The assault on Abbott's north face

The response to Tony Abbott's half-formed plan to develop northern Australia has been breathtaking – for all the wrong reasons.

As suggested yesterday, the politics of the plan were always bound to be difficult, but made much worse by the fact that it was leaked to a newspaper while still in its formative stage (In praise of Abbott's great leap northward, February 7).

Reaction from Labor and the Greens was swift, and fierce. Trade minister Craig Emerson labelled it "wacky" and Greens leader Christine Milne called it "madness ... it's Tony Abbott doing what Gina Rinehart wants".

Such reaction was fairly inevitable from two parties that have endured the political beating of their lives from Tony Abbott over carbon pricing – a policy which, in this commenator's view, is nonetheless a vital plank of Australia's development and influence within the global political-economy of the 21st century.

Whatever the weaknesses of the design of the carbon tax (which might have been better if it really was a straightforward tax rather than a highly complex web of subsidies linked to an ETS), Australia needed to be a global leader in climate change policy, and both Milne's and Emerson's parties have taken a hiding for striving to make it so.

So when 'Dr No' put his amply-eared head above the parapet with a similarly forward-looking plan (or rather, had the parapet pulled down by whoever leaked the draft plan), a volley of criticism was to be expected.

Less expected was the number of media commentators who were quick to shoot down the idea with notions such as 'it's been tried before', 'it's too hot – nobody wants to live there', 'the soil's too poor', 'too many insects' and so on. Quite right, and who'd live in Indonesia!

There is a bit too much projecting going on. 'I' don't want to live there, therefore nobody else would.

As a nation we have become too attached to espresso machines, endless conversations about home renovation, clinking glasses in master-chef approved restaurants, and finding mini-parking places for our hybrid cars – and too disconnected from the source of the wealth that pays for these southern delights.

We know that an army of workers are flying in and flying out of the Kimberley, Pilbara, Northern Territory and Far North Queensland to provide labour for the construction phase of the resources boom, but surely once that's over those workers will just come home and get decent jobs in the south? Won't they?

As Robert Gottliebsen reported on Wednesday, NAB chief economist Alan Oster sees a dramatic falling off in labour demand in northern Australia when the construction phase is over – one operational job will remain in mining for every four that currently exist, and in the LNG sector that ratio is one for every eight (Allocating Australia's construction army, February 6).

Those workers, accustomed to incomes of $150,000 (and much more) will return to a southern economy facing what looks, day by day, to be a growing number of headwinds – China's demand for our hard commodities faltering, stagnant corporate profits, hidden under-employment, and the spectre of sharp rises in the cost of living as the dollar corrects downwards to reflect these changes. Throw in a snowballing of redundant miners selling off their investment properties, and even housing could feel the end of the boom.

The social and economic problems of the return of that workforce are yet to be comprehended. The trickle-down of consumption spending by 'cashed up bogans', once gone, will remind us all of how valuable a role those workers played in keeping Australia solvent during the GFC.

And then there's the one-in-four or one-in-eight that keep working up north. As WA planning minister Brendon Grylls told Business Spectator some time ago: "A fly-in-fly-out worker costs the mining company $50,000 to $100,000 a year on top of their wages. If the company paid that money to the worker, they'd be more likely to buy houses locally. That leads to strong growth and eventually a more normal market for housing is established. And once a town reaches 20,000 to 30,000 its growth becomes self-generating" (Pulling back the curtains on productivity, July 4, 2011).

Even the operational phase of the mining boom will need more infrastructure and housing than exists presently – living in a 'donga' or hotel might work short-term, but the Abbott plan addresses longer-term needs.

And the 'self-generating' part of Grylls' vision for larger cities up north is, in this new leaked plan, as much tied up with agriculture, tourism and education as it is with mining.

Labor has a plan for regional development and is arguing for a more diverse economy as part of its re-election platform. The Greens want to build communities powered by renewable energy, and new, sustainable industries to provide those communities with work and prosperity. Both objectives can be seen emerging from the Abbott draft plan – which, incidentally, is a long-term plan focused on what can be achieved by 2030.

