If there's one word used, again and again, about Northern Australia, it's "potential". You hear it from Rockhampton to Darwin to the west and everywhere in between. We've been talking about the potential of the north for decades.
The foodbowl of Asia, untapped mineral deposits, the world's beef supplier. All have been said over and over, but what's actually changed for Australians in our north?
In 2015 the federal government released its Northern Australia White Paper with much fanfare. Finally, the north thought, someone will deliver on the potential.
The Government made many promises, especially about new infrastructure. But with the LNP in its third term in Canberra, the north is still waiting for these promises to be met.
The $5 billion NAIF, better known as the No Actual Infrastructure Fund was meant to support new infrastructure across the north. But despite various funding approvals, it's only released a trickle of funding - $16 million at last count.
Infrastructure Australia - the Federal Government's own advisor - has implored Canberra to get moving in the north. They made clear serious government infrastructure investment is critical to realising the north's potential, but could point to little actually done. There are opportunities in resources, agriculture and tourism, to newer industries like renewable energy, aquaculture, health and education services and space and aerospace.
Strong regional economies mean a strong national economy, so this matters to all Australians. Infrastructure Australia also recognised infrastructure investment helps smooth out economic cycles. This is a critical point, in a region exposed to commodity booms and busts. This report comes on top of recent calls from the Reserve Bank Governor and the Regional Australia Institute for the Morrison Government to kickstart infrastructure projects.
Sadly, it still isn't heeding the message. In May, the PM won seats in Northern Australia, promising $100b in infrastructure over ten years. What he didn't say was only 30% of that is delivered over next the four years. Our north doesn't need election promises that don't get delivered until after the next election or later. It needs those projects, and the jobs and economic development that come from them, right now.
The time for talk is over. Let's seize the north's potential. Get shovels in the ground and get infrastructure happening right now.
Murray Watt is the Shadow Minister for Northern Australia and a Labor Senator for Queensland