Last week over 2 days, business leaders, Indigenous leaders, government representatives, farmers and academics came together in Darwin to discuss how to best develop Northern Australia so that it can benefit all stakeholders. Hosted by the Association for Sustainability in Business, it was a great conference to attend with collaboration occurring that otherwise wouldn’t.
There are many exciting ideas and a large amount of expertise that can be utilised, attendees were reminded that this was not restricted to ‘Southern Australians’, indeed there must be a movement away from an ‘us vs them’ mentality that too often overshadows any discussions regarding Northern Australia.
The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility is widely supported although concern was raised that it only applies to economic infrastructure and not to soft infrastructure. In particular, Professor Ruth Wallace spoke on the importance of investing in the soft infrastructure in Northern Australia to ensure a sustainable population, Professor Wallace cited as young women as a example of a demographic moving away.
Even though Indigenous people make up a large part of the population and own or have native title over much of Northern Australian land, frustration was expressed that Indigenous people continue to be excluded from the decision making process and too often are excluded from the opportunity to create wealth and income through enterprise. It was suggested that the White Paper on Developing Northern Australia, released 18 June 2015, was inadequate. In this context, the White Paper should be seen as an interim statement only on how developing Northern Australia should occur and more was needed in positively acknowledging Indigenous rights, title and interest.
Collaboration between cross-sectoral alliances are vital to progress the development of the north especially as individuals and organisations have different perspectives and priorities in how best to develop.
We certainly enjoyed our time at the Developing Northern Australia conference meeting new people and existing contacts and hearing the latest research and ideas to develop northern Australia.
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