How’s the Government going with its plan to make the north boom?

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North Australia development
Upgrades may be on the cards for some Outback roads

It wasn’t the first time that grandiose plans had been unveiled to finally transform the fortunes of Australia’s underdeveloped north … but this time, of course, it was going to be different!

Well, it’s now three years since the Federal Government released its ‘Our North, Our Future: White Paper on Developing Northern Australia’ … so, how much closer is the north to becoming an economic powerhouse?

Many grey nomads were particularly excited to hear that infrastructure upgrades were to be front and centre of the Government’s bold new vision.

“Many northerners say that southern decision makers do not take sufficient account of the north’s needs or opportunities,” the 2015 document said. “This white paper will change that.”

It was a big call, and it came with financial commitments. Under a new $600 million northern Australia roads package, the paper said funding would be considered for priority projects on the Great Northern Highway, Arnhem Highway, Flinders Highway, Barkly Highway, Hann Highway, the Outback Way and the Tanami Road.

Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Matt Canavan, has declared himself happy with progress since, and he says momentum is building.

“This third annual statement shows how much has been achieved to date,” he told Parliament. “The Outback Way is being upgraded as a priority route across the north … the first of five new Queensland upgrades are underway, with further upgrades planned for Northern Territory and Western Australia.”

The minister said 32 of the 37 projects planned under the Northern Australia Roads Program and Northern Beef Roads Program were either completed, underway or approved to start soon. And the Government has also announced its Roads of Strategic Importance (ROSI) initiative, which invests an additional $1.5 billion to provide better transport links in northern Australia.

It’s a huge job though and some critics say progress has been slowed by excess red tape, policy uncertainty over land access, and insufficient capital investment. Senator Canavan himself acknowledges a lack of water infrastructure is another stumbling block that could inhibit growth opportunities. But he remains upbeat about the progress … and the potential.

“The north is already becoming an even more attractive place to live and do business, and its contribution to Australia’s prosperity is growing,” he said. “There is a great deal left to do, but we have made significant progress … and the signs for the future are very positive.”

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