China backs northern Australia plan

19 Jun, 2015 08:54 AM
Prime Minister Tony Abbott and President Xi Jinping
Beijing saw opportunities in Australia's north, primarily in ag, food processing and infrastructure
Prime Minister Tony Abbott and President Xi Jinping

PRIME Minister Tony Abbott has pledged $1.2 billion in new money for roads and dams and relaxed visa requirements for backpackers and tourists as part of a package announced on Thursday in a bid to unlock the "economic powerhouse" in the north.

China has backed the deal saying its trade arrangement with Australia will facilitate Chinese investment in farms and infrastructure in the region which is attempting to become part of Asia's food bowl.

Despite fears the new money, along with the $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund, will result in taxpayer money being used to build "white elephant" projects, Mr Abbott said greater economic activity in the top half of Australia would help drive national growth.

"If the north does well, our country does well," Mr Abbott said in Canberra on Thursday. "Northern Australia can grasp its full potential and become an economic powerhouse within our great country. We will drive down the costs of operating in the north for business, making it a more attractive place to invest and work."

Feds play it safe

Although there was a push by some regional MPs to establish a regional tax zone - and a few kooky ideas such as a taxpayer-funded abattoir and re-opening a casino on Christmas Island to attract investment to the region - the federal government has played it safe with the latest plan. At its heart is a bold ambition to increase the population of the northern parts of Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory from one million people now to up to five million people by 2060.

"It is not the Commonwealth government's role to direct, or be the principal financier of, development," the white paper said.

"Business is far better placed to understand the risks and rewards from northern economic development."

Under the 20-year plan, the federal government will allocate $200 million for water storage, including $5 million for a feasibility study into the Nullinga Dam near Cairns and another $5 million for a detailed examination of land-use sustainability for the third stage of the Ord project.

There will be a further $15 million for water resource assessments of the Mitchell River (Queensland), West Kimberley (Western Australia) and the Darwin region.

There was also a $600 million roads package to improve key transport hubs in the far north, $100 million to improve cattle supply chains and almost $40 million to upgrade air-strips and subsidise air services.

Other aspects include a major northern investment forum in Darwin targeted at international investors, $75m for a co-operative research centre on developing northern Australia, $15.3m for tropical health projects and $12.4m for indigenous rangers.

Deputy Prime Minister and Infrastructure Minister Warren Truss said the Coalition would also attempt to cut red tape to encourage businesses to invest in the north. It also wants to accelerate pastoral lease reform to allow farmers to undertake more activities on their properties as well as overhaul native title leases so indigenous people can undertake more business.

There will also be schemes to help attract workers to the regions. Overseas working holiday makers will have their visas extended for one year if they are employed in northern Australia. The three-year multiple entry visa will also be extended to 10 years in a bid to promote tourists, especially from China.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said he looked forward to working with the federal government to develop an aviation strategy to open up northern Australia to fast-growing Asian markets.

Chinese Vice Minister of Commerce Wang Shouwen said Beijing saw opportunities in Australia's north, primarily in agriculture, food processing and infrastructure.

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Jock Munro
19/06/2015 11:43:56 AM

Of course communist China would be happy with the Northern Australia plan! Abbot has probably told them that they can buy the lot. Food bowl of Asia but we will sell to the highest bidder.
Jock Munro
19/06/2015 12:09:12 PM

And why wouldn't communist China approve of the Northern Australia Plan. Abbot has probably told them that they can as much of the north as they like. How we can become the food bowl of Asia as we sell down our assets is anyone's guess.
Hilda Hereford
19/06/2015 1:37:28 PM

It is difficult to understand Australian government, they want development in the north, however it is mostly leasehold land. As a result leaseholders can't develop or diversify because they will loose ownership of the development and any diversified business that is outside the grazing lease. So nothing happens and government can't unstandardised why development doesn't occur. If the land tenure was freehold or better then development would move ahead. the existing leasehold tenure just stifles development, maybe gov will wake up soon
19/06/2015 1:46:50 PM

The Jock Monro story, only the facts folks. Or, maybe a pack of xenophobic nonsense and ignorance of trade, industry and anything ever taught in economics and geography.Sir, you are a certified goose. Please do some reading instead of breathing petrol fumes.
Mabel Peyton-Smyth
19/06/2015 2:28:35 PM

Stand aside... Jock is going to put his money where his mouth tends to go. Jock head north and take your bed with you so your commies can hide under it. By the way, form cartels so no one can undersell you. You could even breed neanderthals.
Jock Munro
19/06/2015 4:36:05 PM

Thankyou for your kind words newbroom and Mabel. Most Australians are very uncomfortable with our urban elite politicians selling out to foreign governments. It is disappointing that you chose to call them racist and ignorant.
Hilda Heregord
20/06/2015 7:32:56 AM

Just to put the road spending in perspective. 600,000 would be about 300km of rd. Sounds good but in reality is not much
20/06/2015 2:21:01 PM

Why is it a kooky idea to reopen a casino on Christmas Island? The casino operated previously during 1993 -1998 it provided 400 jobs and subsidised flights to the Island from Perth and Singapore as well as a community benefit fund of millions of dollars per year. Obviously the author of this article failed to do the research.
21/06/2015 5:00:59 AM

Australians have never been interested or capable of making a go of farming in our northern tropics. Asians have been farming that type of environment for centuries. I would welcome anyone, Australian or Asian to get farming up and running in the north by introducing the same scheme of CP land allocation that operated in the south to successfully develop agriculture there. If Asians are willing to get wide scale farming up and running in our tropics where we cant, welcome them with open arms and allocate them CP land to do it just like we got back in the 1900s.
21/06/2015 6:40:49 AM

i think it's you who might have to do some reading "newbroom" particularly in the area of economics. If you sell your assets you have no pathways to revenue,e.g. NSW.....Greece as a better example, not that they had any assets in the first place. I think it's naive of people to kid themselves that investment from China is clean green and all above board. Have a look at what the Chinese are doing in the South China Sea if you think they are playing by the rules. Xenophobia? what a load of rot, the chinese are taking advantage of the indebtedness of the rest of us.
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