A major inquiry into the future of northern Australia has recommended that the Federal Government establish a new Department of Northern Australian Development and prioritise funding for several northern road, rail, water and port infrastructure projects.
The Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia has made 42 recommendations for the Federal Government to consider after completing a marathon six month inquiry into the Development of Northern Australia.
Recommendations of specific interest to the beef industry include calls for the Government to:
- invest in upgrades to major beef roads;
- seal the Tanami Highway to link the Kimberley to South Eastern Australia;
- assess the costs and benefits of building a new railway from Mount Isa to Tennant Creek to create a direct rail link from the East Coast to Darwin;
- support a new abattoir for northern Queensland;
- improve port facilities at Darwin, Wyndham and Karumba;
- develop a network of cross-loading infrastructure on major cattle transport routes; and
- create tax breaks for people living in, and businesses operating in, northern Australia.
Committee chair, Liberal National MP for the NQ seat of Leichardt Warren Entsch, said Northern Australia covers more than 40pc of Australia’s landmass but is home to just 4pc of its population.
Abundant land, water and mineral resources and the region’s proximity to the large and growing markets of Asia had long created interest in the development of the north.
However progress had been stifled by a failure by governments at all levels to commit to investment and development in a consistent, sustainable, coordinated way.
“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,” Mr Entsch wrote in the committee’s final report.
Mr Entsch said the inquiry was a key part of that process. Its report will now help to inform the development of the Federal Government’s White Paper on Northern Development.
The report draws on evidence given at 28 public hearings held across the length and breadth of northern Australia from March to August, as well as 99 written submissions.
The Committee has made seven “priority” recommendations and a further 35 recommendations targeting more specific areas of attention in the north.
The seven priority recommendations are:
Recommendation 1 – New Department for Northern Australia
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government create a Department of Northern Australian Development, and that it be based in Northern Australia.
The committee report said the recent decision to form the Northern Australia Strategic Partnership, under the direct oversight of the Prime Minister, Premiers of Queensland and Western Australia, and Chief Minister of the Northern Territory was a positive development. However, committee members believed the development of Northern Australia also required the dedicated attention of a Minister with their own department to co-ordinate and control government programs relating to northern development across a range of portfolios—in effect a ‘one-stop-shop’.
Recommendation 2 – Road upgrades
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government identify key roads and commit to funding their upgrade as a matter of priority, subject to relative benefit assessment by Infrastructure Australia.
Projects to consider would include:
- Continued upgrade of National Highways, including the Bruce and Stuart Highways
- Hann Highway
- Peninsula Development Road (to the tip of Cape York)
- Tanami Road
- Outback Way
- Beef development roads such as the Barkly Stock Route.
The Committee noted that good road infrastructure including sealed and flood-proofed roads was vital to the economic and social development of Northern Australia.
The report said the upgrade of the Tanami Road would shorten the journey from Australia’s north west to south east by some 1100km and 17 hours, reducing costs to primary producers and the resources sector, creating better access to southern markets, and open a new avenue for tourism.
Beef development roads, such as the Buntine Road, Barkly Stock Route, Duncan Highway and Buchanan Highway were core arterial routes for Northern Australian beef producers, but were built 50 years ago to accommodate smaller vehicles than used today. The committee recommends that the seal on these roads needs to be strengthened and the roads widened to take account of the new types of transport available today and into the future. This will allow year-round transport of cattle and reduce travel times with benefits for animal welfare and driver well-being.
The committee said the completion of these roads would take some years, but an early commitment of funding for the work “would of itself provide a significant incentive for private sector investment in these regions”.
Recommendation 3 – Rail link from Mt Isa to Tennant Creek
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, in conjunction with the Queensland and Northern Territory Governments, should fund a cost-benefit analysis of the following projects:
- a rail line linking Mount Isa and Tennant Creek; and
- passing lanes on the Darwin to Alice Springs railway.
A rail line between Mount Isa and Tennant Creek would effectively create a direct rail link from Darwin and the east coast and would be “of enormous benefit to the immediate region and the nation as a whole”, the report said.
