Northern Australia is an economic powerhouse. This breaks with the conventional wisdom of many who assume that northern development has failed in the past.
That is bunkum. Cairns, Darwin, Townsville, Kununurra, Broome, Mackay, Rockhampton and the regions between are all testament to what we have already built in the north.
The region’s proximity to world economic growth is creating an unprecedented opportunity to invest in the north, and by doing so make returns for all Australians. That is why we have released the first white paper on developing northern Australia.
Importantly, for the practical people of northern Australia — we’re doing more than just talking. We’re acting on $6 billion of investment. Twenty-one of our policy initiatives are complete and much progress has been made on many others.
Our agenda is as broad as the north itself, but it has a particular focus on investment, roads and water.
We have announced funding for specific projects worth more than $350 million as part of the Northern Australia Roads Program. This includes road investments to better connect Kununurra to its closest port at Wyndham, supporting the Ord irrigation scheme and helping to facilitate more than $1bn worth of investments in aquaculture in the Northern Territory.
Other road projects include upgrading the Barkly, Flinders and Capricorn highways in Queensland — key freight routes linking important inland resources and agriculture areas with coastal ports.
We will continue the sealing of the Outback Way, which runs from Winton in Queensland to Laverton in Western Australia, establishing an east-west link across our nation. This decision is emblematic of our need to think more “east-west” while developing the north, not just “north-south”.
We’ve been working hard to identify investment priorities to improve the northern beef industry’s productivity and resilience through the $100m Northern Australia Beef Roads Program, with three successful round table meetings of key representatives from the cattle and transport industries in Rockhampton, Kununurra and Darwin.
Sixty per cent of our rainfall falls on the 40 per cent of our land mass that represents northern Australia. Yet only about 2 per cent of that water is used at the moment.
We have a great opportunity to expand food production in Australia and that opportunity will be concentrated in the north given that many of the more fertile areas in southern Australia have already been developed.
That is why we have committed $174m to invest in specific water projects in the north. This includes our 2016 election commitment of $130m to co-fund the building of the Rookwood weir on the Fitzroy River, a project that could kickstart an agricultural boom in central Queensland in a water catchment that is the second largest in Australia — behind only the Murray-Darling.
We have committed other funding towards the planning that is needed to build more water investments. This includes the Lakelands Irrigation project, the Nullinga Dam near Cairns, the Hells Gate Dam and Burdekin Falls Dam wall raising near Townsville and Urannah Dam.
This government’s direct investments in infrastructure in the north will be complemented through the $5bn Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, which is now open for business.
The NAIF will offer up to $5bn in concessional finance to encourage and complement private sector investment in economic infrastructure that benefits northern Australia. The NAIF has received numerous inquiries about project funding and, of these, one project is undertaking due diligence and another 13 are working towards a formal investment proposal. These projects represent a total investment of more than $10bn. These investments we are making are building on an already successful, thriving and productive northern Australia.
As a nation we should be proud of this progress because we benefit from what has already been achieved. The north is home to a little more than 5 per cent of our population but accounts for almost 12 per cent of our economic output.
Our plan builds on this success and reinvests in a part of our nation that is already punching above its economic weight.
By 2030 more than two-thirds of the world’s middle class will be in Asia. And, even more relevant for the north, the percentage of the world’s population living in the tropical region is expected to grow from 40 per cent today to 50 per cent by 2050. Northern Australia’s time has come.
This growth in our region promises to deliver dividends for all Australians. More than half of Australian exports leave from ports in northern Australia. We all own a stake in seeing the successful development of northern Australia.
Our northern policy is an unashamedly regional development policy. Through developing the regions of our north, we can take pressure off the development of our major southern cities while giving young Australians new opportunities for making a living and raising a family in northern Australia.
The success of our policy will not be delivered by the government in Canberra but by the people who live and work in northern Australia.
Our policies aim to attract investment, invest in infrastructure and unlock the potential of the north’s abundant land and water resources.
That is our vision for northern Australia — that through our focus and our policies we provide the tools to our north that makes it a magnet for the entire country.