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Our North, Our Future: White Paper on Developing Northern Australia.

Was this a glossy piece aimed at simply keeping us quiet for a little while, promising all things hopes and dreams?

The 2015 release of a 192 paged paper was set to be the injection into the economic arm that we needed, we Territorians.

We all knew that Inpex was going to come out of the construction phase and we all knew that we needed the Federal Government and the Territory Government to work together to build Northern Australia and to position us into having a long-term economic advantage and escaping the boom and bust cyclical nature.

While the Defence projects have trickled through and provided stimulus to those lucky enough to benefit from the spend, it was no-where near what we had first heard and expected to contribute to our economy.
In 2015 we had the release of the White Paper, or as we refer, the “Waste Paper” signed and endorsed by Tony Abbott, Warren Truss and Andrew Robb. A paper that was to be the foundation on which successive Commonwealth Governments could continue to work with over coming decades. (It is notable that they are all now former politicians.)

The recent announcement of the Commonwealth Cash Splash has seen the Territory pick up $150 million of roads projects, this injection part of a 3.8 billion injection into whole of Australia to boost the economic growth and to lift wages. I am a big believer in upgrades of our remote roads and the access required to reach remote communities and agricultural and mining industries, but is it enough? Is it what was cited throughout the whole 2015 White Paper of creating “Our North, Our Future”?

I say no. I say that the Federal Government should be doing more to positively grow and work with all Territorians, to revisit what was put into the White Paper and to listen to Territorians. To simply recognise that the North has untapped potential that no other region can boast. A strong north means a strong nation. The Gateway to Asia, the land resources opportunities, the pastoral and cultural opportunities and the pristine natural environment.

The White Paper stipulates that by 2030 Asia will represent approximately two thirds of the global middle-class population – 2030 is now a mere ten years away with this White Paper now approaching five years old.

So, in this situation, what can be done? What can we do to achieve some real meaningful change?

The truth of the matter is that quite simply, the North will not be truly developed until we get Federal Government Reform. Reform that will drive population, grow the economy and create jobs. But we need to be honest in the fact that this can’t and won’t happen until the Commonwealth accepts and appreciates that a strong NT is not only in the Nation’s interest, but to Southern Asia itself.

We are currently undergoing a wide research piece that looks at federal reform and we are calling on the Federal Government to consider and implement a range of reforms and incentives for the Territory.

We are committed to growing our North strategically and we have identified seven reforms that we strongly believe the Federal Government should consider;
  • Introduction of a specific North Australia visa quota, as adding Gold Coast and Perth has essentially made the regional visa changes less attractive to the “real” regional areas;
  • Increasing the Zone allowance;
  • Decentralisation of Federal Government Departments;
  • Reverse the decade of removing public servants and military personnel;
  • Reverse the closure of government outlets and agencies, i.e. Australian Taxation Office etc;
  • Build government agency buildings that other capital cities have, e.g. federal court.
  • Examine the introduction of Cabotage for Northern Australia;
Our population growth has been slowing for a while, we have had 21 negative consecutive quarters of net interstate migration.

The paper states and I quote “Development will require many more people living in the north. Transformation won’t happen if its population inches up by a few hundred thousand over the next 20 years. It would remain a high cost, small scale economy; more of a pilot project that a powerhouse. We need to lay the foundations for rapid population growth and put the north on the trajectory to reach a population of four to five million by 2060.”

Let me just reiterate, we are already 5 years into the White Paper. I personally do not believe there has been enough focus on growing the real North’s population and we are not even close to a strategy of this becoming a reality, nor do we have the job opportunities or infrastructure that would support such a growing population.

All this is having a major impact on creating new industries and for existing industries to develop and grow.

If we are to have any real change, the Federal Government must look seriously at all seven factors we have outlined and needs to take a step back and revisit the White Paper and prove that it is not just a Waste Paper.

Ruth Palmer is the Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia’s Northern Territory division

Media contact: Ruth Palmer M 0450 428 314 E rpalmer@propertycouncil.com.au