Revealing the national vision in a white paper 

The Australian Government recently released a white paper entitled Our North, Our Future: White Paper on Developing Northern Australia (White Paper).

Northern Australia is the area north of the Tropic of Capricorn in Western Australia and Queensland, and the entirety of the Northern Territory. 

The White Paper identifies land reform as a key aspect of the future development of Northern Australia, especially given that pastoral leases and other forms of Crown tenure constitute approximately 75% of Northern Australia's land mass. Such reform is considered by the Australian Government to be capable of "opening up" one quarter of Northern Australia for new development opportunities.  

Other recommendations in the White Paper relate to matters such as:

  • immigration and visas (especially for Chinese and Indian nationals);
  • Indigenous procurement targets;
  • workplace relations and flexible employment conditions;
  • workforce participation, education and training;
  • streamlining occupational licensing processes;
  • transport bottlenecks and heavy vehicle road reform;
  • efficient infrastructure use and addressing infrastructure gaps;
  • wildlife trade and tourist developments; and
  • economic diversification beyond mining. 

How can the vision be achieved? 

Land tenure and many other aspects of the reforms identified in the White Paper are matters in respect of which only Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory have the power to legislate.  Therefore, the Commonwealth cannot effect its reform package without an appropriate referral of powers or without the ongoing cooperation of these jurisdictions.

On that basis, the White Paper was preceded by the establishment of the Northern Australia Strategic Partnership formed by the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, the Premiers of Queensland and Western Australia and the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory  This partnership informed the development of the White Paper and is supported by relevant Ministers, the permanent Commonwealth Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia, and an advisory group with business, community and Indigenous members. This activity will be supplemented by continued engagement by the Commonwealth Government with the Council of Australian Governments.

We also note that the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) and Trade Investment Queensland (TIQ) are very active in this area. Austrade has released a value proposition entitled Northern Australia - emerging opportunities in an advanced economy.