Federal Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Matt Canavan.
Federal Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Matt Canavan. Chris Ison

Planning to unlock Northern Australia's future potential

SECURING a strong pipeline of infrastructure projects over the next decade and beyond was on top of the agenda yesterday at an Infrastructure Australia's infrastructure audit roundtable in Rockhampton.

Associate director of policy and research at IA, Jon Frazer said the audit, out in June next year, looked at the challenges and opportunities going forward and the role infrastructure played in unlocking the benefits.

He said it was also about reflecting the national significance of growth in Northern Australia and the specific kinds of infrastructure required.

"The white paper is only three years old, so it's about making it relevant for whichever party forms government next year," he said.

"It's a platform for growth and change; it's apolitical and speaks to the bipartisan support the white paper had in 2015."

Participants came from across Queensland to discuss northern Australia infrastructure priorities and for decision makers to hear what those priorities were before committing funds.

Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Senator Matt Canavan said Infrastructure Australia, which is the Federal Government's central advisory body on infrastructure needs, had been asked for a particular focus on Northern Australia in its next audit.

He said it was important to unlock the potential in Central Queensland in particular.

Yesterday's overriding message was to make sure regional areas, with huge economic growth and potential, were not forgotten.

"That's why we brought Infrastructure Australia here, to talk directly to decision makers and advisory bodies here in Rockhampton," Senator Canavan said.

"The average output of a worker in Northern Australia is $380,000, compared to $180,000 in the rest of Australia. The north is where a lot of the economic opportunity exists.

"But we rely on strong local business and strong local economic opportunities.

"We don't have large amounts of public servants or direct government investment. We rely on strong business conditions."

Over the past six months, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund has made loans of more than $1 billion.

Changes made earlier this year allowed for more flexibility and, according to Senator Canavan, turned things around.

"When you're spending more than $5 billion of taxpayer dollars you obviously want to put appropriate controls and constraints in place," he said.

"On reflection we put too many constraints and that limited or made more bureaucratic than necessary the funding for NAIF projects."

A review was commissioned 12 months ago with recommendations announced in April this year.

Major changes broadened the definition of infrastructure, removed a 50 per cent cap and scrapped the indicative limit of $50 million, which Senator Canavan said unlocked a huge amount of opportunity.

"The main thing we learned was to focus on the objective," he said.