Rethinking the future of Northern Australia’s regions
The vast potential of northern Australia is being held back by serious bottlenecks in infrastructure and human capital, but strategies for sustainable economic and population growth need to shift beyond the simple solutions and polarised debate of the past 50 years.
This is one of the key findings of a new paper released by the Regional Australia Institute (RAI) today, examining the unique challenges and opportunities within northern Australia’s diverse regions.
Using data derived through [In]Sight, the RAI’s regional competitiveness index, ‘Rethinking the future of northern Australia’s regions: more than mines, dams and development dreams’ seeks to enhance the debate on the Coalition’s commitment to developing a white paper earlier this year.
“Northern Australia has too often been the recipient of one-off strategies that may be positive in isolation, but add up to little long-term change,” CEO of the RAI, Su McCluskey said. “This will be a core challenge for the Government, which has the opportunity to revolutionise the north and the role it plays in Australia’s future.”
“The data and input we’ve collected from communities in northern Australia indicates the need for a sophisticated, regionally-responsive approach to development, one that recognises the diverse challenges and opportunities within each of northern Australia’s regions and how this ties together as a whole.”
The paper identifies three types of regions in northern Australia – northern cities, industry hubs and the very remote – each of which is underpinned by a distinct economic profile, and will require specific strategies to improving infrastructure and building a healthy, skilled workforce.
The northern cities of Townsville, Cairns, Darwin, Mackay and Rockhampton, for example, are underpinned by a range of industries including mining, tourism and agriculture. Their size and economic diversity mean they are now considered self-sustaining in their own right, and provide vital opportunity to towns situated nearby.
In contrast, isolated industry hubs are dominated by only mining, tourism or agriculture. Widening the economic base will enable them to better withstand external economic pressures. For example, although mining towns are performing well, they will need to prepare for changes in international markets over time.
The very remote regions are where challenges in health, education and infrastructure are being felt the hardest. Government often dominates local employment in these regions and private sector investment is very low, with minimal or in some cases no industry presence. Traditional regional development strategies will not work here.
The paper also examines the potential for regions to link with international and domestic markets, exporting services specific to northern Australia such as tropical expertise, education, mining and agricultural science to align with the needs of growing Asian and Pacific markets.
Ms McCluskey said the objective of the paper is to stimulate debate and consultation with community, business, and all tiers of government on how to enable different regions to achieve development which meets their needs, capacity and goals.
“Our role as an organisation is to help inform the conversation on regional development and how we can maximise opportunity in regional Australia,” she said. “This paper is a step forward to strengthening our understanding of future pathways for a stronger, smarter and sustainable Australia”.
The Regional Australia Institute has developed this paper to enhance the conversation on the Coalition’s commitment to a white paper on the development of northern Australia earlier this year. We will continue to engage with all levels of stakeholders, across business, community, government, research and policy to work toward the best outcomes for regional Australia – for the good of all Australia.
If you want to join in on the conversation, head over to the ‘Have your Say’ feature on our website and leave your comments on the paper.
Click here to download a copy of ‘Rethinking the future of northern Australia’s regions: more than mines, dams and development dreams’
A background briefing on the paper is available here
The Northern Australia fact sheet is also available here