22 Feb 2013

The Empty Promise Of Northern Australia

By Sarah Burnside
Northern Australia has long been a screen onto which politicians project their pet ideas for development. But is the north really the frontier land that the Coalition (and their friend Gina Rinehart) would have us believe, asks Sarah Burnside
Recent weeks saw some excitement around a draft Coalition discussion paper, "Developing Northern Australia — a 2030 vision", from which the Opposition quickly disassociated itself, making it clear that the document contained ideas rather than policies.

As the ABC reported, the paper proposed developing "key urban zones", within northern WA, Queensland and the Northern Territory, increasing populations through immigration policies, relocation allowances, and personal income tax incentives. The paper also characterised the northern parts of the continent as the "last frontier", a region with "tremendous potential".

As many pointed out, there were obvious similarities between the document as reported and the proposals long pushed by Australians for Northern Development and Economic Vision, whose most famous member is Australia's richest person, Gina Rinehart.

Beyond this focus, it is useful to listen to the echoes of our past in the language still being used to describe "the north". The use of the term "frontier", for instance, may well seem bizarre in 2013; notwithstanding the ongoing impacts of dispossession on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, Australia surely entered the postcolonial era some time ago. Behind these kinds of phrases, though, lies the nation's long and complicated relationship with its northern regions.

As Mungo MacCallum noted recently, the pull to develop "the north" predated federation and remains an idea that "refused to die". MacCallum noted that this impulse originated partly in the old and adaptable "fear that if we didn't do something about the largely empty lands above the Tropic of Capricorn, then the Yellow Peril, or perhaps the Red Menace — well anyway, the Asian Hordes — drawn down the map by the inexorable force of gravity, would come and do it for us".

Fears of attack were not unfounded — recall that Japan bombed Darwin 64 times between 1942 and 1943 — but a sense of unease continued during peacetime. In 1965, public intellectual Donald Horne discerned an "anxiety ... that Australia will not really have staked its claim to the 'continent' until it does something about the north".

By the 70s the north was seen less as a source of vulnerability and more as a rich quarry. Japan was viewed as a key economic partner and major market for iron ore, instead of a threat. As The Age commented in 1975, it was "impossible to discuss seriously Australian mineral and energy policies without reference to Japan". The mineral wealth lying under some particular tracts of northern soil seemed for many to be the "something" to which Horne referred, as well as answering what was seen as the nation's pressing need to grow, industrialise and develop.

Hopes were high. In 1968 the Minister for National Development, David Fairbairn — the name of whose portfolio was indicative of government priorities — waxed poetic: "Every Australian has a stake in Northern Development ... [the] northern half of the continent is like a giant stirring from a long sleep, flexing muscles and beginning to move".

As with other resource-rich states, the Australian political economy has been shaped by what has been termed the ideology of development — the overwhelming drive to promote industry growth, particularly in sectors such as forestry, mining and petroleum.

The academic EJ Harman wrote in 1982 that in Western Australia development ideology informed "all aspects of political life", and indeed this drive has been particularly strong in WA and Queensland as well as in the Northern Territory. Harman noted that the "importance of development hinges on the benefits it is assumed to provide" and that there was "a tendency for state politicians to assume development is a good thing, and to resort to emotively charged generalisations in describing it".

The sense that Australia had to develop had both practical and ephemeral origins: it stemmed both from economic imperatives as well as a sense that the young country needed to prove itself. The Institute for Public Affairs argued in 1964 that "[e]conomic growth is of special importance in a country ... striving to develop its resources and to expand its population as rapidly as possible".

There was also an impetus, as writer Peter Rogers noted sarcastically in his 1973 book The Industrialists and the Aborigines, to "fill in some of the embarrassing blank geographical spaces which few countries have nowadays".

The upper third of the continent's land mass was often seen as just so much blankness, given that Indigenous perspectives were not often acknowledged in public debate about land use. Indeed, as Harman noted, the ideology of the development in WA carried "with it the notions of opening up the frontier and civilising the north". MacCallum's reference to the "largely empty lands above the Tropic of Capricorn" evokes an attitude which has not entirely disappeared.

Visions of northern development may now include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but they are still occasionally left out of the picture altogether. Consider a 2012 speech in which Gina Rinehart described Australia's north-west as "where my pioneering family descendants settled in the 1860s to become the first white settlers ... It was an inhospitable, remote and rugged country forming a very tough life for the first settlers, far from civilisation, medical care, supplies and my family descendants had to 'make do or do without'". She noted that "[t]oday of course ... much has changed with the progress brought by the mining industry".

