Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott is about to release the LNP vision for developing northern Australia. He sees our north as the "next frontier" and wants to transform it into a food bowl for the world. He also sees great opportunities for tourism and will bring in tax concessions for individuals and companies prepared to move to Darwin, Kununurra, Karratha, Cairns and Townsville.
A view of Kununurra
He wants to double Australia's agricultural output, draw in 2 million international tourists every year and build a new clean and efficient energy export industry which will add $150 billion to the Australian economy.
Cruising Lake Argyle
But to attract sufficient investment, they must first change much of our land tenure from long-term crown pastoral leases to freehold title. Investors from Europe, China and India have been reluctant to buy northern cattle properties to grow food because of their leasehold land status and restrictions on irrigation. Lack of water in the north has always been a huge problem.
Although we don't identify ourselves as Asians, we'd better get used to the idea because our economy is now linked to Asia and that's where our future lies. So much so that Tony Abbott wants to establish first class medical centres in the north for wealthy Asians wanting the best surgery money can buy.
We've already proved we can grow top quality fruit and vegetables in the north as Kununurra is home to the mighty Ord River Irrigation System (ORIS). The Ord was once a fast flowing river in the wet but in the dry, it was reduced to a series of small water holes. Someone with vision could see there was an urgent need to harness the huge amount of water that pours out of the sky in the wet season every year and rushes straight out to sea, so in 1972 they built the ORIS that took nine years to complete. It provides irrigation to farmland every day, all year round, and the flow down the river is regulated by the opening and closing of gates.
The Gascoyne River is the longest river in Western Australia and also provides water for hundreds of hectares of thriving fruit and vegetables. Each plantation is allocated a yearly allowance of water.
Gascoyne dry river
The Gascoyne is an upside down river - it's only full 4 months of the year but still provides water when the river dries up. Confused? Under the river bed are layers of sand and gravel that collect water when the river is full, called aquifers, and a well is sunk to extract the water when the river dries up. Even though the river is dry, those aquifers are still there, full of water, and provide water for the plantations and the township of Carnarvon for 8 months of the year.
Kimberly Agricultural Investment, an Australian company owned by China's Shanghai Zhongfu is all set to construct a $250 million sugar mill near Kununurra where it plans to produce and harvest 4 million tonnes of cane a year and about 500,000 tonnes of export sugar crystal.
The Coalition's 2030 vision for developing northern Australia is something that should have happened years ago. We've had a succession of politicians over the years with no vision and they have let us down badly. We may be the lucky country but we are definitely not the clever country, so much more should have been done and we have a lot of catching up to do.
Of course there's only one problem. Tony Abbott has to win the federal election in September first.