ENTERPRISE NORTH | Our Pesky Neighbours



Our Pesky Neighbours

: 0447 280 923
: exec@enterprisenorth.org.au

Executive Officer
Enterprise North

Great geopolitical challenges await Australia in the next two decades and how we deal with them will direct the economic fortunes of communities across Australia as we grapple with the increased demands for aid at the same time dealing with increasing demands required to secure our nation. Make no mistake, this is unchartered territory with no proven behavioural rule book to guide us. The new government will require adept diplomatic skills alongside firm resolve to push back when outrageous demands might swamp the boat.

The recent rogue behaviour of the Solomon Islands in their engagement of the Chinese Communist Party in their development plans was not only a wake up call to Australia, but also the Pacific, Polynesian and Melanesian states as well. It is nonsense to refer to this grouping as being “part of our back yard” as they wield far more influence than that portrayed by this characterisation. For years and years they have collectively, and cleverly, demanded more action from Australia to combat climate change going as far as blaming us for rising sea levels on their low lying atolls all the time ignoring robust available scientific evidence to the contrary. We are blamed for other ills as well. While our neighbours court Chinese influence, most are silent on the impact worldwide imposed on us all by China’s activities. Our contribution is but two percent. We rolled over and now we have our Prime Minister on the record as saying we have regained the trust of our neighbours with our new commitment to climate change. Things will change so no more problems with sea levels in the Pacific?

The recently released national census paints a gloomy picture around population growth across Northern Australia despite the 2015 developing Northern Australia policy of the previous Coalition government. This policy paper envisioned a fourfold increase in the region’s inhabitants by 2060, backed by economic diversification and Asia-fuelled growth in “bright prospect” sectors such as energy and mining. The mining boom petered out within months of the policy’s release, and diplomatic conflicts have hampered Chinese trade. All but one of 11 subregions lost people through net migration in the period 2016-20 with recent data suggesting the trend is continuing.
New research, published last month in Regional Studies, Regional Science, found that most of the growth in Northern Australia was concentrated in urban centres, exacerbating remote disadvantage. Overall, the region grew by only 1.7 per cent, while the rest of Australia grew by 8.2 per cent over the same period. Far North Queensland grew by 5.2 per cent in the first five years the policy was operating but northwest Queensland shrunk by 7.5 per cent. Despite our northern predisposition to “spin” the facts, these are dispiriting figures.

The only certainty we have historically is our growth and prosperity prospects are inextricably linked to our security. There will likely be a force projection base established in PNG as a matter of urgency and in line with this will be a rapidly increased domestic defence capacity deployed north. These are huge opportunities. Our neighbours will continue to generate increasing demands and responses from Australia as the three decade romance with China abates. This is a new world order so be prepared for the ride of our lives.