Recommendation 4 – Water projects
Committee recommends that the Australian Government give priority to the development and funding of water resource proposals that have been scientifically identified as being sustainable and with the strongest cost-benefit case, and consistent with National Water Policy. Projects to be considered could include:
- Use of groundwater for expanding horticulture;
- Flinders River Weir/O’Connell Creek Water Storage Project;
- Urannah Dam;
- Elliot Main Channel;
- Nullinga Dam;
- Eden Bann and Rookwood Weirs on the Fitzroy River; and Cloncurry Dam, Cave Hill.
The Committee further recommends that the government proceed with its election proposal to set up the Water Project Development Fund which could be used to assess and plan—and possibly provide seed funding for water management proposals for Northern Australia.
Recommendation 5 – Create special economic zones
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government conducts a full investigation of the potential and practicality of special economic zones in Northern Australia.
Recommendation 6 – Reduce insurance premiums
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government take measures to reduce insurance premiums back to an affordable level, which could include increasing competition in the insurance market in Northern Australia. The Australian Government has particular responsibility for the Indian Ocean Territories, but should also conduct negotiations with the governments of the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland, with a view to allowing the Territory Insurance Office to extend its coverage across Northern Australiaincluding the Torres Strait Islands.
Recommendation 7 – Protect the Great Artesian Basin
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, in conjunction with State and Territory Governments, continue to fund the Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative with a view to completing the capping and piping of all uncapped bores identified under the Great Artesian Basin Coordinating Committee Strategic Management Plan.
Other recommendations of interest to the livestock sector include:
Recommendation 10 – Northern abattoirs
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, in conjunction with the Queensland Government, investigate the construction of an abattoir in North Queensland with a view to facilitating private sector investment at the earliest possible date.
The report said a lack of meat processing facilities in North Queensland has limited the opportunities for the development of the beef industry in the north, restricting graziers to the export of cattle from the region either for processing further south or for live export. “The presence of an abattoir would significantly reduce transport costs and stress on animals, allow year round production, the culling of older animals, herd improvements and improvements to the land with the removal of excess animals. Poorer seasons have produced overstocking and there is a need to reduce the number of animals. This will reduce pressure on the land, improve the herd and allow pastoralists to receive more value for their animals. The development of the Hann Highway will increase the viability of a possible abattoir by giving year round access to markets.
The construction of abattoirs in the Kimberley and Darwin demonstrated the advantages of having access to local meat processing facilities to provide a market for animals not suitable for live export and opens up alternatives to live export.
Recommendation 27 – Port upgrades
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government identify key ports and commit to funding their upgrade, subject to relative benefit assessment by Infrastructure Australia. Projects to consider may include:
- Karumba; and
Recommendation 28 – Transfer facilities for cattle
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, in consultation with the cattle industry, investigate standover/transfer facilities to accommodate the movement of cattle across Australia.
Standovers and transfer facilities along major roads used to transport cattle over long distances allow for the rest and watering of cattle in transit, the safe transfer of cattle between vehicles, and rest stops for drivers to prevent fatigue. The committee said a regular network of standovers would be of great benefit in promoting animal welfare and preventing driver fatigue at little cost. Regarding driver safety issues, the Committee notes the recent death of a road train driver while cross-loading cattle at Gracemere near Rockhampton, Queensland.
Recommendation 37 – Tax breaks
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government explore reforms to the taxation system to better promote investment and development in Northern Australia.
The Committee said a range of potential taxation measures could be used to promote investment and development in Northern Australia, which could beconsidered in conjunction with the establishment of special economic zones.
Recommendation 38 – Zone Tax Offsets
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government investigate the equity of the current application of the Zone Tax Offset arrangements so that:
- the Zones reflect the current distribution of population and rebates are increased to reflect the current cost of living in regional and remote areas; and
- the Zone Tax Offset applies only to persons whose principle place of residence is within a zone.
The committee notes that the cost of living and the cost of doing business is a serious impediment to economic development in Northern Australia. Development costs are high, largely as a result of remoteness and the need to import most inputs.
This can be partly mitigated through the tax regime, with better recognition of the cost to individuals of living outside major centres.
A deliberate attempt to provide incentives for people to move to and establish themselves within regional and remote communities in Northern Australia. The purpose of the Offset should be to promote development.
To view the full report and all 42 recommendations click here