The sixth annual Developing Northern Australia conference has opened in Rockhampton, bringing together governments, industry and researchers to focus on driving the region’s economic growth.
Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia Keith Pitt gave the opening address, highlighting more than $4 billion provided for northern Australia in the October Budget to help it rebound from the COVID-19 downturn.
“The government’s investment will help us pursue a gas-led recovery by developing strategic basin plans that will create thousands of jobs across the north, starting with the Beetaloo Basin in the Northern Territory,” he said.
“We’ve committed almost half a billion dollars to water infrastructure and feasibility projects that can catalyse a range of projects in the north and create jobs.”
Mr Pitt also foreshadowed a major research report to be released this week from the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia.
The report identifies barriers to development and jobs growth across agriculture, health services, communications and traditional owner-led businesses.
Mr Pitt said it would help communities, businesses, industries and policy-makers make informed decisions for the next phase of the Northern Australia agenda.
Labor Senator Murray Watt accused the Federal Government of failing to deliver what had been promised when it came to Northern Australia.
“We’ve seen it with the $2 billion National Water Infrastructure Loans Facility, announced in 2016, but quietly scrapped this year after not releasing a dollar,” he said.
“Or the $4 billion Emergency Response Fund, announced 18 months ago, but still not a cent spent on disaster recovery and mitigation, despite the north expecting more cyclones and floods than normal this summer.
“But if there is one symbol of the Morrison Government over-promising and under-delivering in the north, it’s the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility.
“Five years after the $5 billion NAIF was announced as the centrepiece of the 2015 White Paper, only $218 million has been released.”
Mr Pitt told the conference that reforms he had introduced for the NAIF would speed up approvals and make it simpler for suitable projects to qualify for funding.
NAIF had already committed more than $2.4 billion to support projects across northern Australia, supporting around 8000 jobs and helping the northern economy through the COVID-19 recession, he said.
The 2020 Developing Northern Australia Conference is being held from November 23-25 at the Rockhampton Showgrounds.
Rockhampton region acting Mayor Neil Fisher said hosting the conference would be great for the profile of the region.
“With Rockhampton already renowned as a major resource and industrial hub, the conference is a great opportunity to profile our city to national delegates and showcase how our region is gearing up to offer further services to key growth sectors,” he said.