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Ministerial Forum on Northern Development: Joint Communiqué - December 2019

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Fourth meeting in Katherine, Northern Territory
Publication Date: 
December 2019

The Ministerial Forum on Northern Development held its fourth meeting in Katherine in the Northern Territory on 12 December 2019.

Joint Communiqué

Chaired by the Hon Matthew Canavan, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, the forum focussed on the next phase of the northern development agenda, and strategies to increase economic engagement by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the north.

The Forum was attended by the Minister for Indigenous Australians the Hon Ken Wyatt AM MP, Northern Territory Chief Minister the Hon Michael Gunner MLA, Northern Territory Minister for Primary Industries and Resources the Hon Paul Kirby MLA, Queensland Assistant Treasurer Mr Glenn Butcher MP, and Western Australian Minister for Regional Development, Agriculture, Food and Ports, the Hon Alannah MacTiernan MLC represented by Mr Ralph Addis Director General Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development.

Ministers noted achievements delivered through the White Paper on Developing Northern Australia. Under this plan the Australian Government has already delivered more than $6.2 billion in projects and infrastructure across the north from vital road upgrades, water infrastructure, Indigenous economic development and industry-led research.

Ministers did not agree with the draft findings of the Productivity Commission report on Remote Area Tax Concessions and Payments. Northern Australian Ministers ask the Productivity Commission to provide options for reform of the zone tax allowance and fringe benefit tax concessions to positively influence future population growth.

New refreshed plan for northern Australia

Ministers committed to work together to develop a new refreshed plan for economic growth in northern Australia. This builds on the progress made since the White Paper was released in 2015.

Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, the Hon Matthew Canavan said “we should be proud of the progress that’s been made to drive economic development across the north, but our job isn’t done yet. We must keep reviewing where we are at and what else we can do through the 20 year agenda to deliver more outcomes for northern Australia”.

Five overarching areas for action were agreed to by Ministers:

  • Population, jobs and industry growth – fostering industry development, and diversification to strengthen the economy, create jobs and drive population growth
  • Connective and resilient infrastructure – to enable industries in the north to be internationally competitive and take advantage of proximity to Indo-Pacific markets; and to build the resilience of communities to provide stable infrastructure through natural disasters and other disruptions
  • Skills and workforce development – ensuring industry has access to the skills to be competitive, and regional workforce capability is developed
  • Indigenous economic development – improving economic outcomes by further developing the Indigenous business sector, land owner involvement in development, Indigenous innovation, and capitalising on land, sea and culture
  • Attracting investment and efficient regulation – de-risking projects with better data, and by removing unnecessary regulation to create the right environment to give investors certainty and drive economic development. 

Ministers agreed to appoint an advisory group to advise the Ministerial Forum on the northern Australia agenda refresh. The Australian Government will work with the State and Territory Governments to develop specific actions under these areas.

Queensland Assistant Treasurer Mr Glenn Butcher said “it’s the job of governments to create the right environment for economic growth, we are excited to be moving into the second five year phase of northern development, working together with the state and territory governments and with the Australian Government”.

Indigenous economic development

Ministers have launched the Northern Australia Indigenous Development Accord to drive a coordinated approach to economic activity, innovation and business opportunities.

The Minister for Indigenous Australians, the Hon Ken Wyatt AM MP said “the Accord sets out the commitment of governments to strengthen Indigenous economic participation, and we will engage land councils and other Indigenous bodies in this nationally significant development agenda”.

This was reinforced by the Indigenous Reference Group Chair, Mr Peter Yu who said “the Accord is a landmark agreement and milestone achievement in moving toward more equitable participation of Indigenous people in the northern Australian economy.”

Ministers acknowledged the importance of the Indigenous Reference Group and their work to maximise the economic opportunity and contribution of northern Indigenous businesses, individuals and communities. Additional funding was committed to extend the important work of the Indigenous Reference Group.

The Indigenous Reference Group will continue to work with Ministers and across governments to develop further proposals that will strengthen Indigenous economic outcomes in alignment with the new refreshed plan for northern Australia. This will include a prospectus for a Northern Australia Indigenous Economic Development Body, implementation of a Northern Australia Indigenous Enterprise and Employment Hub Network, an Indigenous economic research roadmap, and a water rights framework.


Ministers recognised the importance of economic infrastructure to the northern agenda, noting the success of existing initiatives, including the Northern Australia Roads and Beef Roads Programs, the Roads of Strategic Importance, aviation and water infrastructure, and Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) investment decisions.

The acting Chief Executive Officer of the NAIF, Ms Amanda Copping updated Ministers on the economic impact of investments made under the NAIF, on funded projects totalling over $1.9 billion, and the exciting pipeline of projects to be considered in 2020.

Minister Canavan said “announcing the Northern Territory Ship Lift project and the Charles Darwin University city campus project this week is a terrific achievement and highlights the enormous commitment to northern Australia by the Australian Government.”

Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said “the Territory Government’s number one priority is to create jobs for locals, and these NAIF investments build on that priority by developing transformational infrastructure for sustainable long term jobs.”

Infrastructure continues to be a major priority at the forum. Ministers heard from Infrastructure Australia Chief Executive Officer Romilly Madew AO about how the application of the Cost Benefit Analysis needs to evolve to give greater regard to intangible benefits. Ministers were pleased to see progress on the review of Project Appraisal Guidance for Remote Areas and greater engagement with states and territory on northern Australia projects.

North Queensland Livestock Industry Recovery Agency

The Hon Shane Stone AC QC, Coordinator-General and Chairman of the Advisory Board National Drought and North Queensland Flood Response and Recovery Agency, addressed the forum on the progress made through the North Queensland Livestock Industry Recovery Agency to improve the resilience of regional communities affected by the disastrous floods of 2019.

Mr Stone also gave an update on the new National Drought and North Queensland Flood Response and Recovery Agency, providing national leadership and a whole-of-government response to support farmers and regional communities as they respond to, and recover from, the drought and the north Queensland floods.

“The north offers the greatest opportunity for Australia to meet the agricultural production target of $100 billion by 2030. We must develop the right water infrastructure and support the agricultural sector to get there” said Mr Stone.

Next meeting

The Ministerial Forum remains focused on transforming the north through economic activation across a variety of sectors, attracting new infrastructure, investments and creating significant opportunities for employment and business participation," Western Australia Minister for Regional Development, Agriculture, Food and Ports, the Hon Alannah MacTiernan said.

The next Ministerial Forum on Northern Development will be hosted by the Western Australian Government in Broome in early 2020, to drive long term, sustainable economic development across northern Australia.

Read more

Read more about the Ministerial Forum on Northern Development.