Time is Right for Developing the North

The Federal Government’s paper titled “2030 Vision for Developing Northern Australia” (June 2013) is impressive in its content and scope.  While the idea of developing the north is not new, there are some new ideas in the paper and for many reasons there has never been a better time to implement a systematic, sustainable plan to grow Northern Australia’s economy.

 At the local level we are close to development of a Master Plan for the growth of Darwin’s Central Business District and we have a Planning Commission in place which will soon be releasing a plan for the growth of the Darwin region.  These documents will be critically important building blocks for the future growth of our city.

 But the new Federal Government’s concept of the north stretches all the way south to the Tropic of Capricorn, and thus embraces much more than just the Darwin end of the Northern Territory.  Our railway and steadily growing port infrastructure enable us to efficiently export products from this entire region and this means growth can be shared among all of our major population centres.

 Looking to our north we find a rapidly growing population in Asia, a similarly fast growing middle class, and a keen interest in Australia and a wide range of Australian products.  All of these factors provide opportunities for Australia and the north is well placed to take advantage of these opportunities.

 Unfortunately the policies of past Australian Governments have not always supported the growth of northern Australia.  An example from long ago was the White Australia Policy, which suited businesses and Governments in the south at the time, but meant the Chinese workforce in the NT (they were effectively the main group prepared to work here in the prevailing conditions at the time) was discriminated against and families were broken up due to workers being sent home.  It also meant we went into reverse in our attempts to develop the north.

 While we may think Australia has moved on as a nation since those days, the recent decision by a Federal Labor Government to ban live cattle exports is another example of a move taken by a Government to placate vocal minorities in the south, without any consideration of how this might affect the north (and the effect has been devastating).

 The new Government’s initiative to develop the north signals that we have moved on from those days.  But there is still a general absence of any significant profile for the north in most southern media and industry reporting.  For example the Northern Territory is often left off tables and charts reporting various statistics, presumably because we are too small in population (and the data is therefore limited), or nobody really cares about the 1% of the population who live here and who have been trying to develop the north since the 1800s.

 I was recently encouraged to view the map of Australia upside down, the same way we see northern hemisphere countries (such as the USA), with the parts closest to the equator being closest to us.  Seeing Australia from this perspective demonstrates that our most highly populated southern cities are in fact a long way from the population centres of the rest of the world.  Darwin and the rest of northern Australia on the other hand are very close to numerous centres of the world’s population. 

 So while policy makers have in the past considered northern Australia to be remote, this idea needs to be turned on its head.  Perhaps we should start publishing maps of Australia upside down to emphasise these facts!

 When we secured the Ichthys project, bankers and valuers from southern regions had to be brought to the Northern Territory in an attempt to educate them about the opportunities here as a result of our rapid economic growth (opportunities which can only be realised if the finance sector is prepared to provide finance to appropriate projects).  We need to continue this work and continue to press for greater recognition of the part northern Australia will play in Australia’s future economic development.

 Says Kerry Osborne, President of UDIA (NT) “The UDIA (NT) strongly supports systematic, well-planned, sustainable growth of the north, and looks forward to working with all levels of Government to ensure there is parallel growth in housing and associated infrastructure”.