Labor and the Greens should have got in first with this sort of visionary thinking, but as they did not, they are left no option but to shoot it down.

Policy thinkers should not rush to join them.

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What do they expect, a reasonable response? These are the guys who go over the top in their own criticisms and now they expect a proper debate? I see chickens coming home to roost. (The assault on Abbott's north face, February 8)
North Queensland cities already have all of the everyday facilities that Sydney has - shopping centres, sports stadiums, airports etc. 500,000 already live here and water and land resources could easily accommodate another million or three people. (The assault on Abbott's north face, February 8)
Don't be put off by the media beat-ups about cyclones and floods either because the monsoon is less spectacular than an average Sydney summer storm.
Actually the idea can be a brilliant way forward. Think off the possibilities (The assault on Abbott's north face, February 8):
* Establishing medium size towns with state of the art town planning
* Building new large dams to harness water resources and introduce agriculture that can feed not only the new towns but the rest of Australia
* Powering these towns with solar power power plants and hydro generators
* Adding additional attractions as in Abbott's plan; best research hospitals and universities
* Providing incentives for business and people to move in for further growth.
Rather tha wasting billions of dollars with nothing to show off, why not built something which will change the nation for the better.
It's time to harness spirit of Australia that delivered us Snowy Mountains Project.
Well as I suggested in my unpublished comment yesterday that we should establish a Federal Government tax free industrial business zone for 50 years but with conditions that industry run on 90% renewables in the North End of Qld, NT, WA or combination of two States (The assault on Abbott's north face, February 8). Companies would pay only 1% corporate tax and individuals 50% off the rate the rest of Australian residents would pay. That plan should make the greens happier and force those who wanted the tax free status to break their backs to R&D into efficient renewables. Naturally there needs to be some tweeking with the tax laws using the top silks to ensure only 100% Residents and Corporates investing 100% in the zone could take advantage of the tax free status in R& D, medical research, silicon valley type and greenfield industries, but not mining or investment holding companies, but how could we lose. If it works it works, if it does not work then what would we lose? Lets think outside the taxing box and try thinking like the Canary islands and Switzerland.
"social and economic" Since when did the Noalition, or Ferguson for that matter, ever show the slightest interest in facing the social and economic issues of fly-in-fly-out? They carefully avoided imposing any requirement on Big Mining to permanently house any employees "up North". (The assault on Abbott's north face, February 8)
Now we have thing sudden carefully orchestrated protestation of concern, when Tony is being embarrassed by yet another silly ideological scheme.
Big Mining has worked hard to spin a mythology of a skilled labour shortage, to allow the extensive importation of sweatshop labour to cut local wages and weaken employee rights. Their media agents still write of mining being "the backbone of Australia's economy: the biggest mining boom since the gold rush". The politicians Big Mining owns are anxious to agree.
Yet the skills shortage - such as it is - had been expected for years, certainly since 2006. Big Mining has chosen to demand imported labour - easily exploited, cheaper, and gives as little as possible to locals. Labor has willingly colluded to use a moderate skills shortage to justify open-slather guestworker immigration, with the fewest possible meaningful safeguards.
Tony is not about development, he is besotted with Austerity - so much more delightfuly bruising.
Rob Burgess, once again, misses the key points of the opposition to Abbott's grand vision for a northern development (The assault on Abbott's north face, February 8).
When Hancock and Rinehart wrote their plan for, effectively, the excising of 1/3 of the country from the Australian economy, they had 1 goal; to lower THEIR costs to extract the nation's embedded wealth. The concept is simple - use the public purse to lower the wages they have to pay to dig up the dirt, by offering lower tax rates to replace part of the income paid to those who do the work.In short, have people in the remainder of the economy subsidise a bigger profit slice for the private interests who sell the dirt and pocket the revenue, while suffering a lower level of government service because of the hit to public revenues.
