Spring 2017, Vol. 14, No. 3

Getting regional infrastructure right

Infrastructure is often taken for granted and certainly doesn’t usually feature as part of impassioned policy debates – until it fails. Whether it’s a railway, bridge, road, airport, telecommunication system or energy transmission utility, as long as it is working then it goes largely unnoticed. However, a major failure of just one of these invariably generates a storm of media scrutiny and blame shifting, and serves as a reminder of the critical role of infrastructure in our daily lives.

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Getting Freight Right for Agriculture – A Key Piece to Becoming a $100 Billion Industry

Mark Harvey-Sutton

In our land of sweeping plains, the journey from paddock to plate can be a long and costly exercise. How can governments collaborate to drive down costs, and unlock the soaring potential of Australian agriculture?

Transport infrastructure in Australia is at a crossroads. Ageing infrastructure, mounting maintenance costs, a lack of new investment or even a clear strategy is throttling agricultural development.

Farming takes place in every corner of our vast continent – often far removed from arterial roads and freight routes. This leaves the sector perilously beholden to freight costs, as we move produce that ‘last mile’ to link in with major supply chains.

These ‘last mile’ linkages can often contribute disproportionately to the overall cost of getting produce to market. buy now

Infrastructure Constraints on Agricultural Productivity Growth – A Northern Territory Perspective

Luke Bowen

Accelerating the development of Northern Australia has become a policy priority for the three northern jurisdictions and for the Australian Government. This is in large part due to the expected growth in demand from Asia. By 2050 the Indo-Pacific region is expected to generate almost half the world’s economic output. An increasingly affluent Asian population will see the demand for quality produce steadily increase.

In terms of being positioned to benefit from this increased demand, a major constraint on the Northern Australian agricultural sector is the lack of economic infrastructure – particularly transport and water related infrastructure. It is therefore critical that there is significant government and private sector investment in such infrastructure. Given the lead time for new infrastructure to become economically productive there is a now degree of urgency or Australia risks being left behind as other countries take advantage of Asia’s economic rise. buy now

Broadband Connectivity for Rural Community and Agricultural Development

Julie Freeman & Sora Park

Digital network technologies aid the socioeconomic prosperity of rural communities, particularly through agricultural innovation to improve productivity and competitiveness. However, internet access is imperative to benefit from the full functionality of digital technologies and connect to wider markets and services. To date, Australia’s national broadband plans have not ensured parity in service provision between urban and rural areas, which results in uneven opportunities based on remoteness and regionality. Forms of connectivity fundamentally shape the activities pursued online and areas with higher quality broadband hold a competitive advantage. Rural users of Australia’s satellite and mobile wireless connections are constrained by poor coverage, unreliability and slow speeds, which are compounded by high costs, limited consumer choice of providers, and restricted data allowances. These constraints mean the potential of digital technologies for rural socioeconomic development remain largely unrealised. This article argues that rural Australia must be prioritised in broadband infrastructure developments to narrow the digital divide and provide the connectivity necessary to increase rural participation in the digital economy. It suggests greater flexibility in policy would encourage investment in and support for local infrastructure solutions that address different demands and market environments. buy now

Telecommunications and Australian Agriculture: Will Top-Down Meet Bottom-Up?

David Lamb

In the past five years the notion of telecommunications as a ‘critical infrastructure’ for rural and regional Australia has well and truly taken root. A number of recent national inquiries concerning telecommunications have been initiated, and in some cases completed. These will have a profound impact, not only to rural and regional Australia in general, but specifically on our ability to realise our digital agriculture future. The role of telecommunications in supporting a digital agriculture future is not necessarily technology constrained; if a farm has access to the mobile network somewhere on the farm, or NBN into the farm house then there is likely technology available to beam it to where it is needed. The real constraint is likely to be around who assumes technical risk, service and price.

Producer frustrations around existing network telecommunications in Australia are fed by a perception that their challenges are not being acknowledged, nor responded to, by network operators or at the industry or national strategic level. This paper considers some of the recent top-down initiatives concerning telecommunications as it relates to Australian producers. In particular we seek to understand the Universal Services Obligation, Mobile Domestic Roaming and opportunities around access and data speeds as it relates to agriculture. We examine whether top-down initiatives will in fact meet the bottom-up needs and expectation of our producers. buy now