The fact that not all of the lands above the 26th parallel are mineral rich is often omitted in discussions of "the north". Further, the rather narrow view of development as building and mining which dominates the public conversation overlooks other possibilities.

In particular, as economist Jon Altman has noted, much political commentary on "Indigenous development" presupposes that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must join the mainstream or the real economy, ignoring what Altman terms a "hybrid economy" characterised by a mixture of market-based and traditional activities. In somewhat similar vein, in her 2011 Quarterly Essay Fair Share, Judith Brett suggested that different developmental paths for rural Australia have often been overlooked, contending for instance that the "the National Party has shown little interest in promoting environmental stewardship as a way of supplementing farmers' incomes".

The north has long been a kind of screen on which political actors project their own visions — whether of a new Israel, a rich food bowl or a free market haven. More specific questions were raised in "Cancer of the bush or salvation for our cities?", the report of a parliamentary Inquiry into the use of fly-in, fly-out workforce practices in regional Australia. Is rural Australia to be reduced to a place the rest of us enter to make money, if at all, then quickly leave behind?

In a recent discussion of some of the failings of the media, Tim Dunlop noted that "Tony Abbott is berated for playing small-target politics but is then mocked for even thinking about plans to develop new cities in northern Australia".

Whatever one might think of the merits of these plans, there is a conversation well worth having about regional and remote areas both above and below the 26th parallel. The old drive for "northern development" has not disappeared; deeper questions around the form such development might take merit exploration.

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Posted Friday, February 22, 2013 - 12:52

It might also be remembered that indeed back in the 1940's, someone made the proposal that the Jews be given the North of Australia to develop, instead of Palestine. Something may have come of this, except that the Jews were NOT enthused, they were by this time committed to occupying Palestine, and driving the Palestinian occupants OUT!
Still working on it.

O. Puhleez
Posted Friday, February 22, 2013 - 21:58

A good article.

I believe that Captain Cook estimated the total Aboriginal population of the continent to be one million, based on the coastal population densities and the assumption that these continued unchanged right across Australia.

In fact the Aboriginal population distribution followed (and still follows) the rainfall distribution, and is similar to the subsequent European distribution to this day. Aborigines are coastal and riverine people in the main, venturing inland only after rain, or when the seasons favour it.

Hobart, Fremantle and Darwin were founded mainly to establish a British presence in those areas and to discourage rival colonial operations. Economic justifications were subsequently found.

The thrust of Rinehart's thinking is to get enclaves established in which normal Australian industrial relations do not apply: special economic zones where foreigners can exercise and enjoy a freedom to work for $2 a day.

Posted Sunday, February 24, 2013 - 08:43

Interesting article.

Just what the country needs, more Ord river projects.

It's amazing how quickly billionaires' pet money making schemes are transformed into national priorities, usually at the taxpayers' expense.

I noticed that the dam building mania had re-infected Coalition politicians again.

Dr Dog
Posted Monday, February 25, 2013 - 09:20

Interesting article. Ideas about what the north can become so rarely involve what a sustainable and high quality life would look like for the non-mining population, especially Aboriginal people who are unable or unwilling to work in mining.

I do know that without a mining income there is a growing gap between the haves and have nots, in towns like Kununurra a stationary caravan can cost up to $750 a week to rent.

The Ord River Dam is a sight to see, and it is easy to see why that vast stretch of water fools people into thinking that the north can produce vast amounts of food, but the land itself is mostly poor and the cost of moving all that food around is financially and environmentally fraught.

By continuing to view the north as a frontier we are selling short the nature of the place as it currently exists, and ignoring the reality that we are much better off focusing on the effective use of local food and water.

Posted Monday, February 25, 2013 - 13:54

Interesting article, but the thought struck me, that even in our so-called "developed" areas such as major agricultural regions, the past developments and industries are actually dying, farmer average age is over 50, communities are dying, schools closing and a high rates of farmers leaving the land, needing off-farm work, or simply not meeting production costs thus being in debt or going broke. Why develop areas that the entire universe is showing are not places for high density populations, and then neglect through poor long term planning, the developed areas, established food bowls and existing communities/regions? If farmers can't make it in fertile, irrigated areas, why develop arid, barren, deserted areas? The mind boggles at the stupidity of people who never live anything but an academic, legal, administrative life!

