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Submission on development of northern Australia
Mark A Zanker
Private Citizen
Currently residing Katherine Northern Territory 0850
Postal Address xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Telephone xxxxxxxxxx
I refer to the Green Paper on this topic.
Northern Australia is a diverse place that is sparsely populated. Efforts in the
past to develop the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia (eg Ord
River Scheme) have failed in the past and are likely to do so again. The harsh
climate of much of Northern Australia is a significant disincentive to many
people, who visit the area only in the Austral winter, when weather conditions
are more tolerable. The visitors are primarily interested in the natural and
cultural heritage of the area and the recreational activities that the natural
features of the environment have to offer.
Such increase in the population as has occurred in recent years has been
associated with the so called resources boom that is now coming to an end, with
rapidly declining commodity prices as witnessed by the collapse of the Sherwin
Roper River iron ore project and the imminent closure of the Frances Creek iron
ore mine at Pine Creek. Development in the north is closely allied to commodity
prices, and when these decline, investment dries up and the job market
contracts. There is no reason to think that any of this is likely to change in the
future.
Successful agriculture in the north is not really feasible, and this has been amply
demonstrated in the past by the Ord River scheme and various unsuccessful
project that have been promoted in the NT, for example with respect to the
cultivation of rice. It would be foolish indeed to think that the difficulties
associated with agriculture can be overcome by irrigation and damming pristine
rivers for that purpose. Even if that is done, market outlets have proven elusive.
One needs only to look at the Ord scheme where the preponderant crop is
sandalwood – the old foodbowl has vanished, defeated by the climate and the
remoteness of the region.
There is at the current time an inquiry into hydraulic fracturing being conducted
on behalf of the NT Government. There are many in the NT who do not wish the
scourge of fracking inflicted on the NT as it has been on Queensland and in
productive agricultural areas of NSW. It would seem that energy resource
exploitation however is the only likely development tool that is economically
viable and attractive to investors. However, no responsible government should
be encouraging the exploitation of new reserves of fossil fuels, when we are
confronted by a climate crisis directly attributable to the human burning of fossil
fuels.
The central paradigm of the green paper is that there must be economic growth
and development in northern Australia. Well, not everybody accepts the
paradigm that growth and population expansion are good things. I consider that
the contrary will be true if Northern Australia is developed in the only way that
seems likely. This will bring about irreparable damage to the environment here,
leave a whole lot of stranded assets like uneconomic iron ore mines as blots on
the landscape and almost certainly would lead to private investors calling for
government handouts to mitigate their losses.
Climate change is going to present very significant challenges from sea level rise
in Darwin and in the wetlands of Kakadu, and it is unlikely that mitigation
measures will succeed. It would be sensible for government to face this reality,
rather than trot out its direct action plan on climate change, which is
nonsensical, tokenistic and doomed to failure.
The green paper states that “the Government is committed to caring for the
unique Australian landscape through direct and practical policy measures under
the four pillars of clean air, clean land, clean water and national heritage.”
However, there is absolutely no evidence of this whatsoever, with the
Government approving the dredging of the Great Barrier Reef, the opening up of
the Galilee Basin for more environmentally destructive coal mines and a host of
other backward steps. It is truly remarkable that the public is so dumbed down
by the government’s rhetoric – the government has no commitment to any of the
four pillars at all, its only commitment is to paving the way for its backers in
resource sector to make mega profits before demand for our resources slumps.
I find myself in disagreement with every single proposal in the Green paper.
There are no benefits to be accrued from rampant development in Northern
Australia, and the area should be left as it is, preferably consisting predominantly
of national parks where no resource exploitation is allowed, and where the
rights of the Aboriginal people to maintain traditional lifestyles are respected
and promoted.
The notion that growth is the only good thing is just the same as the fictional
character Gordon Gecko’s pronouncement that greed is good. Neither greed nor
growth are good, yet this is the philosophy that underlies the green paper, and
no doubt will be repeated in the white paper.