The inquiry into the development of Northern Australia has been greeted with a huge amount of enthusiasm and anticipation, but also with much scepticism about its possible outcomes. Since 1937, there have been numerous reports and recommendations with the aim of developing Northern Australia which are gathering dust on shelves. It is now up to us to prove the sceptics wrong and get things moving.
The development of Northern Australia is one of the great challenges and opportunities facing the nation. Northern Australia covers over forty per cent of Australia’s land mass but contains only four per cent of Australia’s population. It has abundant land, water and mineral resources. It has medical and educational institutions with world class facilities. Northern Australia is on the doorstep of Asia and a significant portion of it is part of the tropical world—which by 2050 will encompass over half the world’s population. There are great opportunities for the people of Northern Australia within the tropical zone. But the development of Northern Australia has in the past lacked a commitment by governments at all
levels to pursue investment and development in a consistent, sustainable and coordinated way.
This inquiry has formed one part of a broader process aimed at promoting the development of Northern Australia. The Australian Government has made a commitment to produce within a twelve-month timeframe, a White Paper outlining the Government’s vision for the future of Northern Australia. The Committee’s findings and recommendations will inform the White Paper process, assisting the Government to formulate its policy for the future development of Northern Australia.
The Committee has made forty-two recommendations covering a wide range of important issues. There are seven priority recommendations addressing issues considered essential to the development of Northern Australia. The first is the creation of a Department of Northern Australian Development based in Northern Australia. This will give a high level political focus to Northern Australia, ensuring that the recommendations of this report and the direction set out in the White Paper are given priority in the development of Government policy. Several
priority recommendations target urgent infrastructure with the capacity to rapidly facilitate economic development, including major roads and water infrastructure. Recommendation 5 calls for the Government to investigate the creation of special economic zones in Northern Australia. Recommendation 6 addresses the availability and affordability of insurance in Northern Australia—currently a major impediment to development. Recommendation 7 urges the continued funding of the Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative, which impacts on the availability of water across a large area of Australia.
The remaining recommendations include particular development proposals and measures to address opportunities for development and overcome impediments to development.
Amongst the opportunities, the Committee has recommended that the impacts of a changing climate, including mitigation and adaptation policies and strategies, are included in all planning processes. The Committee has also made recommendations to address the issue of socially significant communities, such as Nhulunbuy and Mount Isa, which are at risk due to the finite nature of mining opportunities.
The Committee has recommended establishing an abattoir in Northern Queensland; promoting tourism, arts and culture in Northern Australia; reopening the Christmas Island Casino; establishing a CRC for Northern Agriculture; and developing a national institute for tropical sports and sports medicine; relocating public service and defence assets to the North; developing digital communications technologies and an area-specific telecommunications and digital technology strategy; and increasing the presence of AQIS in Northern Australia. The Committee has also recommended that projects requiring the largescale impoundment or extraction of water should not proceed before undergoing thorough scientific analysis; and the exploration of new methods to harness the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce using successful models of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander enterprise. This is particularly significant given the large and growing proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Northern Australia. Allowing graduates to write-off HELP debts in
exchange for living and working in remote locations is seen as a potential way to encourage people to move to the North. The Committee has also recommended that the Government encourage ongoing bilateral exchange between communities in Northern Australia and other communities in the region.