A team headed by co-chairs Andrew Liveris and Paul Henderson are hard at work mapping a road to prosperity. Chief Minister Michael Gunner wants their first report on his desk by the end of July. The Territory Government wants to turn the once-in-a-century crisis into a once-in-a-century opportunity for economic recovery, growth and expansion.
In recognition of the Red Centre’s critical importance to the Territory’s recovery, a special Central Australian Reconstruction team has also been set up and is headed by Member for Braitling Dale Wakefield. Mr Liveris, who was born and raised in Darwin before going on to head the world’s largest chemicals company, says: “This is a time for all of us to work together.
No matter where I am, I’ll always be a Territorian and I’ll always work to make the Territory stronger.” He believes the NT has enormous potential. “The Northern Territory is the best story that’s never been told,” he says. “We’ve got to tell our story. “The Reconstruction Commission’s job is to help build an economic pathway in the short, medium and long term as to how we can attract private sector investment, create jobs and grow the economy, because the Territory Government has got limited capacity to do it.”
Mr Liveris says the Territory must streamline the bureaucratic procedures that may hold up investment – go from red tape to “rolling out the red carpet” to investors without sacrificing financial and environmental standards. He says government departments throughout the world often don’t “talk to each other” and that Australia has bureaucracy “on steroids”.
Mr Liveris, who worked as an adviser on manufacturing for the Obama and Trump administrations in America and was instrumental in setting up Select USA, a one-stop shop for investment approvals, says the Territory has a great opportunity to streamline red tape. Mr Henderson, who was Chief Minister from 2007-12, says the NT public service showed that it can be responsive and nimble when delivering Territory Government aid during the coronavirus lockdown.
“It created a whole new series of programs within a couple of weeks to get money out of the door to small business and tradies. “How do we harness that can-do attitude for the permit process for the rest of government? The public service has shown they can do it.” He wants a “laser-like focus” on the Territory’s advantages. “It’s time to go back to basics in many ways and understand what our key competitive advantages are in Northern Australia. “We must be completely honest with everybody about the opportunities and the barriers to those opportunities. “For instance, we have plenty of water in the Top End. So, the question is, why can’t we grow more food and have a bigger agricultural side to our economy?
How can we get the produce to market? “Also, we’ve got a significant resources sector, but I can’t remember the last new mine of any scale that opened – I think it was Bootu Creek nearly 15 years ago. Look at the resource projects that have been on the Territory’s books for many years. Why haven’t those projects been investable?
Why haven’t they got up and running?” Mr Liveris says there is an opportunity to expand the agriculture industry, especially as Southeast Asia’s burgeoning middle class is willing to pay a premium for Australia’s clean, green and safe food. “We know we can grow the produce and protein here, but there are barriers to investment in regard to logistics and supply chain. We need to get food into markets at a competitive price.
“The Reconstruction Commission has to look at every step in the logistics and supply chain to understand what scale we need to bring down the unit price. “It is competitive in that market. You need scale, volume and certainty of supply.” Mr Henderson says volume is vital for economic expansion. “You need volume into these markets. The Alice Springs to Darwin railway line was finally committed to by the Commonwealth, South Australian and Northern Territory governments about 2001. “The three governments committed $300 million of public funding to open up a new trade export corridor into Asia.
But today we’re not exporting one more container into the Asian markets through the Port of Darwin. “The supply chain into Asia from Australia is not being realised – and I’m really surprised.” Most of the overseas investment in the Territory is likely to come from China, which is Australia’s largest export market and investor. Mr Liveris says there is nothing wrong with Chinese investment, but Australia should diversify “like crazy”. “Having all your eggs in one basket will not work.”
Mr Henderson says the Territory could attract investment from Indonesia and sell high-end services, such as university education, trades training and medical treatment. “There’s a real opportunity and we should be working hard at it – and not putting our eggs in the cattle basket.”
Mr Liveris says Australia’s economic opportunities start in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, and should then extend to India and the Middle East, and ultimately Africa – a zone with 2.5 billion people. “Shame on us if we aren’t the first into many of those economies. It won’t be easy. But who said Japan was easy? Who said South Korea was easy? “We have to build the human skills to do business there. And the Territory, with its multiracial population, can do that very well.” TQ