Column by Mark Crawley
The Federal Government White Paper on Developing Northern Australia is a vision to unlock the potential and opportunities of the north and the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility has funds available and may approve loans to 30 June 2021 to make that happen.
Recently changes were made to the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) to increase its flexibility and improve its potential to support projects that deliver more jobs and economic opportunities for Northern Australia.
There are many opportunities for the development of infrastructure in Northern Australia to support the growth needed in jobs and the regional economy. Local government has an opportunity to work with the other levels of government and private industry to develop the necessary projects and build the infrastructure needed in the north.
Local governments in Northern Australia have this one opportunity to prepare, present and partner with others to make best use of this funding opportunity to develop the necessary infrastructure to support economic growth in regional Australia and more particularly – Northern Australia. But individual local governments are not in a position to achieve this alone and must look to their neighbours and maybe even the Regional Organisations of Councils.
There are six Regional Organisations of Councils (ROCs) across North Queensland that lie in the area identified for the Development of Northern Australia – Far North Queensland, North Queensland, North West Queensland, Remote Area Planning And Development, Greater Whitsunday Alliance, Central Queensland – and these ROCs have representatives from each of the member councils within each region.
Some of the councils have limited rating capacity (to generate additional revenue) and going it alone for the development of major infrastructure is beyond their capacity. With the support of private investment partners and the capacity of all the councils within the ROC working together there are opportunities to achieve the support for regional projects and the development of the necessary infrastructure to build stronger communities within Northern Australia.
Opportunities are now available for the individual council members of the ROCs to work together to support one another to develop the North and take advantage of the NAIF loan funding whilst it exists.
Time is running out and 2021 will roll around quickly and this opportunity may be lost forever. With member councils working together prioritising projects within and across the region; this may be the best solution to encourage development and attract investment.
By putting up projects for support by all of the member councils across the region, members of the ROCs could decide on best locations for projects within the larger region and these projects would then have the support of all the member councils and the ROC to attract private investment, rather than competing for the development of a similar project within their individual local government areas.
ROCs have been around for quite some time, with the first recognised grouping of councils in Tasmania in 1922. ROCs understand the region, their communities and are well placed to undertake any necessary research, joint purchasing, resource sharing, regional advocacy and the delivery and implementation of government programs and services.
The north Queensland ROCs are in their best position to take advantage of the NAIF funding and prioritise infrastructure projects within their regions and work with private industry and the State Government to deliver the necessary infrastructure to build stronger communities in Northern Australia. Funding like this might not be available again for some time.
To quote the Office of Northern Australia website “Northern Australia is a region of rich promise, accessible resources and pristine environments and is Australia’s gateway to the markets and opportunities of Asia” and the north Queensland ROCs are ideally located to take advantage of this opportunity.
* Former local government chief executive officer Mark Crawley is the managing director of Mark Crawley Consulting in Townsville