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The keys to unlock Northern Australia have already been cut

Patrick White and Russell McGregor write in The Conversation (13.12.16) about how, while only about 5 per cent of Australians live in the tropics, it is not a mysterious or unopened land of limitless untapped potential. As the authors argue, the ambition of northern development dates back to the 19th century.

‘Ignoring history can lead to a futile repetition of past mistakes. In the new wave of enthusiasm to “unlock” northern Australia, the federal government has overlooked the past and espoused an extraordinarily rosy vision of the future.

‘Northern development slipped back onto the national agenda in 2013. The Coalition’s 2030 Vision for Northern Australia, a 2014 green paper and 2015 white paper revived old debates.

‘Each extols the north’s capacity to “become an economic powerhouse”. They market the north as a place of “untapped promise” and a future “trade gateway” for the “booming Asia-Pacific region”.

‘Hyperbole aside, the most revealing aspect of these declarations is their lack of historical perspective. They fleetingly acknowledge that governments and entrepreneurs have been unlocking the north for more than 150 years. But these nods to history lack the insights needed to inform policy.’

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