The Federal Government’s commitment to upgrade northern beef roads has so far delivered plenty of talk and no tar.
The $100 million Northern Australia Beef Roads Program was announced in May 2015 by then Prime Minister Tony Abbott, which kicked off a series of “roundtable discussions” to work out where the money should be spent.
Meetings were held in Rockhampton (QLD), Kununurra (WA) and finally in Darwin (NT), where attendees were told more consultations would be needed.
The number of meetings does not seem to match the dollars on offer, with many criticising the $100 million pledge as being a small fraction of what’s needed to make a difference.
The NT Cattlemen’s Association believes more than $1 billion is needed to upgrade beef roads – just in the Northern Territory.
So where’s the money, and where’s the tar?
Delivering the government’s first report on what progress has been made on its White Paper on Developing Northern Australia, Senator Matt Canavan said an announcement on the beef roads project would be made “very shortly”.
“We’ve been working hard to identify investment priorities to improve the northern beef industry’s productivity and resilience through the $100 million Northern Australia Beef Roads Programme, with three successful round table meetings of key representatives from the cattle and transport industries in Rockhampton, Kununurra and Darwin,” he said in his speech to the Senate.
“The CSIRO’s innovative Transport Network Strategic Investment Tool, TraNSIT, has modelled more than 60 proposals submitted by stakeholders. I am looking forward to the announcement of successful projects very shortly.”
Tracey Hayes from the NT Cattlemen’s Association said the beef industry was surprised at how long the process was taking.
“I’m not sure why it’s taken so long,” she said.
“So we’re eagerly awaiting the announcement… and just wanting to see some rubber hit the road.”
Ms Hayes was in Canberra last week discussing the beef roads program and said she was expecting an announcement “hopefully in the next week or so”.
In conjunction with the beef roads program, the Federal Government has also announced funding for specific road projects worth more than $350 million as part of the Northern Australia Roads Program.
Funding commitments include $24.7 million to better connect Kununurra and the Ord Irrigation Scheme to the nearby Wyndham port, and $40 million towards upgrades of the Keep River Plains Road, which will benefit the proposed $1.5 billion prawn farm on Legune station called Project Sea Dragon.
It is not known when construction of these road upgrades will begin.