The Morrison Government’s Northern Australia agenda is stuck in the slow lane, according to a bipartisan Senate inquiry report released overnight.
Senators from Labor, the Liberals, Nationals, Greens and One Nation have spent nearly two years investigating whether the Federal Government’s Northern Australia agenda is delivering jobs and prosperity in our north.
The inquiry concluded that, while there have been some achievements, overall progress has been “slower than the community expected”, with the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility being just one example of promises not delivered.
The committee’s bipartisan recommendations include a substantial overhaul of the Northern Australia agenda, to create more jobs through value-adding in traditional industries and expanding emerging industries which have been largely ignored. This would require stronger engagement with local communities, to deliver the economic and social infrastructure, the skills and the investment environment the north needs to grow.
The committee of seven Senators held community meetings across the Northern Territory and Queensland, including in Cairns, Townsville, Thursday Island, Darwin and Nhulunbuy, while tele-hearings were conducted, particularly in Western Australia, to overcome COVID-19 travel restrictions.
The final report from the Select Committee on the effectiveness of the Australian Government’s Northern Australia agenda has outlined 29 recommendations necessary to encourage growth in the region. There was bipartisan support from Labor, the Coalition and the Greens for the majority of the 29 recommendations, with One Nation lodging a dissenting report.
The bipartisan recommendations include:
- Updating and broadening the Northern Australia agenda, in light of the new challenges and opportunities posed by COVID-19;
- Ensuring the agenda addresses the significant social, environmental and First Nations needs of Northern Australia;
- Increased investment in social housing in Northern Australia by the federal, state and territory governments, in recognition of the lack of housing affordability in the region;
- Re-establishing a National Partnership Agreement focused on remote Indigenous housing, and working with the jurisdictions to fund remote Indigenous housing as a critical foundation for economic and social development in the North;
- Improvements to health and telehealth services in regional and remote areas;
- A dedicated plan by the federal government to improve digital connectivity and mobile 'black spots' in Northern Australia;
- Developing new strategies to optimise economic development in First Nations communities, including support for mentoring, business development and feasibility studies;
- Addressing the severe shortage of early childhood education workers and teachers in Northern Australia;
- Providing additional support for apprenticeships, traineeships, VET, and tertiary institutions in the region, to train locals for current and future jobs;
- Ensuring future plans for Northern Australia have greater consultation and engagement with local communities, especially First Nations communities;
- A long-term strategy of road and rail funding for Northern Australia, by the federal government, in partnership with the states and territory, with a view to creating a comprehensive and fit-for-purpose road and rail network;
- A post-COVID workforce strategy for Northern Australia by the federal government that identifies ways to access essential overseas labour on a sustainable basis, without exploitation;
- More investment in natural disaster mitigation in Northern Australia, including expanding the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) to fund projects;
- Faster response and consideration by the Federal Government of the recommendations contained in the ACCC's December 2020 inquiry into insurance in Northern Australia.
Chair of the inquiry and Shadow Minister for Northern Australia, Senator Murray Watt, said the inquiry had been a productive and cooperative exercise and the final report laid out a clear roadmap for the Federal Government.
“We’ve known for a long time that Northern Australia isn’t being given the federal support it needs to grow,” Senator Watt said.
“The groups we spoke to during the hearings have proven communities in the north are very resourceful when it comes to getting the job done, but it’s clear the Morrison Government should be doing more to help.
“This is a bipartisan report, backed by Senators from a wide range of political persuasions, and that gives me great hope that the Morrison Government will take these recommendations seriously, and act urgently.”
Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, a member of the inquiry, thanked all of the witnesses who gave evidence, especially in the Northern Territory.
“It was made clear to the Senate Committee that remote housing and homelessness must be a federal priority,” Senator McCarthy said.
“It's not good enough for the Morrison Government to think it can strike one-off deals with some jurisdictions then walk away from the enormous housing deficit in North Australia.
“I commend the Labor chair and the Nationals deputy chair for their collegiate work on this report and I urge the Morrison Government to adopt the recommendations with haste.”
The inquiry has previously handed down a bipartisan interim report in December 2020 which focussed on recommendations to speed up the rollout of the NAIF, a key measure in the Federal Government’s White Paper.
The government is yet to respond to the committee's interim report.
THURSDAY, 29 APRIL 2021
TALI ELEY (WATT) 0448 078 456
MARTHA TATTERSALL (MCCARTHY) 0417 387 778
Authorised by Paul Erickson Australian Labor Party Canberra