Posted Tuesday, February 26, 2013 - 16:54

So, the idea is that the north hasn't enough people. Needs lots more. Maybe people used to a hot, dry climate...

Well, the Jews turned it down, and chose instead to boot out the Palestinians and take their land. Well then...how about all those Palestinians rotting in refugee camps? Maybe they would be keen for a new start. Perhaps the Israelis could help pay for their resettlement as part of the deal. Relocating Palestinians to the other side of the planet would surely appeal to them.

And I'm sure there would be wild enthusiasm in the ranks of the Liberal Party for a scheme to bring hundreds of thousands of Muslims into Australia...right Mr Bernardi?

Posted Tuesday, February 26, 2013 - 17:15

There is no doubt that the earth is currently warming, though I dispute the AGW theory and totally reject the entire carbon credits scam. (We could all give up petrol tomorrow, get the Chinese back onto their bikes and Kiribati would still go under)

But as I said, I do believe we are currently in a phase of warming.
Therefore, the promotion of North Australia, where temperatures are already unbearable for the majority of Australians, is another ill-thought out "policy" which probably looks great in the realms of computer modeling...

And what of Magna Carta?
Did she die in vain?

Posted Wednesday, February 27, 2013 - 10:30

Developing the North is a good idea as long as it is done properly and enhances environmental and Indigenous cultural protection.

The 1930s-1940s proposition of a "new Israel" in the Kimberleys by the Freeland League headed by Dr Isaac Steinberg had widespread support in White Australia (one supposes that the Indigenous Australians of NW Australia would not have been so happy) was vetoed in 1944 by PM John Curtin acting in Intelligence advice (possibly after Churchill's War Cabinet had approved eventual race-based Partition of Palestine and hence the Palestinian Genocide) (see Gideon Polyta, "Review Gideon Polya, “Book review: “An Unpromised Land" by Leon Gettler” - How Australia escaped becoming Apartheid Israel”: https://sites.google.com/site/bookreviewsbydrgideonpolya/gettler-leon ).

Dr Isaac Steinberg was an anti-racist Jew who opposed the genocidally racist Zionist plan for colponization of Palestine and genocide of the Palestinians (the genocidally racist Australian Zionists opposed his plan for NW Australia: "Dr Isaac Steinberg, on Zionism, 1948: “Yet believing in a state means also believing in all, its – be they even democratic instruments – army, police, diplomacy, censorship and loud patriotism. A people which for many years lived outside these state attributes, which has not absorbed into its system the ”sweet poison” of those state instruments of power and conquest, has, suddenly, in a day, become bewitched by state instincts. Instead of following that historical, political sense which kept them always at a distance from the state machine, Jews suddenly felt a lust for their own state responsibility in a world which is gorged and oversatiated with statehoods”.( Dr Isaac Steinberg, “This is not the way (The Failure of Jewish Diplomacy)”, Australian Jewish Forum, April-May 1948, pp. 6-8; quoted in Chapter 8, p. 134, Leon Gettler, “An Unpromised Land”, Freemantle Arts Centre Press, 1993.)

There are roughly twice as many Australians (on the way to 24 million) as Palestinians (12 million) and if Australia had permitted race-based settlement of NW Australia and if Australians had thence suffered the same fate as the Palestinians then today there would be:

12 million Australians forbidden to step foot in Australia;

14 million Australian refugees;

12 million Australians living under Apartheid laws in a foreign-ruled Australia ("Israelia") of whom only the adults of 3 million Australian Israelians would be permitted to vote for the Israelia Government ruling all of Australia plus cleansed bits of neighbouring Muslim countries under a system of democracy-by-genocide (albeit as Third Class citizens under Apartheid laws) ;

Over 3 million Australians highly abusively confined with zero human rights to a huge, densely packed Concentration Camp regularly subdued by army and naval shelling and airforce bombing (over 1.5 million being children, of whom 10% would be stunted due to war criminal Israelia sanctions);

5 million more Australians highly abusively confined with zero human rights to race-based Bantustans under military rule.

