Northern Australia doesn’t usually see a lot of action during Australian federal elections. Relatively stable voting patterns, combined with a small number of seats, means that the war-room calculations of the major political parties tend to overlook the region. The voter-rich areas of western Sydney and eastern Melbourne are usually the places where you’ll find the parties’ heavy-hitters out campaigning.
Yet this week saw the leader of the opposition, the Labor Party’s Bill Shorten, spending significant time in northern Australia.
The Labor Party is targeting four seats that lie along the central to far-north Queensland coast, roughly the length of the Great Barrier Reef. However, the Labor leader’s presence there was not only an attempt to shore up local support for votes. There is a larger issue within northern Australia that both Labor and the conservative bloc recognize as being of vital strategic importance to the country.
Australia’s population is heavily concentrated in the southeast of the country, a great distance from everywhere bar New Zealand. Although Australia has done very well for itself out of this phenomenon, the country’s engagement to its north still suffers from the burden of distance. There is a growing political recognition that the development of Northern Australia is essential.
In 2014 the government delivered the Developing Northern Australia White Paper, which outlined the importance and potential of the region and highlighted its proximity to Asia as one of its key attributes.
In the 2015 federal budget, the conservative coalition announced a provision of $5 billion for a Northern Australian infrastructure investment fund. This fund was to be utilized for major infrastructure projects like ports, railways, pipelines, and electricity generation.
The government also created an Office of Northern Australia, and a minister responsible for development within the region.
It has become well-recognized now that Australia cannot simply reply on Chinese growth for its export opportunities, particularly as China’s need for raw materials starts to wane. Developing the northern region of Australia would be a significant pivot toward Southeast Asia (and South Asia) as major markets.
Presently, despite being the country’s closest neighbor, and the world’s fourth most populous country, Indonesia is only Australia’s 13th largest trading partner. Australia’s engagement with Indonesia is vastly underdeveloped given its proximity and size. This is both a significant opportunity yet to be grasped, and a major strategic oversight. While the relationship between Australia and Indonesia is stable at the moment, a major trading relationship would certainly help to strengthen it. To read more click here.
The Developing Northern Australia Conference; Above the Line – unleashing the north’s potential will be held in two weeks time 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.