It's another distortion in the tax system overflowing with distortions. It is economic engineering designed to provide outsized benefit to the wealthy economic extractors, at the expense of those already falling further behind because of numerous economic adjustments over the last 30 years. And, it is economic engineering by the party that spruiks its free market roots. I say, again, it is a scam designed to enrich the rich and, in some cases, the rich who never shown a jot of interest in making any sort of contribution to any part of society other than themselves. There's no altruism here, just pandered self interest.
And, please, do not bother to suggest those opposed should look at the other parts of the plan. The excising IS the plan, that's what they sold to Katter and that's what Reinhart wants. The rest of the plan is simply about how to spend the money drummed up via PPP's. It is the methodology of how you preferentially channel investment $'s, generated by distorting the tax system at the expense of the majority of the population, to further enrich plutocrats and financiers.
What happens if Chinese demand dries up mid way this great plan? Ever been to Ravensthorpe?
Here we go again with the cornucopian 'Australia Unlimited' fantasy. (The assault on Abbott's north face, February 8)
Grow and hope is not a strategy... particularly given Australia's increasingly extreme weather events and tax/insurance clean-up bills we ALL pay.
Quite simply, people do not WANT to live in the stinking heat (and tropical monsoons) up north. It is inhospitable, and does not attract migrants according to the Immigration Department (SHOCK: they want to re-unite with family and live in major cities! Unless we are talking about $2 per day 'field workers'?). That is why, after centuries, we have still no 'developed' the north, despite many ignorant boosters pushing US-style developmentalism.
Apart from the inhospitable climate, northern Australia has very deep and strongly weathered soils with very low levels of nutrients. The scope for agricultural variety is very limited, and would involve massive ecological disruption.
Is there anything other than the anthropogenic chauvenism to consider in this 'debate'? Perhaps we could consider the wellbeing of other species, or even just the notion of preserving the natural world for future generations?
Finally, what is the point of claiming we can 'feed the world' if our food exports are required for by an ever larger domestic population?
One wonders whether the proponents to occupy and develop the north have experienced the climate. I have (The assault on Abbott's north face, February 8). It is far too hot for ordinary folk and of course its geting hotter anyway. It's that simple. Too dam hot. Thats why its empty.If the climate were more like southern Queensland it would have been well overrun by us white folk 100 years ago. Then there is the extremely poor ancient soils covering most of the top end. Wake up Mr Abbott and Mr Burgess and smell the coffee.
What amazed me since returning home in the last 3 years is the superficial analysis from dog whistle ad hominum to quoting dodgy statistics that says no to everything involving vision and planning. The attack on Northern Expansion is no different. We had: (The assault on Abbott's north face, February 8)
1. Personal attacks against Mr No, Tony Abbot.
2. A very loose attempt to create an iron triangle between our mining billionaire and the opposition. Political science has disproved Iron trianges many times in the US and Europe. Occasionally interests do combine, but that's hardly a causal link.
3. Quoting statistics of failed programmes in the past, chosing selective domestic examples. This is despite the fact that deserts have successfully been settled and farmed. The Negev in Israel is arrable with little water and Texas is thriving in the desert. We're an immigrant nation and getting experts from overseas isn't difficult.
Did not the Communist Party of Australia have a similar idea (creating a refuge for European Jews)for Northern Australia in the 1930s? I recall suggesting in an article for News Ltd in the 80s that the middle of Australia would benefit from the creation of a "no tax" area. wdavide (The assault on Abbott's north face, February 8)
Being a sceptic about most things political and especially as this "Abbott proposal" has been conveniently leaked meaning some or all of it can eventually be denied by Mr. Abbott and the Liberals I have to wonder a little about the Northern Growth plan (The assault on Abbott's north face, February 8).
However, regardless of the carping and criticism of the proposal as it appears it has to be said that a proposal from any political party for a truly nation building plan is a refreshing change.
Yes the Abbott proposal can be criticised, but at least it's a proposal not simply kneejerk negativism to government proposals. I just wish I had more faith that Abbott and the Liberals have adopted a new, positive, approach rather than simply leaking an imaginary idea which will be denied later should they win office and have to explain why they are not actually implementing it.
