DEVELOPMENT AMBITION: The Federal Government had intended to use the $5 billion NAIF to develop northern Australia but after five years, much of its money remains unspent.
DEVELOPMENT AMBITION: The Federal Government had intended to use the $5 billion NAIF to develop northern Australia but after five years, much of its money remains unspent.

Government reaffirms plans to develop northern Australia

INTENT on delivering on its long-term vision of developing northern Australia, the Federal Government reaffirmed its commitment to the people of the north in parliament last week.

The issue of developing northern Australia is contentious with Federal Labor often criticising the government’s failure to deliver for the area – particularly with regards to its much-touted $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facily.

Delivering the government’s fifth annual Northern Australia Statement to parliament, Minister for Northern Australia Keith Pitt, promised ongoing support to grow jobs, the economy and the population in the north.

Although COVID-19 had made conditions difficult across northern Australia, Mr Pitt said the government remained focused on jobs and growth in traditional sectors such as food and agribusiness, resources, energy, and tourism, and expansion of new and emerging industries such as manufacturing, critical minerals and value-added processing.

NORTHERN SUPPORT: Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia Keith Pitt and Assistant Minister for Northern Australia Michelle Landry said they were focused on developing northern Australia. Photo: Industry Queensland.
NORTHERN SUPPORT: Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia Keith Pitt and Assistant Minister for Northern Australia Michelle Landry said they were focused on developing northern Australia. Photo: Industry Queensland.

“The potential of northern Australia is as vast as the north itself,” Mr Pitt said.

“The north has a vibrant and innovative population with the capacity to create wealth for all Australians.”

Mr Pitt said the untapped potential, abundant resources and increasingly diverse population made this a critical nation-building economic development agenda.

“As always, there is more to do, but the people of northern Australia are up for the challenge.”

According to the Minister, the government had implemented 45 of the 51 inception measures from the 20-year vision outlined in the Our North Our Future White Paper on Developing Northern Australia.

He said the work couldn’t be done without the commitment of key partners, including members of the Ministerial Forum on Northern Development, the Advisory Group for Northern Australia, the Indigenous Reference Group, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility and the Cooperative Research Centre for Northern Australia.

Assistant Minister for Northern Australia Michelle Landry said her government intended to build on what had been achieved over the past five years as well as the measures announced in the Budget to implement the JobMaker Plan.

“We have been listening to our stakeholders and considering options that build on our industry strengths and capitalise on opportunities for growth,” Ms Landry said.

“Continuing this valued engagement with local partners will ensure we maximise our investments.

“This is a resilient region that continues to grow and adapt, building on traditional industries, while being strategically placed at the forefront of contemporary and emerging economies.”

Minister for Northern Australia Keith Pitt, Member for Capricornia Michelle Landry, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, LNP Keppel candidate Adrian de Groot, and Member for Flynn Ken O'Dowd in Rockhampton discussing the upgrading of CQ’s roads.
Minister for Northern Australia Keith Pitt, Member for Capricornia Michelle Landry, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, LNP Keppel candidate Adrian de Groot, and Member for Flynn Ken O'Dowd in Rockhampton discussing the upgrading of CQ’s roads.

What the northern agenda has delivered according to the Federal Government

  • Over $2.4 billion in investments through the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) for infrastructure projects across the north, supporting nearly 8000 jobs.
  • Announcement of significant reforms to the NAIF, extending it for an extra five years, cutting red tape to speed up investment approvals, expanding eligibility and creating more flexibility with a greater appetite for risk. This will accelerate investment of projects into 2021.
  • The $1 billion COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Fund is supporting regions, communities and industry sectors that have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 crisis. The initiatives announced under the Fund are supporting industries including aviation, agriculture, fisheries, tourism and the arts.
  • To spur on the ‘gas led recovery,’ the Budget included $28.3 million to develop five Strategic Basins — including the Beetaloo Basin in the Northern Territory and the North Bowen and Galilee Basins in North Queensland. Bringing these basins online will speed up the development of our vast gas reserves, increase supply and lower prices.
  • Continued investment in research for agriculture, health service delivery and Traditional Owner-led development through the $75 million Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia.
  • The Northern Australia and Beef Roads Programs are upgrading vital supply chains with 23 projects complete, a further 12 projects underway and the final three to start shortly.

There is more to do to support northern road corridors and progress water infrastructure including:

– Additional road projects will be brought forward within the next 12 months under the Roads of Strategic Importance program, and the Budget included an additional $655 million in road infrastructure across the north.

– Over $497 million for water infrastructure is providing diversification for industries especially agriculture. The Budget committed a further $3 million for the North Queensland Water Infrastructure Authority and $5.6 million for the National Water Grid Authority to identify and develop projects for inclusion in the 10-year Australian Investment Schedule.

Labor responds to government’s plan for northern Australia

Queensland Senator Murray Watt has been a constant critic of the NAIF’s failure to deliver for northern Australia and Central Queensland in particular.
Queensland Senator Murray Watt has been a constant critic of the NAIF’s failure to deliver for northern Australia and Central Queensland in particular.

Shadow Minister for Northern Australia Murray Watt said it was five years ago the Morrison Government promised it would turbo-charge growth in Northern Australia, but locals were still waiting to see results.

“No amount of lip service is going to turn back the clock,” Senator Watt said.

“Time after time, this government talks about the north’s potential, but people in Central Queensland and right across the north want action to realise that potential, not just more talk.

“The government’s Northern Australia agenda is a prime example of what this Prime Minister loves most – a big flashy announcement, and zero follow through.”

He said not one of the 15 major projects Scott Morrison had “fast tracked” was located north of Brisbane, and the government had slashed programs like JobKeeper which were supporting businesses and workers through the pandemic.

“When it comes to the No Actual Infrastructure Fund, Keith Pitt and Michelle Landry like to talk about how much money has been promised but never what’s actually been delivered,” he said.

“Five years after the NAIF was announced, only 4.4 per cent of its $5 billion budget has been released.

“At this rate, it will take 116 years for the Government to deliver what has been promised for the north.

“It’s even worse in Queensland – only $10 million has actually been spent. The NAIF has spent more than three times that amount just to run itself.”

After five years, he said only one project had been approved in Central Queensland (a $37 million beef processing facility in Clermont), which was yet to receive any funding.

“It’s an embarrassing record for a Minister and Assistant Minister who both call Queensland home,” he said.

“They need to get to work immediately.”