By Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Tony Abbott will release the Coalition’s “vision” for northern Australia today but avoid immediate big dollar promises by saying he would commission a White Paper on policy option.

The White Paper, to be produced within a year of the election of a Coalition government, “will set out a clear, well-defined and timely policy platform for promoting the development of Northern Australia”, he says.

Campaigning in Townsville today, he will put out a document titled The Coalition’s 2030 Vision for Developing Northern Australia.

This says that Northern Australia could drive economic growth by developing a food bowl, including premium produce, which could help to double Australia’s agricultural output. The tourist industry could be grown to two million international visitors a year, and an energy export industry worth $150 billion to the economy could be built, with a major focus on clean, efficient energy.

The White Paper would consider the controversial suggestion of relocating relevant parts of federal government departments and agencies such as CSIRO and AQIS, to key urban zones in Northern Australia.

This would be part of building on existing urban zones, such as Darwin, Cairns, Townsville and Karratha, with the aim of substantially increasing the population in these areas.

“To these end, the efficacy and targeting of current relocation incentives and personal and business tax incentives could be reviewed”.

It would also look at Infrastructure Australia devising a 15 year rolling priority list of projects, guided by cost-benefit studies.

It would investigate the establishment of a Water Project Development Fund to support proposals for water infrastructure, including dams and ground water projects.

The paper would address the problem of green and red tape.

“We are determined to break the ongoing development deadlock that has held Northern Australia back for so long”, Abbott says.

“For too long, families have been reluctant to move to Northern Australia because of the absence of adequate infrastructure, and governments and the private sector have been reluctant to invest in major projects because of insufficient population”, he says.

Noting the potential for Northern Australia to tap into Asian growth, he says: “We want to capitalise on Northern Australia’s existing strengths and natural advantages in agriculture, cattle and energy as well as to seize opportunities in tourism, education and health services”.

The ConversationMichelle Grattan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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conference_logoDeveloping Northern Australia Conference 2015, Townsville will address the key issues being tabled in the policy debate.