Northern Australia Forum reports back

The Federal Government has reinforced its significant commitment to the development of northern Australia with a series of 11 region specific responses to local issues identified during consultations with community representatives.

Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government, Senator Ian Macdonald travelled to northern Australia to formally deliver the reports to 11 communities in the Kimberley, Western Queensland, Northern and Central Queensland, Central Australia (Northern Territory), Gascoyne, Pilbara, the Top End, Torres Strait Islands, Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island.

The local consultations were conducted last year and involved key representatives from business, Local Government and planning organisations from various communities. Other attendees included health and education groups, as well as other interested environment and indigenous representatives. The meetings aimed to establish each regionís priorities for discussion at the Northern Australia Forum, which was held in Katherine last October.

The Forum provided the opportunity to adopt a strategic approach to address the real issues facing the North. Over 200 people, including 100 delegates representing the ten regions spent three days determining the future direction of sustainable development of the North. The opportunity to meet with representatives of the ten regions was invaluable. Communities affected by issues on a daily basis had the chance to voice their solutions for the way forward.

The Northern Forum process will also help ensure that public and private investment better meets the needs of those communities. Area Consultative Committees in each region will monitor progress and provide a focal point for the community on the Federal Governmentís response. A summary of key initiatives for each region is available at website www.dotrs.gov.au/regional/northern_forum/index.htm.

While some of the issues facing specific communities are unique there were some themes common to all regions including:health, infrastructure, telecommunications, education and business opportunities . The Federal Government will respond further to these common issues in September this year.

One important issue arising during the Northern Australia Forum was the need to raise awareness of northern Australiaís significant potential as an investment location.

A series of Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) seminars were held in response to this issue in Perth (April 30) and Darwin (May 4). Further seminars are planned for Melbourne (May 11), Brisbane (May 16), and Sydney (May 17) which outline the competitive advantages for business in the north and highlight current and developing opportunities for investment presented at these seminars.

A copy of the business paper presented at the seminars can be obtained by contacting Paul Rowberry at the Department of Transport and Regional Services, on (02) 6274 7053.

Senator Macdonald said the Northern Australia Forum initiatives outline a broad range of Federal Government assistance at the local level demonstrating the Federal Governmentís commitment to regional Australia.