Blackall-Tambo mayor Andrew Martin has welcomed last week’s announcement that Northern Australia Minister Matt Canavan had confirmed his shire will be eligible for funding under the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, unlocking access to large-scale infrastructure funding opportunities.
“It’s a major win for us, especially as it’s hard work convincing people not to stick to lines on a map,” he said. “People look at that and don’t give credence to natural communities of interest.”
The announcement was made by Maranoa MP David Littleproud, who said he had ensured Blackall-Tambo Regional Council would be able to apply for “crucial” funding under NAIF rules, because of the council’s economic connection through the Remote Area Planning and Development Board to northern Australia.
He described it as commonsense for Minister Canavan to confirm that BTRC would be eligible to submit projects that have a benefit to northern Australia.
“RAPAD works extremely hard to coordinate worthwhile projects for not only its collective region but also for our country more broadly. I believe enabling RAPAD to continue its collective approach in facilitating infrastructure projects will result in better outcomes,” Mr Littleproud said.
The NAIF offers up to $5 billion, over five years, in concessional finance to encourage and complement private-sector investment in infrastructure that benefits the north of the country.
The Tropic of Capricorn was the hard marker for funding eligibility but a spokeswoman for Mr Littleproud said statistical areas had been included too.
“There was a bit of confusion and we’ve been able to get some clarity,” she said.
Responding to suggestions that Blackall and Tambo were some way south of the Tropic of Capricorn and unlikely to feel many humid northern breezes, Cr Martin said he had lobbied hard from a “very justifiable” position of putting the shire’s vital link between northern and southern Australia.
“Geographically, we’re the navel,” he said. “We have one of the largest cattle selling complexes in the state and are a natural funnel for more than half the state’s organic beef herd.
“Thanks to the connectivity of our roads, cattle will go through us either to projected northern meatworks or to meatworks and feedlots in the south.
“It’s the same story for the lines of connectivity for the north’s bananas – their best way to travel south is through us.”
Leaving the shire out of NAIF meant that the shire was “hanging out like a tick on a bull”, or the only one of seven RAPAD shires with an eligibility question mark, Cr Martin said.
“Ever since they started drawing lines on maps (through the Northern Australia White Paper) you only had to look at it to see we were heading for a flogging,” he said. “We’re not really eligible to be part of South West RED, which I have no issue with, but we needed to belong to something.”
He added that while his communities were a long way from the Tropics, their infrastructure was bound up with northern Australia.
“If people think our addition will make the funding pie smaller, then the government needs to grow the pie.
“I say, give us a hand and we’ll all benefit.”
Mr Littleproud said the north’s future would be built “by its people, their ingenuity and their ability to collaborate – and I know the Blackall-Tambo region will play an important part in this”.