View Comments

The Federal Coalition wants to make the Top End of Australia the next development frontier for jobs, services and infrastructure.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott confirmed that if he becomes prime minister in September the coalition would produce a white paper on opportunities for the Northern Territory and parts of Queensland and WA.

"No longer will northern Australia be seen as the last frontier - it is, in fact, the next frontier," Mr Abbott said in a statement.

The white paper will consider ways to exploit region's potential as a "food bowl" and double the nation's agricultural output, boost domestic and international tourism and build an energy export industry worth $150 billion.

This would allow northern Australia to capitalise on the significant economic, strategic and environmental trends now shaping both the Asian and tropical regions, where about 40 per cent of the world's population now lives.

"We like to talk about the Asian century," Mr Abbott told reporters in Townsville.

"If Australia is to play its part in the Asian century, that part of our country which is already the most integrated with Asia needs to be developed."

In the past, governments and the private sector have been reluctant to invest in major projects in the region because of insufficient populations and services.

Mr Abbott says he expects the white paper, which would be delivered within a year, will allow a coalition government to encourage families to move north.

It would also consider include moving parts of the CSIRO and Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service agencies to key urban zones.

"We need over time to ensure, that where appropriate, where it fits, we have several government facilities placed here in northern Australia rather than in the corner of Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne," Mr Abbott said.

The white paper will also consider relocation incentives and personal and business tax incentives to substantially boost populations in key urban areas such as Darwin, Cairns, Townsville and Karratha.

A Northern Australia Strategic Partnership made up of the premiers of Queensland, WA and the NT could also be established.

Infrastructure Australia would be asked to audit the NT's existing infrastructure and create a 15-year list of priority projects for the Top End.

Mr Abbott said longstanding zonal tax rebates needed to be looked at to ensure they went to the right people.

"It is, obviously, going to a lot more people at a lot lesser rate now that it was back in the 1940s and 1950,” he said.

"What we will never do, because it is contrary to good government, is to have two different sets of taxation arrangements. That is not contemplated. Never has been."

Mr Abbott said the northern Australia policy was a long-term vision.

"What we need to do is to spend less money on lower priority recurrent programs, more money on higher priority capital programs if we are going to see our nation in the position of economic strength that it should be in,” Mr Abbott said.

Further announcements would be made before the election, including a significant one for the Bruce Highway, the gateway to northern Australia.

Treasurer Wayne Swan said the Labor government had invested an "enormous amount of money” in facilities, roads and energy projects in the north.

"This government is very much focused on northern Australia,” he told reporters in Brisbane.

"We've got some thought bubbles from Mr Abbott - a series of proposals, which are not funded. There's no detail."