure reforms to help fund ‘next steps’ for projects that demonstrate the benefits of tenure reform, particularly on pastoral leases.

The Government will also work with the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to:

  • reduce native title costs and delays – the Government wants all existing native title claims settled in the next 10 years; and
  • allow Indigenous Australians to borrow against or lease out exclusive native title land.

The Government will support the development of more water resources in the north by establishing a $200 million Water Infrastructure Development Fund. The Fund will provide up to $5 million for a feasibility analysis for the Nullinga Dam near Cairns, and up to $5 million for a detailed examination of land-use suitability for Ord Stage 3.

Secure water rights will be a condition for any water delivered through new Commonwealth funded water infrastructure.

The Government will also provide $15 million for water resource assessments of the Mitchell River (Queensland), West Kimberley (Western Australia) and Darwin region (Northern Territory).

More business, trade and investment means stronger growth, more jobs, higher incomes and better living standards in the north and across Australia.

The proximity to the fast-growing Asian and tropical regions means boundless opportunities where demand for Australian goods and services is reaching unprecedented levels.

The Government will help attract more investors to the north by:
• hosting a major northern investment forum in Darwin in late 2015 to bring together international investors, supported by the new investment prospectus: “Northern Australia emerging opportunities in an advanced economy”;
• setting up a new $75 million Cooperative Research Centre on Developing Northern Australia;
• investing $15.3 million to position the north as a global leader in tropical health;
• providing $12.4 million for Indigenous Ranger groups to expand biosecurity surveillance, with further details on biosecurity to be announced in the forthcoming Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper; and
• helping business enter new markets and supply chains by increasing access to the Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Programme and Industry Skills Fund.
For too long, governments have tied up investment in unnecessary red tape. The Government will end these delays by partnering with the Northern Territory Government to establish a ‘single point of entry’ in Darwin to streamline regulatory processes and cut red tape for major investors.
The Government will also remove excessive regulatory burden by streamlining and simplifying cultural heritage, fisheries, and wildlife trade regulations, and supporting northern industries including fisheries and crocodile trade.
Infrastructure is critical to fast tracking growth and unlocking the north’s economic potential.
The Commonwealth Government will focus on funding high priority infrastructure through:
• a $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, providing concessional loans for major infrastructure in the north and supporting projects prioritised on the new infrastructure pipeline;
• a new $600 million roads package to improve key roads in the north, including consideration of upgrades for the Arnhem, Barkly, Flinders, Great Northern, Savannah and Hann highways, the Outback Way and the Tanami Road;
• a $100 million beef roads fund which will help improve cattle supply chains;
• investing $39.6 million to upgrade airstrips and subsidise air services in remote Australia; and
• investing $5 million in rail freight analyses — starting with a pre-feasibility analyses of the Mount Isa to Tennant Creek railway and an upgrade of the Townsville to Mount Isa line.
The north’s workforce needs are unique. Many businesses effectively shut down or cut back during the wet season; working long hours in the dry season. For example, tourism workers often need to work outside standard hours, while mining or agriculture workers can be required to stay onsite for extended periods of time.
The Government will build on existing initiatives across Australia, including reforms to higher education, skills and training and the $5.5 billion Growing Jobs and Small Business Package to create the right conditions for small business to grow and create new jobs.
The Government is also helping more Australians to work in the north by:
• assisting the Northern Territory Government to streamline recognition of occupational licenses from other jurisdictions, abolishing red tape and expanding job opportunities;
• supporting northern business to invest in the skills of their workforce with additional assistance under the Industry Skills Fund; and
• supporting remote job seekers to work in real jobs through reforms to the Remote Jobs and Communities Programme.
To complement our investment, we will continue to work with Indigenous Australians, the northern jurisdictions and industry so the north can reach its full potential.
The Northern Australia Strategic Partnership — the biannual gathering of First Ministers from the Commonwealth and northern jurisdictions — will be made permanent.
The Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia has been continued for the life of the Parliament to ensure ongoing bipartisan support for developing the north.
Shifting the Office of Northern Australia to the north will also increase links between the north and the Commonwealth.
Northern Australia can grasp its full potential and become an economic powerhouse within our great country.
We will drive down the costs of operating in the north for business; making it a more attractive place to invest and work.
By building a prosperous north, we will build a better future for all Australians.
To download the full version of the white paper, or sections from it, click here.
Courtesy of the Australian Government

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