By ERWIN CHLANDA
If the national development conference in Kalgoorlie can’t come up with an agenda that’s not wasting half the delegates’ time than who can?
CDU Professor Rolf Gerritsen from Alice Springs is thinking about driving there: “It’s faster than flying” – after which he will need to self-quarantine for two weeks: “I haven’t got two weeks to spare,” he says.
And this is for the three low-risk states – WA, Tasmania and NT – people from the other ones at the national convention have more to put up with.
But not all the pandemic is dishing up is bad. There have just been three major sales of tourism assets in The Centre: King’s Canyon, Glen Helen and the MacDonnell Range tourism park in The Alice.
“There is nothing unusual about cattle station sales. They go on all the time, people hold these stations basically for capital gain and ego,” says Prof Gerritsen. But these are well established resorts.
Brendan Heenan said he would be looking for a smaller park.
“There is plenty of money around everywhere,” says Prof Gerritsen.
“The problem is the money is sloshing through the system but the government’s been handing it out proportionally to rich people than poor people. It’s sloshing around but there’s nothing to invest in.”
With the Kings Canyon and Glen Helen resorts investors appear to be taking a longer view, that the tourism boom has been stifled by the recent restrictions, that it will resume and carry on for a couple of years before we start travelling overseas again.
Elderly going overseas will be worried about their health: “I don’t think international travel will resume for a while. But you don’t know. Boeing is selling planes again.”
What are your thoughts about the investment money is coming from interstate rather than from within the NT, making local profits and re-investing it?
“I don’t think anyone is investing very much because they are waiting to see what happens.
“It I were an outsider from Sydney and Melbourne I would think that tourism enterprises, particularly Central Australia, but in remote and northern Australia generally, would be a good investment now providing you get assets cheap enough.
“You wouldn’t be betting on getting your money back in within the year. You’d be betting on four or five years.”
Staff remains a perennial problem as the normal dry-season short-term labour immigration – backpackers, grey nomads – has been cut: “Paradoxically we have a labor shortage in the middle of the economy’s downturn.”
Despite skyrocketing demand for rare earths the world over, the Aileron Arafura mine (pictured) is still looking for money. And much of the mineral may well not come from under ground, but from the machines they are made of.
“We must urgently find a way to recover these metals efficiently from discarded products,” says one source.
Rare-earth metals are currently mined or recovered via traditional e-waste recycling.
But there are drawbacks, including high cost, environmental damage, pollution and risks to human safety.
The annual demand for rare-earth metals doubled to 125,000 tonnes in 15 years, and the demand is projected to reach 315,000 tonnes in 2030, driven by increasing uptake in green technologies and advancing electronics.
This is creating enormous pressure on global production, says the industry source.
Even when vaccination rates are up this will not be the end of the problems: “Hospitals are already at full capacity. What’s going to happen if you get secondary outbreaks like you have in Britain.The hospital system will just melt down. I prefer vaccinations rates north of 80%.”
Meanwhile horticulture in The Centre is still slow in their development.
A major vineyard is not producing this year,
“Last time I visited a grape farm at TiTree the workers were all from Viet Nam,” says Prof Gerritsen.
“Asians are hard workers.”