Now is the time to develop northern Australia to address food and energy security issues in Asia, says the Northern Territory's chief minister.
Adam Giles says his government has been lobbying to host mining and energy projects to make Darwin a base to service Asia, such as Woodside Petroleum's Browse liquefied natural gas project.
Two days after creating a North Australia Development portfolio for himself, Mr Giles told the annual Mining The Territory conference in Darwin his government was developing a "use it or lose it" policy in relation to exploration licenses in the Territory to ensure work goes ahead.
Unencumbered land in Darwin coupled with no third-party environmental appeal rights in the NT made it very attractive, he said.
"Those leases (shouldn't) be used for purely speculative purposes, whereby companies landbank the leases without actually undertaking the requisite exploration work," Mr Giles said on Wednesday.
But Stuart Blanch, Coordinator of the Environment Centre NT, says the Territory has the weakest environment, mining and petroleum laws of any state.
He says it should be looking for sustainable development options in the area of renewable energy.
"The Territory government's vision for more mines and fossil fuel extraction is damaging and backwards-looking," he said.
"Any short-term boost to the NT economy through new mine projects must be weighed against the inevitable clean-up costs of this heavily polluting industry."
Mr Giles said Asia's impending population boom means there will be high demand for the energy and food that northern Australia can provide.
By 2050 the world population will have grown by 40 per cent.
Food demand will rise by 70 per cent and incomes by 200 per cent and in 2030, Asia's middle class will increase six times to 3.2 billion people.
The Territory had the perfect opportunity to develop its beef industry, including live cattle and boxed beef exports, but needed federal government policies to be "firmly supportive", he said.