What you fail to recognise is that it was Tony Abbott himself who quickly dismissed it. It does not fit his election strategy of being uncontroversial. He deserves what he gets after outrageous comments like Whyalla will be wiped off the map (The assault on Abbott's north face, February 8).
Wow. So let's continue with this develop/populate to ruin policy. It is astonishing how few get it (The assault on Abbott's north face, February 8).
People are wanting to come to Australia to improve their quality of life. Why? Because we have had to date, a smaller population to resources ration. Well no longer.
So we're going to scavenge every inch of hospitable land on our dry continent. We are going to use whatever's left of the little resources we own to create a much less sustainable country. We are going to impose our will on yet more wildlife that will be displaced or destroyed.
We will be far less viable as a country given what it will cost us to do this. The soil and rainfall in this area are nowhere near as conducive to large scale agriculture as the areas we're currently mining or paving over. The resources we use to replenish the soils are diminishing and are in higher demand than ever. And somehow we will be better off?
Seriously, who's buying this?
I have a one of a kind watch, hardly used that I'll let you have for a steal.
How about, let's instead allow our population to stabilise within the next few years by balancing immigration with emigration and doing away with the baby bonus.
Then and only then will be be starting to make any form of commitment to ensuring a quality of life for current and future generations. We then also start sending a message to overpopulated countries that we are unable to continue accommodating their unwillingness to tackle their own population issues and they will need to start actually taking it seriously rather than continuing to pass the problems on to others.
Completely agree with David Thomson's assessment (The assault on Abbott's north face, February 8).
Whatever the spin, what Abbot's plan entails is lowering the amount of revenue we recover from our mineral resources and also a massive amount of tax dollars on building infrastructure for the benefit of mining companies. It has mining fingerprints all over it.
I pay a large amount of tax. I don't see why my tax dollars should be used to further subsidise mining companies. I don't see the return.
The money, ladies and gentlemen, should be going the other way. We own the resources, yet our inept governments have failed to capture a fair share of their value and instead allow mining companies to earn super profits at our expense.
And now Abbot wants to hand mining 1/3 of the country on a silver plate? If our resources were managed independently of the government like a corporation or an Endowment Fund, Abbot would be laughed out of the boardroom.
I lived in the Northern Territory for 40 years, you cellar dwellers should take a step back and go and have a look at what has been done in Kununurra, W.A (The assault on Abbott's north face, February 8). The same could be done on the Daly River N.T. where they were looking at building a dam 5 times the size of Sydney Harbour back in 1969. What is wrong with turning the rivers back, to flow inland instead of out to sea. To hot to handle!!! The north is a much better place to live than down south with all that pollution an crime. Go and have a look you will be surprised.
So many negative comments. It is just astounding. Having lived in Melbourne (25 years), Sydney (18 years), Lismore (26 years) and Cairns (5 years), Far North Queensland was the best (The assault on Abbott's north face, February 8). Red volcanic soil, the Barron River, everything beaautiful and green, good beaches, a very comfortable climate, a busy airport which brings in the tourists, hospital, schools, etc. What more could you wish for as a start to a bigger and more lucrative city than just a regional town? Sure jobs are scarce, and when we sold our own small busines, we returned south because of family ties. If entrepeneurs or government don't do something with this area, it will be Australia's loss. Some vision or positive debate would be nice to develop what is up there, and if we don't have it, then those who live in Borneo, Malaysia, India or China will just take it away from us in years to come imo.
What a shame that many are quick to knock an idea before true discussion and consideration of the facts, generally because they dont vote for the introductory party (The assault on Abbott's north face, February 8). The same happened re the Snowy Mountain Scheme, and it was a huge part of our World Growth and skilled import of experts, we achieved an incredible feat from a tiny country.We admit we cant afford the growing infrastructure of our cities or even the repairs to that infrastructure, but we blindly press forward with capital city growth.
