OPINION PIECE – A VIBRANT NORTH
Northern Australia is responsible for generating fifty per cent of the nation’s exports. The Greater Darwin region is Australia’s staging-post into Asia and a cornerstone of our national security.
And yet, as Katie Woolf pointed out in these pages recently, the Federal Government’s regional snobbery has left us languishing.
The much-vaunted North Australian Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) has taken three long years to deliver the Territory absolutely NAIF-ing. Not one single dollar or project.
And not only have they left us in the lurch over the huge infrastructure commitments that resulted from the youth justice royal commission – that they set up – but they continue to drag their feet into next year on the long-promised Darwin City Deal, which will bring jobs for locals and revitalise our city.
We’ve already been waiting for 12 months but now get told that our City Deal has been put back to 2019 whereas Launceston had theirs after 7 months and Hobart, after waiting only 4 months, has been told they are on track for a Deal by Christmas.
If Prime Minister Turnbull was serious about the wellbeing of the nation, then the upcoming Federal budget will have real dollars for the Darwin City Deal. More likely, funding will have to wait until it suits the Prime Minister’s election campaign visit.
And while this week the Federal treasurer visited Alice Springs to announce a one-off, pre-election top-up of our GST allocation, I don’t think anyone missed the fact that it was less than half of the money he has already ripped out of the Territory. Forgive us if we are not jumping for joy. What will happen next year?
I’m concerned because this creates further uncertainty in an economy that is already facing challenges.
The Territory’s population growth is falling significantly behind the national figure, and the Turnbull Government is still rejigging its system for distributing GST allocations.
The new arrangements are shrouded in secrecy and won’t be made public until after the budget. This could result in an even worse GST deal for the Territory in future years.
We need the Federal Government to act in the best interests of Territorians. We need new industries, greater engagement with Asia, improved transport infrastructure, and affordable airfares. We need jobs.
But we are also Territorians. We don’t just sit around complaining.
Late last year I ran a Womens IdeasFest, bringing together entrepreneurs and business people to look at ways of better realising the incredible potential of Top End women. Younger women are departing the Territory at an alarming rate to pursue education and career opportunities in southern states. It’s imperative that we find out why they leave in such numbers and take action to reduce this brain drain.
And only yesterday I launched our Tourism IdeasFest which gathered together some of the best and brightest from the Greater Darwin region for an exciting day of inspiration and innovation to develop new tourism initiatives and business partnerships that will help reinvigorate the local tourism industry. There are so many opportunities to leverage partnerships with Timor-Leste and Indonesia, direct China flights, the massive opportunities in recreational fishing, Indigenous tourism, our rich military history and more. By getting people together to share knowledge, ideas and experiences – amazing new possibilities emerge to turn ideas into reality.
I’m passionate about supporting Territorians that are having a real crack. We need Federal support to bring prosperity to the Territory but we also need them to listen to us.
Recently we had our say with the FairFaresNT campaign when over 1000 people shared their stories and we presented these to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Regional Air Services. Affordable connectivity with the south is so important to our future.
I’m also currently running a survey looking at what services and facilities we need at a centre designed to support the health and wellbeing of our local returned service people and first responders.
And beyond that you can visit www.solomonhaveyoursay.com, which I’m launching today, to make sure that the Federal government hears loudly and clearly what it is we need, to make Darwin and Palmerston even greater places to live.
We have potential. We have great ideas and bright people to put them into action. And together, we can ensure a strong future for the Territory.
It is in the Federal Government’s interest to have a vibrant and flourishing Northern Australia.
Published in the Sunday Territorian, April 30 2018