On behalf of the Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia, I present the committee’s interim report of the inquiry into the development of Northern Australia.
The committee has been tasked by the parliament to consider policies for developing parts of Australia that lie north of the Tropic of Capricorn, spanning Queensland, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory. The Alice Springs region, which is just below the Tropic of Capricorn, has also been included within the scope of the inquiry, because of the interest expressed from Central Australia in participating in the inquiry.
More specifically the committee is tasked with examining the potential of, and the impediments to, economic growth, the role of regulation in stimulating investment, and social factors affecting this growth in the North. The inquiry will also identify the critical economic and social infrastructure that is needed to support long-term growth and investment in the region. The committee’s inquiry is running in tandem with the government’s commitment to produce a white paper on Northern Australia, within 12 months of the 2013 federal election.
This inquiry has generated a high level of community interest and created high expectations about the work of the committee. To date, the committee has received 287 submissions and 49 exhibits. The committee has undertaken an extensive program of travel, with more than 20 hearings and inspections, covering a large range of locations across Northern Australia.
Mid-way through its hearing program, the committee’s visit to the Upper Flinders District, Gulf Country and Weipa, originally scheduled for mid-April, was postponed due to severe weather conditions resulting from Cyclone Ita. The visit has been rescheduled for early July. The committee will also be holding additional hearings in Darwin and Brisbane, due to the high number of submissions received and interest in the inquiry from those areas.
The combination of these factors has meant that the committee will now be presenting its report to the parliament in the first week of September. So far, the committee has identified significant opportunities for the development of Northern Australia which include:
– the expansion of the resources sector, with a number of areas awaiting exploration or development;
– more intensive agriculture, expanded opportunities for horticulture, aquaculture, and more integrated production and processing of livestock;
– the growth of tourism, both domestic and international;
– increased education with provision of opportunities for international students;
– research on health and energy and food production in the tropics;
– the potential for a more northerly focus of Australia’s defence forces, building on current assets in North Queensland and the Northern Territory; and
– significant opportunities to maximise development, by working with the traditional owners of the land and sea.
Major impediments to economic and social development identified include:
– the absence of economic infrastructure, particularly water, power and transport infrastructure, which in turn impacts upon opportunities for economic development and liveability;
– the cost of power and water, which impacts on the cost of doing business and living standards in a range of sectors;
– access to telecommunications;
– land tenure arrangements, which can affect security of investment and options for development;
– lengthy approvals processes, which can add to the time and cost of developments and impede outcomes;
– inconsistency of processes and requirements between jurisdictions across the region;
– high development costs, largely as a result of remoteness and the need to import most production elements;
– availability and affordability of insurance;
– the need to mitigate against weather risks; and
– the high cost of service delivery to small and dispersed populations.
Notwithstanding these impediments, the committee believes there is a way to sustainably develop the North. In the latter half of its inquiry, the committee will identify key development projects, strategies, and ways by which governments can stimulate economic development and remove impediments to growth.
In conclusion, I would like to thank all those who have provided submissions to the review so far, provided evidence at public hearings, and assisted the committee during its extensive inspection program. Finally, I thank my colleagues on the joint select committee for their support and the outstanding work they have been doing. I commend the report to the House.
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