Improved telecommunications services, modernising the tourism sector, and a host of innovative smart technologies will play a key role in an ambitious plan to reinvigorate the territory over the next ten years, according to the Northern Territory’s latest infrastructure plan 2018-2027.
Released on Tuesday, the NT’s 2018 infrastructure plan updates the one released in 2017 with a new focus on stimulating population growth and leveraging ‘smart’ technologies to build sustainable communities, as well as maintaining telecommunications infrastructure rollout as a key priority.
With increasing number of government services being made available online, it is becoming increasingly important for governments to ensure that communities, especially those living in remote areas, have access to stable and strong internet and telecommunications services.
“Telecommunications are an essential service and digital technologies are critical and life changing for people living in remote communities who can access government services online, including telehealth, distance education, welfare, licensing and motor vehicle services,” states the infrastructure plan.
“Beyond urban settings, industry and governments need to work together to provide telecommunications infrastructure in remote locations.”
According to the infrastructure plan, three telecommunications projects from last year remain high priority in 2018: the Remote Telecommunications Co‑investment Program with Telstra, the Mobile Hotspots Program, and modernising radio transmission infrastructure in the Territory to support emergency and other frontline services.
These projects received substantial funding in the NT’s 2018-19 budget, which set aside $14 million over four years to expand the Remote Telecommunications Co‑investment Program in 37 remote locations. As part of the co‑investment arrangement, Telstra is matching the investment “dollar for dollar” raising the project’s total to $28 million.
“This investment will enable more remote residents to connect to the world, remote businesses to grow and tourists to share their unique Territory experiences with friends and family,” said NT Treasurer Nicole Manison.
Telstra has been a telecommunications partner of the NT since 2009, with its previous co-investment amounting to $30 million over three years under an agreement signed in 2015.
According to the infrastructure plan, the proposed digital infrastructure initiatives in the pipeline to expand mobile services to improve connectivity across the territory are estimated to cost around $95 million over the next ten years. Improving connectivity for emergency and other essential services are expected to cost around $25 million.
In the face of declining GST revenue, the NT Government is ramping up its investment in population growth initiatives, launching a dedicated Population Growth Strategy 2018-28 at the end of August to guide its investment in this area.
The 2018-19 NT budget had also announced numerous initiatives to incentivise population growth, from which revenue is expected to follow. NT Treasurer Nicole Manison said in her budget speech that “there is a GST incentive to grow our population. We currently receive $11 000 per person, so more people means more GST revenue”.
Reinvigorating the tourism industry will be key to lure people into the territory. In the 2018-19 budget, $1.2 million over two years has been earmarked for a specific customer relationship management database and the NT “masterbrand” marketing strategy targeting former Territorians, with $400,000 over the next two years for an associated web portal and mobile application.
The infrastructure plan added to these initiatives with proposals to develop rail trails for tourists visiting the Darwin CBD to various culture and heritage sites in Adelaide River and Snake Creek siding.
“The cost of a railway loop development (new or extensively restore the old railway), is likely to be over $50 million (based on costs of the Tasmanian Strahan to Queenstown railway),” states the plan.
Using ‘smart’ technologies to create sustainable and more efficient communities was also flagged by the infrastructure plan.
Power and Water Corporation – the NT Government-owned utilities corporation – is developing and will obtain funding to pursue a strategic project designed to develop a ‘smart’ and sustainable Aboriginal community. The concept may include “smart metering, demand management, solar, integrated water and power control system infrastructure”.
Partnering with local governments in Palmerston and Litchfield, ‘Smart Cities Technology’ project will “adopt intelligent IT systems” to “[i]mprove interface between local government and the community”. The plan has allocated $2 million to the initiative to be spent in 2018-19.
In attempt to rejuvenate Darwin, smart technologies will be deployed in the city, including “city-scale smart infrastructure” and “smart services” such as lighting, parking, and wifi. ‘Switching on Darwin’ is expected to cost around $10 million in 2018-19, with further investment pending in 2019-2020.