It could still happen what with the cowardly, pro-war, pro-Zionist US lackey Australian Labor Government of The Lackey Country permitting thousands of child-killing US troops to be stationed in Darwin and turning a blind eye to racist Zionist Australians variously serving in the Israeli Wehrmacht, spying for Israel against Australia (e.g. Ben Zygier et al), and committing horrendous crimes against Palestinians AND Australians - as reported in recent years, tasering , shooting, bombing, kidnapping, imprisoning, robbing, torturing, and killing Australians as well as Palestinians (for a detailed, documented submission sent to Australian MPs, media and the AFP on the Zionist threat to Australia by Gideon Polya, “50 ways racist Zionists (RZs) and Israeli state terrorism (IST) threaten Australia and YOUR country too”, Bellaciao, 14 March 2010: http://bellaciao.org/en/spip.php?article19618 ) .

Decent Australians will vote 1 Green and put Labor last until it reverts to decent anti-racist pro-Australia values and the Australian Labor Party ceases being a Neocon American and Zionist Imperialist -subverted Apartheid Labor Party, an Apartheid Israeli-supporting Labor Party, an American Lackey Party, the Australian Labor Party and and the Australian Lying Party.

Peace is the only way but Silence kills and Silence is complicity.

Posted Wednesday, February 27, 2013 - 12:06

Sensible article.
I wonder if those who want to develop the North have traversed its length and width and studied its terrain.

The Aborigines knew why they lived where they lived.

The Ord River project earned construction workers lots of money. And that's it to this day.
The Alice-Darwin train link also filled the pockets of the workers, but not too many since then.

Let's enjoy the North as the wilderness it is, and keep it.

PS on a Jewsish homeland. Stalin gave them one in the UdSSR. It's still there. Zionism was not interested.

Posted Wednesday, February 27, 2013 - 13:34

Did you have to mention Israel? The exodus to Palestine by the Jewish diaspora began at the end of the 19th century when Palestine was still a small enclave of the Muslim Ottoman Empire. And no other land was ever going to take the place of their original Jewish homeland.
And remember after the Crusades, once Mohammed claimed the holy Jewish site of the Temple Mount as Muslim, once again the Jews were being excluded from their holy city of Jerusalem and their religious homeland by Islam yet another denominational usurper, (like Christianity) a fact of life the Jews had to live with for nearly two millenium.
But apart from that, the industrious, determined nature, of the predominantly well educated Jews (with a large diaspora to support them both financially and emotionally) on a relatively small block of land, is a very different proposition from the laconic nature of your northern Australians, who live all year round in the tropical heat and have to contend with Big Wets on the fringes, as well as with what is essentially a vast desert continent in between.
That said I believe Australia and Israel do have a lot in common with desert regions and scarce water supplies in some populated areas, so of course we should share scientific and commercial knowledge about water and land conservation etc. with them.

Posted Wednesday, February 27, 2013 - 14:03

yeah - when Terra Nulius was invaded by mother England - agricultural practices from the motherland were applied without any consideration to the uniqueness or fragility of this land...and we treated the 40,000 year-long inhabitants like an invisible subspecies even though they knew/were caretakers of this land successfully...it has taken 200+ years but we now live with the negative effects of this...salinity, erosion, poisoned waterways, bluegreen algae, extinction of species, feral animals...yeah let's just go do the same in the North - somewhere we haven't fucked up yet with our capitalist, eurocentric, bureaucratic ignorant ways...on what planet do we get to claim that all deserts are the same as deserts on other continents? That idea didn't work so well with the productive land...don't like your chances with the even more fragile lands!!

Posted Wednesday, February 27, 2013 - 18:17

Some realities in response to pro-Zionist myths that are coming thick and fast (anonymously; from Apartheid Israel? from the Apartheid Israeli Embassy?) .

1. According to Professor Shlomo Sand (Tel Aviv University, author of "The Invention of the Jewish People") there was no Jewish "Exile" in the early CE (most Jewish and non-Jewish Palestinians, the forebears of the present Indigenous Palestinians, remained in Palestine, farming, trading and paying taxes to the Romans) and hence no need for a "new Israel" in Palestine, NW Australia etc.

