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Supporting COVID-19 recovery in northern Australia

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26 August 2020

Addressing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses and industry across the nation is the government’s highest priority, including for northern Australia.

As the government focuses on national economic recovery, the Office of Northern Australia is delivering the support northern Australia needs to recover from COVID-19. This involves working across government to continue economic development so the north can deliver on its great potential.

Recovery in the north includes maximising the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) in financing revitalising projects.

A sizeable proportion of the nation’s COVID-19 relief funding to date will also go to businesses and organisations in the north. The $1 billion COVID-19 Recovery and Relief Fund, managed by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, targets sectors like tourism, agriculture, the arts and recreation.

Interim progress in the north

The Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia announced last month that the government would extend the NAIF for a further 5 years to 30 June 2026. The extension was announced early to provide certainty to investors and proponents in northern Australia, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This move reflects feedback from stakeholders who are keen to see NAIF continue.

Important early works under the northern package of the Roads of Strategic Importance (ROSI) program have been brought forward. This will help stimulate economic activity and jobs in the north.

Northern business, industry and government leaders are exploring potential ways to support tourism recovery through industry-led initiatives and government support. They met at a Northern Australia Tourism Roundtable on 4 August. Neville Power, Chairman of the National COVID-19 Commission Advisory Board, and the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, chaired the forum. The Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia and the Assistant Minister for Northern Australia also attended. The agenda covered the current status of the tourism industry, mid-term forecasts and commercial realities.

Indigenous Australians will take a stronger role in the north’s economic development under an Accord launched in December last year. The Northern Australia Indigenous Development Accord is an intergovernmental agreement focused on progressing Indigenous economic development in northern Australia. The National Indigenous Australians Agency leads this process, and will progress the Indigenous Reference Group’s recommendations.

The Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia continues to support industry-led research in horticulture, aquaculture, transport and logistics chains (see their current projects).

The White Paper on Developing Northern Australia set priorities to grow northern Australia over 20 years. We’ve already achieved most of the 51 measures in this plan, but there is still more to do to support northern Australia recover from COVID-19.

A new group and governance

After our last update, northern development has also seen changes in governance.

Since March 2020, the new Northern Australia Advisory Group has been advising the government on developing northern Australia. The group is supporting the Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia on this important agenda.

In May 2020, the Prime Minister announced a new National Federation Reform Council will replace the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). The new framework will review all Ministerial Forums, including the Ministerial Forum on Northern Development.

In the interim, the Minister continues to meet with Australian, West Australian, Northern Territory and Queensland Government Ministers.

We’ll keep you informed on the new arrangements.

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