State Government money will be spent on moving the economy of Western Australia’s mining heartland away from a reliance on the resources sector, under a blueprint set to be released for the region.
The plan, which will dictate how Royalties for Regions funds will be spent in the Pilbara, also sets an ambitious target to triple the region’s population by 2050.
Regional Development Minister Terry Redman, who will release the plan at a conference in Karratha today, said agriculture, aquaculture, tourism and energy are key areas the Government wants to develop.
“The Pilbara still contributes 36 per cent of the nation’s exports, which is substantial, but increasingly going forward we want to look for diversification opportunities,” he said.
“Some of that lies in agriculture, there’s some agriculture opportunities in the hinterland with some of the mine dewatering projects that are in existence.
“Further development of tourism, we have some fantastic rock art and of course looking at other economic developments particularly in energy.”
Mr Redman said the funding could go towards supporting investments made by the private sector or the Federal Government.
“If anyone wants to be a future of the Pilbara region, they should knock on the door of the Pilbara Development Commission,” he said.
“From there ideas come to fruition, investments follow that and hopefully a new and revitalised regional Western Australia comes as an outcome.”
Resources downturn hits population hopes
Over the past decade, the mining construction boom in the Pilbara has been an economic driver for WA and the nation, increasing the region’s share of Australia’s GDP from 2 per cent in the late 1990s to 6.2 per cent last year.
As a result, the State Government invested heavily in the Pilbara, funding the $1.7 billion “Pilbara Cities” program, which aimed to develop both Karratha and Port Hedland into more attractive hubs of the north west, each with a population of 50,000 by 2035.
But the region’s entire population is still well short of that figure at 68,000, with people leaving the region as work dries up on the back of the resources downturn.
The new blueprint sets an even more ambitious target of 200,000 by the middle of the century, which Mr Redman acknowledges is aspirational.
“There has certainly been a change as the resource sector moves from construction to production, we know that, that is understood, this is part of the cycles of the resources economy,” he said.
“It has been through significant growth in recent times and just going from last year to this year, Karratha school has got 400 more kids.
“That is a lot more family members than kids, but it is going in the right direction.”
Acting Pilbara Development Commission chief executive Terry Hill said he hoped the conference would generate investment interest in new industries.
“We have been working to develop a regional investment blueprint which will really guide the commission and how it moves forward,” he said.
“The challenges change, if you looked at the Pilbara in 2009, they were very different challenges, did we have enough land, did we have enough houses, cost of living was very high.
“As we move into the next phase in the Pilbara, the sentiment is changing, people are looking at how to adjust their businesses to the new environment.
“What is the future, how do we capture the opportunities that exist from the past investment, and what we have learnt and what are those new, exciting opportunities that we all need to get behind.”