In order to transport cattle it costs 30% more on dirt roads than it does on sealed roads, the Northern Territory Road Transport Association suggested it costs over $10,000 a year in premiums for most cattle operators who are currently using dirt roads. Research showed that almost 80 per cent of the 22,000 km of the roads in Northern Territory are unsealed or impossible to travel on for months every year due to floods and bad weather conditions.
In May 2015 the former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott visited the Beef Australia 2015 expo, where he announced that the Feberal Government was investing $100 million towards the Beef Roads Project, to improve some of the NT roads. While that sounds like a lot of money, the Northern Territory Cattle Association (NTCA) was not happy with it, considering the scale of work required. The association has been estimated that over a billion dollars are required in order to make some major changes.
Senator Matthew Canavan told Parliament on 12 May 2015: “This $100 million is very exciting because it is going to also leverage a new tool that has been developed by the CSIRO.”
The tool is called TRANSIT, an acronym for Transport Network Strategic Investment Tool and it is being hailed by the government as something that will enable the most in depth mapping yet of the cattle operators in Northern Australia.
Development of the tool was funded by the Australian, Western Australian, Northern Territory and Queensland governments. The aim in developing TRANSIT is not just about financial savings, the lead researcher behind TRANSIT, Dr Andrew Higgins said: “Other advantages from a more efficient supply chain are improved safety and welfare of the live animals and the truck drivers themselves taking these long journeys, reduced emissions, and a more sustainable industry at a time of growth”. He also said that TRANSIT tool would be used for other agricultural transport.
On Thursday, 5 May 2016 in Parliament Deputy PM and Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce was asked by Ken O’Dowd (the member for Flynn in Queensland), "how the coalition’s jobs and growth plan will deliver benefits to the people of Central Queensland and elsewhere?” In response, Joyce listed number of policies including the $100 million beef roads project.
Although many suggest that a $100 million is a good start in trying to improve the conditions of the roads on which cattle have to be transported, the NTCA claim that it is not enough, has been picked up by Solomon MP Natasha Griggs who said to Parliament on 4 May 2016 “Our beef industry is a case in point. The road cattle producers need to travel before they reach the major highway to deliver the livestock. In some cases, those roads are no better than dirt roads. This stifles productivity growth and holds back further gains in one of the Territory's most productive industries. It makes a great deal of sense to develop the infrastructure, say, for example, better beef roads to facilitate growth in the industry around the investment rather than waiting for the industry to grow and then following up with the investment”.
On Tuesday, 19 April 2016 Bob Katter (the member for Kennedy) accused the Prime Minster of pork-barreling by saying that North Queensland was promised $5,000 million in guaranteed loans yet still not a cent has been committed.
Malcolm Turnbull give a brief reply but passed it on to Joyce to elaborate further. “These are the things that we do on our side of the fence, because we never heard of Northern Australia under the Labor Party, the Greens and the Independents. It was virtually invisible under them. It took a coalition government to actually stand up and deliver for the north of Australia. That is why we put $100 million on the table—to start sealing your beef roads. As you know, member for Kennedy, we are doing that. In Roads to Recovery, we have further extensions there. These are the sorts of things that give Australia a sense of vision. These are the sorts of things that make the Australian people know that if they want to have a government that knows what it is doing, has a vision for the future and has a vision for Northern Australia, then it resides with the National Party and the Liberal Party.”
Executive Director of NTCA Tracey Hayes said the beef roads project has put together a “fantastic blueprint of what northern Australian beef road priorities are”. The Executive Director also said “Let’s start rolling out the money and in 12 months come together, measure the progress and continue to build on a model to attract further funding for northern beef roads,” Hayes said after the Darwin forum. “We don’t want that blueprint to sit on the shelf once that $100 million is allocated, when more than $1 billion is needed to fully optimise transport infrastructure in the north.”