2. There were some 20 locations of schemes for "new Israels" in addition to NW Australia (see Professor Martin Gilbert, "Jewish History Atlas". Indeed for genocidal racist psychopath Theodor Herzl (founder of racist Zionism) it was a toss up between Palestine and Argentina (the Argentinians, like the Australians) having exterminated most of the Indigenous inhabitants of their asserted "Terra Nullius", Argentina, in the 19th century (see Chapter 2, "Palestine or Argentine" in Theodor Herzl's book "Der Judenstaat": http://www.gutenberg.org/files/25282/25282-h/25282-h.htm ). The "new Israel" in the Highlands of Kenya was settled by circa 10,000 and was defended in a genocidal Briitish colonial war in the 1950s that cost hundreds of thousands of Indigenous Kenyan lives (see "Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950", now available for free perusal on the Web: http://globalbodycount.blogspot.com.au/ ).

3 "Australia and Israel do have a lot in common" - yes, in terms of genocidal racism, genocide of the Indigenous inhabitants, the "Terra Nullius" myth , invading and devastating Asian countries and in "Whiteness" philosophy. Thus a former Israeli Ambassador to Australia declared "Israel and Australia are like sisters in Asia. We are in Asia without the characteristics of Asians. We don’t have yellow skin and slanted eyes. Asia is basically the yellow race. Australia and Israel are not - we are basically the white race. We are on the western side of Asia and they are on the southeastern side. Israel has not fully acknowledged the value of working together with Australia in Asia. It’s a way for us to cooperate with and enhance our position in the countries neighboring Australia" (see: http://electronicintifada.net/content/two-white-sisters-asia-israel-and-... ).

Peace is the only way but Silence kills and Silence is complicity.

Posted Wednesday, February 27, 2013 - 21:03

To the best of my knowledge it was that English Morron Lord Balfourt or what ever his Name was who signed something he didn't own over to a few Zionist Athiests from Eatern Europe in 1917.

Basicaly everybody in Europe wanted rid of the Jews, Hitler apparently pushed for Palestine to become their homeland, problem is America was so hell bent on saving its economy and become the Empire that they started shooting before anything could be arranged.

Why?, too many people, too much breeding by white Trash, thats why we are here, in Aussie and thats the only reason, the same reason Jews are in Palastine or Zionists or what ever, their just human Cane toads too.

So, as far as I'm concerned. The Jews haven't done anything anyone else hasn't done, maybe they left it a bit late, but other then that, same shit different arse.

So up your's, thats life, always has been.

12000 years of human debauchery can't be wrong, even if the Bible does like to dress it up a bit.

Now, lets get back to the North, most people are preety well on track here, so carry on.
Drop the Jew bashing shit, they didn't want it, and ain't got it, we didn't want it either, until NOW. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ who for, not me.


Posted Wednesday, February 27, 2013 - 21:14

NOw, you will want to ask, why would Hitler want to move Jews.

They were mostly Communists, Hitler was a working Class Capitalist, he and his people were a threat to England and the Euro Aristocrats wealth. What did the Poms get in the End, BROKE and BUSTED, AMERICA the next EMPIRE.


Posted Monday, March 4, 2013 - 19:55

Leo Braun, now thats nice bit of information.
Would explain a lot.
A new twist to an old problem, but maybe only new to me.
At the end of the Day, it was still over population that caused the human discomfort with each other and someone had to go.

150 Million People, dead or displaced, mostl dead.

The gravest lesson for us is, we didn't learn a thing from it.

Hero Parades for some murderers and hangings for others, go figure.

Posted Thursday, March 7, 2013 - 19:40

Leo Braun well, yes, like I always say. We are all human 1st and foremost. Human History ain't pretty and Isreal and all that comes with it doesn't make it any prettier. The human race does have a problem and that is we breed far too carelessly, economies and Governments can't always keep pace with the huge burden this brings with it to infastructure and humans don't like discomfort and we are quick to blame or play blame games.

The man, who ever he was, did apparently say, who will cast the 1st stone.

But one has to wonder why Victims of Pedophilia go on to become perpetrators, go on to violate others, why the victims of such a hidious crime go on to become pedo's themselves. Why Fathers molest daughters etc..

So why do or did the victims of the Holocaust go on to become, but I still maintain that the entire War was the Holocaust.

A minimum of 57 million killed in WW2 and only 6 million Jews and its probably higher then that and so soon after WW1.

The problem is Humans. Bacteria and Beatles etc. have the best longevity, where as the higher you get in the Inteligence scale we become more prone to self destruct, most of the mammals are pretty short lived. so.

Good Luck! Anybody feel like whacking a Cane Toad? Why?