The Northern Territory’s cattle industry has long pushed for governments to spend more money on upgrading beef roads.
bitumen key points
In March, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack announced $492.3 million to upgrade priority freight routes in the NT
The road funding will be rolled out over the next 10 years
The Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association would like to see the money spent in a shorter timeframe
“Roads, roads, roads, roads,” said former NT Cattlemen’s Association (NTCA) president Tom Stockwell.
“If they get tired of that they could build some roads.”
So last month in Darwin, in front of a room packed with cattle producers, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack proudly delivered a major pre-budget announcement — $492.3 million to “upgrade priority freight routes in the Northern Territory”.
The announcement was applauded by some, but others took the news more sceptically.
“We hope it gets spent pronto on the black stuff [bitumen],” said current NTCA president Chris Nott.
A cattle truck on the Andado Road in the Northern Territory.
ABC: Caddie Brain
What is the spending timeframe?
On that Friday in Darwin, Mr McCormack did not tell the crowd of pastoralists what the timeframe would be for delivering the significant roads package.
It has now been revealed the road funding will be rolled out over the next 10 years, with just $60 million allocated over the next four years.
The bulk of the funding is not scheduled to flow until after 2023/24.
The government’s road announcement was ‘dropped’ to News Corp a day early, delivering this headline — but no timeframe.
“Issues [like the timeframe] generally don’t get mentioned, they [the politicians] just talk about the figure,” said NTCA Chief Executive Ashley Manicaros.
“The NTCA would like to see this spending on roads over a much shorter timeframe.
“We’d like to see it brought from 10 years to five [years].
While the long timeframe has concerned some, it has also been put to ABC Rural that there is potentially not the capacity in the NT to build $500 million-worth of roads in less than five years.
Paul Herrod from Western Creek Station near Katherine said the cost of upgrading roads in the north meant that sum would not deliver as much tar as some people thought.
“They need to probably double or triple that amount of money to really do anything good for the Territory,” Mr Herrod said.
“It’s a drop in the ocean this funding, but any money we get is good, any money is better than no money.”
In 2014 it was estimated that $1 million would pay for 2.2 kilometres of tar on the Outback Way.
The Coalition has now committed more than $770 million to some key roads in the NT in its last two budgets.
Scott Armstrong, from Beetaloo Station in the Barkly region, said the funding was a step in the right direction.
“I’m sure this will be a slow process from government, but I guess Rome wasn’t built in a day,” he said.
“We’ve seen work happening on the Barkly Stock Route [care of Federal Government funding in last year’s Budget], so they’ve made a start there, which is good.
… Just so long as it comes
In a statement to ABC Rural, Mr McCormack said the NT would continue to benefit from the Government’s Roads of Strategic Importance (ROSI) initiative:
The ROSI initiative is a rolling program of investments which will be delivered over the next 10 years to provide long-term opportunities to boost local industries and employment opportunities.
This includes an additional $1 billion in this year’s budget, taking the total to $4.5 billion overall as part of a record $100 billion infrastructure plan secured by the Liberals and Nationals Government.
Given Labor’s record of neglect for the regions, such funding commitments are at risk if Bill Shorten was ever to become Prime Minister, which is why long-term certainty is needed.
Country Hour listener Alex Nelson hopes the funding will stay no matter who wins the next election.
“What is most regrettable about the road funding announced in the budget, is all the opportunity lost from the years and decades of insufficient funding to the present day,” Mr Nelson said.
“Imagine where the NT could be by now if governments of either stripe had prioritised major road upgrades during all this time.