The North West Minerals Province – A Better Public Sector Investment than the Capital City
Guest post by Craig Wilson*
Townsville received the lion’s share of the media coverage in Australia and around the world from the recent flood events. But north west Queensland was also severely affected. As floodwaters recede, the recovery phase has begun. This recovery in north west Queensland is important not just to those local economies stretching along the Townsville to Mount Isa corridor, but also to the state and national economies and treasuries.
It is often under-recognised just how important these economic centres are, most significantly Mount Isa and the wider North West Minerals Province. For example, the Mount Isa economy sends around $1 billion annually to state and federal treasuries and acts as a service centre to a huge portion of northern Australia. This is an enormously productive part of the country. Income per capita in Mount Isa is close to twice the Queensland average. And Mount Isa’s economic activity underpins distant economies, Townsville particularly so and, to a not inconsequential extent, Cairns and Brisbane.
A rendering of a future multi-modal transport and logistics facility in Mount Isa
Investments by governments in this part of Australia pay dividends. While so much recent media coverage about mining has been negative, saturated by stories about coal and Adani, many other metal miners have been going efficiently about their business. Mount Isa Mines has been operating for almost 100 years and continues to anchor the economy in north west Queensland. The Australian economy and national strategic planners are lucky to have it.
But local elected leaders know that they must constantly look to strengthen and diversify their economic bases; and their economies have been hurt in the not-too-distant past by commodity price volatility and adverse boardroom decisions. A relevant example is a new initiative from Mount Isa City Council – www.discovermountisa.com.au. It is clear that local government leadership matters in the midst of national economic settings. Local governments such as Mount Isa City Council with limited resources are getting on with things – tourism promotion, investment attraction, and branding.
It is natural that these remote but productive economic centres lament the big public sector expenditures occurring in capital cities while they, as regional economic engine rooms, feel unrewarded and rely almost exclusively on private capital. As central policy-makers turn their minds to the recovery phase, both the state and federal governments should look to fast-track projects in the north west minerals province of Queensland.
The right investments will be rewarded. In the case of the Queensland Government, this includes programs under its existing Strategic Blueprint for that part of the state, including initiatives for common user infrastructure such as the proposed Mount Isa Transport and Logistics Centre, as well as electricity transmission line projects such as Copper String II which will shortly be subject to additional feasibility studies.
The Australian Government should reinvigorate its focus on its northern Australia program – including its excellent work on resource identification by Geosciences Australia, the super basin assessments by the Department of Environment and Energy, and infrastructure strategy led by Infrastructure Australia – and ensure the logical interface of the laudable forthcoming Barkly Regional Deal throughout the economic corridor from Tennant Creek to Mount Isa.
The economics of public sector investment in the north west minerals province is as solid as anywhere in the country, but the political equation has been less favourable and this has meant that opportunities have been overlooked. Hopefully the state and federal governments can reward the good local leadership that is occurring along the Townsville-Mount Isa-Tennant Creek corridor with targeted public sector investments which leverage existing and future private capital.
Craig Wilson is Managing Director of DeltaPearl Partners. DeltaPearl Partners recently contributed to Infrastructure Australia’s 2019 national infrastructure audit, is economic advisor to the Mount Isa City Council, leads the Australian Mining Cities Alliance and provides secretariat support to the Tennant Creek–Mount Isa Cross Border Commission which next meets in Canberra on 12 February 2019.
*I am delighted to publish this guest post from my former colleague at Marsden Jacob Craig Wilson. Craig will be well known to many QEW readers given his extensive experience in economic policy in Queensland and throughout Australia and internationally. For instance, he is a former Executive Director of Economic Policy at the Queensland Department of Premier and Cabinet. It goes without saying that the views expressed in this article are Craig’s and should not necessarily be attributed to me, Gene Tunny.