Economic & Workforce Development is crucial in Northern Australia

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For economic development and employment agencies, small business support and training providers, schools and youth programs currently operating in Far North Queensland, the Top End, Broome, the Pilbara and Kimberley regions, this post outlines future workforce development opportunities and potential areas of specialisation in terms of skills.

The blog post has been compiled from considering, PIVOT NORTH – Inquiry into the Development of Northern Australia: Final Report (September 2014, Canberra) and quotes directly from the report are in italics.

It appears that opportunities for economic and workforce development in Northern Australia are for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce; from Queensland – Northern Territory – Western Australia; in education and skills development; with e-learning and entrepreneurship; managing Fly In Fly Out (FIFO) workforces; across a variety of industry sectors; and with unique initiatives that set Northern Australia apart from other regions.

So with these opportunities uncovered, what are you waiting for?

Perhaps understanding some of the specifics will help you to take action.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce

The report suggests exploration of new methods to harness the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce using successful models of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander enterprise.

The Committee was able to observe the success that can be achieved when an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander business targets Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander workers as their workforce.

A focus is on improving Aboriginal workforce participation,

The Committee believes that engaging, training, encouraging and connecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to employment, and accessing this untapped labour resource, should be a priority for all governments and potential employers.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in the largest industry sectors in Northern Australia, namely mining, agriculture, government services and tourism, is low.238

Cross jurisdictional mechanisms

There appears to be many areas to collaborate and share workforces such as in the health sector,

The Western Australian Government also urged that ‘the Commonwealth and Northern jurisdictions should work to establish a cross jurisdictional mechanism to address key Northern Australian health service and workforce issues’. The Western Australian Government noted, for example, that ‘cancer patients based in Kununurra must currently travel to Perth to receive fortnightly treatment. This treatment could just as well be provided from Darwin, reducing patient stress and travel time.’

Education, Skills and Training

Providers and institutions are part of the regional workforce solution,

Education and training institutions needed to be supported to develop new and innovative ways of delivering learning outcomes, particularly for disadvantaged students or those in very remote locations.

Further development of skilled local workforces, supplemented by targeted regional migration, will increase regional capacity to respond to opportunities and diversify local and regional economies.

…increase the labour pool and skills base for the resources and construction sectors, reducing demand for transient employees.


With barriers of distance, geography and remoteness, e-learning is seen as a must have,

An example of e-learning was provided by the Mount Isa Centre for Rural and Remote Health, JCU. It stated that the Cloncurry Shire Council had contributed to a learning centre in Cloncurry where nursing students, medical students and pharmacy students could access their lectures while living in or visiting Cloncurry for their clinical placements. The mixed model using technology and providing local support and working with local practitioners had created a local workforce in Cloncurry.171


Consideration of the impact of FIFO workforces on the community are highlighted in the report,

There was also concern that mining companies were drawing on the resources of local communities, particularly though use of FIFO workforces, without adequate return. Community facilities were being utilised by people who were not paying for their upkeep. Workers were using accommodation without contributing to rates, inflating the cost of housing without contributing income to the local community.66

Industry Sectors

When looking at opportunities from an industry point of view there are key sectors to engage with including agriculture, arts, beef, defence, energy, fisheries, forestry, health, ICT, mining, resources and tourism.

For example,

…building an energy export industry worth $150 billion to the economy, with a major focus on clean and efficient energy, providing major increases to resource exports.26

The Committee noted the engagement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders across the North with various industry sectors, particularly the agricultural, pastoral, mining, tourism as well as the fishing industries, both recreational and commercial.

The CSIRO advised the Committee that the Australian forestry industry’s 2020 vision paper ‘clearly identified significant opportunities for expansion of the forestry industry in Northern Australia’ and cited lower land costs as an advantage. 69

Austrade added that the Government was working with State and Territory governments and industry on a tourism 2020 strategy which was seeking to ‘double the amount of overnight visitor expenditure in Australia from a baseline of $70 billion in 2009 to between $115 billion and $140 billion by 2020.’ The key strategy was to ‘move Australia into offering higher quality product.’97

Opportunities to engage Aboriginal communities on Cape York Peninsula in providing recreational fishing services has been explored by the Cape York Sustainable Futures. Its research found there was considerable interest from Aboriginal people in becoming involved in this aspect of the tourism industry.117

The creation of special economic zones (SEZs) could be a way to diversify Northern Australia’s economy by encouraging broader industry investment. Traditionally, SEZs have targeted manufacturing rather than the ‘development of extractive industries such as agriculture and resources’.123

The development of a new naval base with heavy industrial maintenance facilities was also recommended by the Australian Industry & Defence Network–NT (AIDN–NT).207 This would enable expansion into the maintenance and repair of other steel hulled vessels in Darwin.208

Business in the Tropics—designed to ‘build the cultural change necessary for adoption of modern cloud-based ICT services’ for disaster recovery strategies, effective remote office communications, and building industry clusters;

The JUTE Theatre Company, from Cairns, believed that ‘a focus on the development of a thriving arts industry is critical to any thinking about the future of Northern Australia’. It argued that the arts sector ‘should not be seen as an entertaining consequence of a developing community’, but rather ‘as the litmus test for the quality, maturity and liveability of that society’.60

Initiatives for Northern Australia

Entrepreneurship, self-employment and the establishment of small businesses, even in remote communities, is perhaps an opportunity that needs more of a focus.

Other opportunities in the North were identified, including:

? establishing world-class medical centres of excellence;

? creating an education hub with vocational and higher education campuses in selected areas; and

? growing Australia’s exports of technical skills in the resources and agriculture sectors.27

Consider how does this all line up with your scope, focus and plans for growth?

Written by Wendy Perry, Head Workforce Planner, Workforce BluePrint, February 2015.


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