Townsville a key ‘hub’ for Indian investment
STRONGER Defence investment and plans to develop Townsville as Northern Australia's investment hub will be pursued as part of the Federal Government's announced overhaul of its northern development agenda.
A "stock take" of the Government's 20-year road map for the north is underway, five years after it released the "ambitious agenda" aimed at developing investment, trade, infrastructure, and the workforce.
Northern Australia Minister Matt Canavan said the review needed to be done as trade tensions between China and the US emerged, shifting Australia's geopolitical focus toward strengthening relationships with India and Southeast Asia.
"We need to have a look and make sure that we are taking advantage of all the links we have," he said.
"It means looking at the economic opportunities that link Townsville to not just places like China and Japan and traditional trade partners but to Indonesia, India, which we are developing through investments like Adani."
But his optimism isn't shared by Opposition Northern Australia spokesman Murray Watt, who labelled the northern agenda antiquated, saying the Government had dropped the ball on a forward-thinking plan for the region after the original white paper neglected building upon emerging industries.
Senator Canavan said Townsville, as the epicentre for Adani's Australian mining interests, whose Carmichael mine project is the largest investment from India the country has ever attracted, was poised to become the hub for trade relations between the two.
He said being able to go beyond thermal coal with India, to include other commodities, would be a positive.
The Port of Townsville, as the largest container and automotive port in Northern Australia, is the country's biggest exporter of copper, lead, zinc and sugar and is set to grow.
The Federal Government's 200-page Northern Australia white paper, released in June 2015 and entitled Our North, Our Future, spruiked cutting down bureaucracy to streamline development and this is expected to be a focus of the overhaul.
But Senator Canavan said that one of his "great frustrations" since taking on the Northern Australia portfolio in 2016 had been regulation and red tape imposed on the north by both state and federal government.
"It's held up projects like Adani, but it's affected other things in the north," he said.
Townsville's status as a garrison city will also factor in the northern agenda review, as the Federal Government seeks to bolster investment in Defence moving forward.
The review will be completed this year by the Office of Northern Australia, based in Darwin.