Carolyn Blacklock has lived and worked throughout Asia Pacific for over 20 years and lived in PNG for the past 10 years. During this time, Ms. Blacklock has worked with the World Bank Group, various governments, and within the private sector to implement large-scale infrastructure and development programs that deliver sustainable socio-economic reform. In the following article, Carolyn Blacklock reviews the differences between the Jilin Province and Northern Australia, as well as a potential plan to equalize the two regions.
When we compare the analysis of development and growth in Northern Australia to the Jilin Province in China, it is easy to see the huge difference between each region. The question is, what causes this stark difference?
The Jilin Province’s economy is diversified, which has caused it to achieve GDP growth in the double digits almost constantly since 2003, despite its humble beginnings. On the other hand, Northern Australia lacks an efficient national supply chain, as well as other infrastructure elements that would create a similar boost for its GDP.
Comparing the Economic Growth of the Jilin Province to Northern Australia
Northern Australia development’s chief weaknesses, in comparison to the Jilin Province of China, are its divided borders and the politics that stagnate within them. In order for change to occur, Northern Australia’s territorial and state borders should be more united, to operate less like iron curtains.
The first step in achieving this goal is to employ champions within local councils. These number at almost 50 in the region of Northern Australia. If there was less focus on party politics, planning and delivery cycles would not be shortened to under five years.
By contrast, Carolyn Blacklock explains that the Jilin Province of China did not reach its current level of success thanks to similar short-term planning. Rather than building these plans around political benefits during overlapping cycles of politics, Jilin’s plans have been cohesive for decades.
With that being said, China has made its fair share of mistakes. Learning from these mistakes can be used as an educator for the region’s current success!
For instance, Carolyn Blacklock reports that China’s impact on the environment has not always been favorable. Additionally, their social displacement cripples the success that they have obtained. What Northern Australia can learn from this is that environmental management and planning should be considered in order to preserve the region’s unique qualities when it comes time for development.
China’s growth has come from both industrial success and economic success, something that would not have been possible without productive infrastructure expansion.
Northern Australian leaders must ask themselves: If China had their 3.5 million square kilometers of riches in resources, both agriculturally abundant as well as naturally beautiful, while being so close to one of the most resource-hungry markets in the world, what would China do?
Carolyn Blacklock suggests that this question can be answered by noting how, since 1978, China’s average GDP growth has continued at nearly 10 percent, which includes over 850 million people being lifted out of poverty according to the World Bank.
China has shown good stewardship of this expansion. To accelerate their success, they have kicked up their investment game as well, investing billions into their own infrastructure to maintain economic momentum. They invest in the creation and the expansion of more than one center of production.
It is important to note that these centers are developed in areas where economic activity was already distinctly limited. The point is, if given the same access to land and resources that Northern Australia already has, China would not sit back.
Carolyn Blacklock indicates that China would employ demographers, strategists, and engineering experts to make the most of their productivity. They would do this by developing a plan and breaking it into efficient steps in order to boost the GDP of Australia.
This plan would likely turn North Australia into an agricultural food bowl, an industry hub, an energy generator, and of course, a beautiful mecca when it comes to tourism revenue.
As helpful as it might be to imagine the riches that China could bring to Australia, given the management of such resources, it is simply not China’s responsibility. Instead, it is Australia’s responsibility, as well as an opportunity, and we must take advantage of that prospect by committing to hard work today.
Without swapping our cultural or democratic freedoms, and our lower population notwithstanding, Carolyn Blacklock explains that we can make a change by applying the same investment, planning, and development principles that China has used in recent decades.
The Ideal Development Plan
The Australian government would do well to envision a plan that includes both private and public capital. This plan would help critical infrastructure to build a foundation for the private sector of North Australia and allow it to become an equal partner to the South.
Carolyn Blacklock suggests that this should include an aligned approach between the local governments, of which there are over 40. These are the two States, the Federal Government representing Northern Australia, and the Northern Territory, all of which should be informed by the community and business sector’s inputs.
This plan should include:
- Clear Socio-Economic Goals with Equally Clear Time Projections. These should also include growth of jobs, exports, GRP, increased public revenue, and the goals of healthy livelihood that include education, life skills, and overall household wellbeing. Also, it should include infrastructure like railroads, energy, ports, and air networks.
- Drought-Proofed Agricultural Regions. These would significantly boost productivity.
- Economic Zones Specialized for Downstream Processing of Agriculture. This should include other resources, complete with tax and investor incentives.
- Plans for Establishing Towns and Cities. This would also mean expanding those that are already established, emphasizing a priority on health, education, cultural and sporting services, and an overall support for communities.
Achieving socio-economic development exponentially in Northern Australia is dependent on its leadership. It is also dependent on our ability to make the best use of the North’s potential. We will garner our courage and wisdom collectively, aligning several regions despite political boundaries.
With this plan in place and the goal in sight, we will demonstrate willingness to Think Big, Plan Long, and Act Now.