There is a story that does the rounds in Townsville, that at the end of World War II, the US Army suggested it could blow up Castle Hill and use the rock to build a causeway to Magnetic Island. While painfully jogging up that “hill” the other morning, I wished they had done it, or at least removed the top half.
It is amazing what can be done at a time of crisis. At the time of the war, the Bruce Highway was the only major road south from north Queensland — making it particularly vulnerable if a quick escape was required. So the US Army did something about it and built an inland route from Cairns to the south; that road still exists today: the Hann Highway. Another story goes that if the war had continued a little longer, the Americans planned to seal it. To this day sections of Hann remain unsealed, and Queensland can be cut in half if flooding disrupts the coastal Bruce Highway.
The Hann Highway is one of the roads in the north that the government has made eligible for upgrade through its Northern Australia Roads Program. We have allocated $600 million to the task. Sealing the Hann would reduce the distance between Cairns and Melbourne by 800km in comparison with coastal routes, and save more than eight hours for a truck driving this route.
There is not a lack of opportunities in northern Australia, there has been a lack of infrastructure. Northern Australia receives 60 per cent of our rainfall and makes up 40 per cent of our land mass; and 55 per cent of our exports are sent from northern ports.
Already northern Australia punches above its weight. Only 6 per cent of Australians live in northern Australia but together they produce 11 per cent of our GDP. Each full-time employee in Australia produces about $186,000 of economic output a year. In the north, each employee generates about $370,000 of economic output a year. It makes sense to reinvest in the parts of the country that are already making money for the country.
That is why the government has a $6.2 billion plan for northern Australia. There is $600m for the roads mentioned above, and another $100m for “beef roads” so that the cost of transporting cattle can be brought down; at times it can cost a third of their final value to transport cattle to market.
$200m has been made available to develop the water resources of the north. The second biggest water catchment in Australia, after the Murray-Darling, is the Fitzroy Basin. More water flows out of the Fitzroy, near Rockhampton, into the Pacific Ocean than any other river on the eastern seaboard.
There are further investments in research and development, establishing more flexible land tenure arrangements for indigenous Australians, and investing in areas in which the north has a special advantage, such as tropical medicine.
Last week Resources Minister Josh Frydenberg and I introduced a bill to establish a $5bn concessional loan facility for the north. There is a lot of opportunity in the north but like many new investments, there is a lot of risk too. The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility will help reduce some of that risk. To read more click here.
The Developing Northern Australia Conference Above the Line – unleashing the north’s potential will be held on 20-22 June 2016 at Darwin Convention Centre.
The Conference continues the dialogue started in 2015 following the release of the Australian Government’s White Paper on Developing Northern Australia. To register your attendance at the conference CLICK HERE. Early bird registrations close 6 May 2016, so be quick to receive a discounted rate.