We have blown billions of dollars in the last 5 years and i dont see what we have achieved for our childrens children. As for heat , mosquitoes, spiders and cyclones - Sydney - Brisbane and Perth all have these same problems, thank god for airconditioning and large shopping centres.
More importantly , like the Snowy scheme it will mean jobs and training and overcoming many engineering problems which all adds up to a better growing economey, pride in engineering and training of our population and diversification away from crowded cities.
One day we will see that Australia needs to use a bit more of the mass of land we inherited, and as for comments re the soil, the facts are we are lacking minerals in our food due to chemicals and high yield crops, put some water on the red high in mineral desert and you can grow incredible organic fruit and veg (look at the meat industry up north) a nother side of the argument no one has thought about after the mining industry has slowed is agriculture will be our main income.
So i suggest lets not look at it as Abbot- Liberal lets look at it as Australia now to the Australia for our grand children, and they may thank you for wise decissions made now for the good of their future. So dont look at this as political look at it as worth generall discussion from all sides of parlimant, and maybe for once both sides can agree on something that is good for all Australians
Be careful about any northern development (The assault on Abbott's north face, February 8). Bundaberg and North Burnett towns smashed and must be rebuilt on higher ground. Cairns including emergency services built on a swamp would be wiped out in a storm surge. Cyclones Althea and Tracy will hit Townsville and Darwin again.
Thank you Rob Burgess for your comments. It is indeed time politicians came up with ideas to explore their potential, to discuss intelligently whether they have merit or not (The assault on Abbott's north face, February 8). Needless to say, the conga line of negative idiots like Emerson doesn't approve. Of course not. That is a positive to start with. And my understanding is that Abbott simply denied the ludicrous government lie that the plan if introduced would involve forced removals, as in Stalin's Socialist nirvana much loved by some Green senators. But what is another lie among so many?
The idea has enough merit to be seriously discussed. Without vision, we would never have had major infrastructure projects in this country (The assault on Abbott's north face, February 8).
I really do despair when I hear clowns like Craig Emerson disparaging anything that comes from their political opponents. I'm sure that we would be better off if the hapless Mr Emerson took his childish behaviour away from the public domain.
So sad that we can't have a decent discussion about some blue sky development that could define future nation building for generations ahead (The assault on Abbott's north face, February 8).
To say no one wants to live in northern australia is extraordinarily ignorant and sel centred - perhaps the idea should be bounced off some on the 200m odd Indonesians that are a bit further north.
And the ALP and Greens accuse the LNP of being negative - shame shame shame.
What a bunch of whimps we have become. Its too hot. Its too far. Its too wet. The soil is crap. Australia was originally opened up by European convicts and migrants who had no idea of the Australian climate, its soils, no fancy machines, no homes! Only hardship (The assault on Abbott's north face, February 8). However we now reap the benefits they pioneered through their hard work and grit. Our advantage today is in modern machines, agricultural knowledge, science, engineering and wiser use of finances, that produce a gain to make this proposal happen. If we stop being softies and KNOCKERS.
Oh my,what a lot of knockers! I believe it is a scheme that has a lot of potential and merits to be explored further before a determination can be made whether it is feasible (The assault on Abbott's north face, February 8).
Happy to pack up and move to Karratha.
Too hot, poor soils cyclones (The assault on Abbott's north face, February 19).
Have any of you actually been here?
Soils. One look at the soil along the Victoria River and you would see how productive it could be.
Crops grown in Alice Springs are quite amazing, as also Tennant Creek and many other places.
Some of the Barkly Tableland is crying out to be used for grain production, but can't because of the lack of infrastructure.
Hot. Come here in winter and see if you want to go South again.
Cyclones. Houses are built to handle this these days. Anything cat3 or under is no big deal.
Unsuitable for dams. Try the upper sections of the Victoria River for a start.
There is also the Daly. Many other suitable sites.
Reading all the negative comments you wonder "Who is Dr No?" Seems more like Emerson and Gillard.
Abbot has at last shown that he can move from opposition to forward thinking leader - something Dillard and her gang most certainly are not.