FEDERAL Infrastructure and Regional Development Minister Warren Truss last week said the Australian Government's vision for opening northern Australia to development is taking shape with the release of the Green Paper on Developing Northern Australia.
The Green Paper seeks to facilitate feedback and further debate on the opportunities, risks, challenges and priority policy options to drive growth across Northern Australia. It forms part of the process in developing a White Paper that sets out a clear, well defined policy platform for promoting growth across the region in order to realise its economic potential.
"The development of northern Australia is a priority for the new Australian Government. Further growth and investment will, of course, have direct benefits across northern Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, but that prosperity will spread to all Australians," Mr Truss said.
Mr Truss said the Australian Government wants to:
- Develop a food bowl, including premium produce, which could help to double Australia's agricultural output;
- Build an energy export industry worth $150 billion to the economy, with a major focus on clean and efficient energy, providing major increases to resource exports; and
- Grow the tourist economy in northern Australia to 2 million international tourists a year.
"It's a vision that is achievable and embraces the north's strengths and natural advantages in agriculture, cattle production, energy generation, tourism growth and education and health service expansion," Mr Truss said.
"This was a key election commitment for the Coalition, to allow regional Australia to achieve its full potential through greater investment in infrastructure, jobs and services. It will open the north as a new frontier for Australia—economically and socially.
"The Green Paper reminds us that northern Australia is vital to our national economy, with 55% of exports shipped through northern ports and agricultural production in the north worth over $5 billion.
"The north enjoys geographic advantages from its proximity to burgeoning Asia economies and many natural assets that attract visitors from all over the world. But it is widely accepted that there is more to be done to realise its full economic potential," Mr Truss said.
The Green Paper sets out six possible policy directions to develop northern Australia further, and invites public comment and debate on these by 8 August 2014. The options include:
- Delivering economic infrastructure – including through planning and prioritising projects and identifying effective ways to fund and finance them, particularly through leveraging private sector investment;
- Improving land use and access – including through more flexible and longer term tenure, greater consistency across jurisdictions, new ways for Indigenous Australians to use their land for development, efficient native title processes and more accurate information;
- Improving water access and management – including through better understanding of systems, planning and investing in new infrastructure (such as dams) and reforming water management and planning, including functional water markets;
- Promoting trade and investment and strengthening the business environment – including through boosting population, improving labour availability, cutting red tape and increasing trade, especially with Asia;
- Fostering education, research and innovation including through developing research networks, improving local workforce and industry skills and boosting access to international education and training markets; and
- Enhancing governance including through better coordinating government and non-government activities, greater engagement with the north and building local capacity.
The Northern Australia Advisory Group, the membership of which was also announced last week, will provide expert advice on developing northern Australia to the members of the Strategic Partnership. The Partnership includes the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, the Premiers of Queensland and Western Australia and the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory.
The Advisory Group will be chaired by the former Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Shane Stone. The other Advisory Group members are Wayne Bergmann, Jack Burton, Ken Chapman, Sandra Harding, Noeline Ikin, David Menzel, Nicholas Paspaley, Trent Twomey, Ken Warriner and Djawa Yunupingu.
"All members have a deep understanding of, and commitment to, the prosperity of the north and are well-placed to provide expert advice on its economic development. They represent the diverse community, Indigenous and business interests of northern Australia," Mr Truss said.
"Their combined knowledge and experiences are necessary to help shape the Australian Government's policy directions to be outlined in a White Paper on Developing Northern Australia, due out later this year."
Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles described the release of the Green Paper as another important step in planning for the development of Northern Australia, adding that many of the Territory Government's ideas have been taken on board by the Commonwealth.
"It is positive to see the Federal Government acknowledging the challenges and opportunities presented by Northern Australia and developing a policy framework that will support Northern development," Mr Giles said.
"The Green Paper echoes many of the economic issues the Territory has been raising, including the availability of workers and the need to foster private sector investment."
The Chief Minister said it was good to see the Green Paper exploring alternative ways to plan and prioritise infrastructure for the North, adding that he hopes this will result in a departure from the cost-benefit formula that has been traditionally used when assessing infrastructure projects, "often to the detriment of Northern Australia."
"The Paper lays a platform for further discussion and action on welfare reform and migration policy, as well as consideration of Special Economic Zones – all important subjects for consideration," Mr Giles said.
"The Commonwealth has recognised the potential importance of international education to Northern economies and I look forward to working with the Prime Minister on this subject. I think it is a space where the Territory has a lot to offer.
"The Green Paper acknowledges that access to water will be a crucial consideration for companies wanting to explore agricultural opportunities in the North. It's good to see that the Commonwealth has raised some ideas about how this should be managed.
"It's now time for a community conversation about whether these ideas or other alternatives are supported here. Most Territorians recognise the need for good water management but that may not include support for dams which is the thrust of the Green Paper."
Submissions on the Green Paper on Developing Northern Australia can be made until 8 August 2014. The White Paper on Developing Northern Australia is due to be released at the end of this year. More information is available from <http://northernaustralia.dpmc.gov.au/>.