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Norths needs ignored

Townsville Bulletin 12/08/2011

OPINION:

Hugh Tobin, Director, North Australia Project, Institute of Public Affairs

For too long Australia has overlooked the North and the region remains undeniably underdeveloped as a result.

The recent federal budget relies heavily on the resource sector to get into surplus yet shows no vision for the future of the industry.

While the budget includes funding to address the skills shortage, it will not be enough to adequately deal with the problem.

What Australia needs is a vision for unlocking more of the investment opportunities that exist in Australia’s North.

The government needs to ensure that Australia remains competitive against other developing resource nations.

People who live in the North of Australia recognise that they inhabit a socially and economically dissimilar region to people who live in the south of Australia. Government policy should recognise this difference.

However, it is clear that the federal government does not.

According to a Galaxy poll conducted exclusively for the Institute of Public Affairs, 71 per cent of Queenslanders did not think that decision makers in Canberra understood the needs of Northern Australia.

In light of recent federal government policies that disproportionately disadvantage Australia’s North, these results are hardly surprising.

The reactive blanket live cattle export ban continues to have devastating effects on farmers and pastoralists across Northern Australia.

The carbon tax targets energy-intensive industries like mining and minerals processing which are predominantly located in the North.

Australia’s North is abundant in natural resources and still has enormous potential for further development. Our entire economy relies heavily on the North’s resource wealth.

Australia should be introducing policies that encourage further economic development of regional and remote North Australia.

Policy frameworks with low taxes and minimal regulation have been internationally successful strategies for revolutionising economies in both developing and developed countries.

Special Economic Zones are one such framework.

Despite their popularity in the USA, UK, Singapore and Hong Kong, Special Economic Zones have been largely disregarded by policy makers in Australia.

Northern Australia, that is the Northern Territory, North Queensland and North Western Australia, is a perfect candidate for a Special Economic Zone.

A Northern Special Economic Zone would include policies which reduce regulatory duplication and burden. and lower tax rates with the intention of strengthening business security; attracting international investment; supporting the growth of existing businesses and industries; encouraging domestic and international skilled migration to the under-developed: a new special economic zone for Northern Australia would help industries North, and bolstering property rights.

The Institute of Public Affairs is a free market think tank which started in 1943 in recognition of the need for a strong liberal voice in public policy making.

The IPA’s North Australia Project, with support from Australians for Northern Development and Economic Vision is investigating the establishment of a Northern Special Economic Zone.

The project is an acknowledgement that the North is substantially different from the South-East and should be treated by governments as such.

The North is being politically disregarded and desperately needs a clear vision for future development.

We know that the North is suffering: severe skills shortages, exorbitant house prices and inadequate infrastructure are serious challenges.

A Northern Special Economic Zone is an opportunity to implement policies that are designed for the North in order to encourage economic development for the entire country.