Cooperative north

20 February 2017

Its not your average kind of Cooperative Research Centre: set up with $75 million over ten years, the CRC for Developing Northern Australia is a key element of the Government's vision for developing Northern Australia.

With its board now established - it will be chaired by Cairns business woman Sheriden Morris - the Government has announced an early project funding round for short-term collaborative research projects.

Applications are open until 20 April 2017 for collaborative projects targeting the areas tropical health and medicine, and tropical and northern agriculture. Successful projects will receive grants worth up to $3 million for up to three years.

The board of the CRC for Developing Northern Australia consists of:

Developing the potential of Australia above the Tropic of Capricorn was a key policy of the former Abbott Government. In it's 2015 Our North, Our Future White Paper it laid out its plan for stimulating business investment, and attracting more people into the region.

Covering almost 40% of Australia's landmass, the region above the Tropic of Capricorn is inhabited by only around 1 million people. And while they make a disproportionate contribution to Australia's economy through agriculture and mining, according to the White Paper a population of four to five million by 2060 will be required, "otherwise it would remain a high cost, small scale economy".

Impediments to development that will have to be addressed include the complex regulatory arrangements for the use of land and water.

Development will also require major upgrades in roads and water infrastructure, which will be targeted trough a suite of initiatives. These include $600 million for priority projects, and a $500 million National Water Infrastructure Development Fund, which has $170 million dedicated to the north.

The Government also set up a $5 billion loans facility providing concessional finance to infrastructure projects across the region.

But even with these barriers reduced, business investment in new industries in the north will be presented with substantial risks, and this is where the new CRC will have a crucial role to play - by undertaking pre-commercial R&D, and by identifying new commercial opportunities in the region.

The CRC will build on the existing expertise in agriculture, food and tropical health.

Leichhardt's MP Warren Entsch said that it will also be looking at indigenous-led development in Northern Australia - "particularly in areas such as aquaculture where there are significant opportunities".

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