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New bridge for Tiwi Islands as NT fights 50/50 funding

Neve Brissenden -

New projects linking remote Indigenous communities to essential services could be on the chopping block thanks to funding shortfalls.

When the rains cast over the Tiwi Islands during the wet season, the river crossing required to get between the remote Northern Territory communities of Wurrumiyanga and Paru becomes treacherous.

Still, life goes on.

Funerals, football and family dramas continue to play out, though the communities are split with virtually no access between the two islands for months.

Traditional owners have been lobbying the NT government for road upgrades and a bridge over the river crossing for years.

On Friday, after months of construction works on the Island, the Paru bridge was officially opened.

For Tiwi man and the Islands' local member Manual Brown, it's about more than just connecting the communities.

"It's also really culturally important because it connects both islands at any time of the year so that we can get together for funerals and for ceremonies," he said at Friday's opening.

"We had a hard few years where we couldn't get through because of the floods, and now we don't have to worry about that."

Senior Elder and Tiwi Land Council Chairman Gibson Farmer Illortaminni thanked newly-minted NT Infrastructure Minister Joel Bowden for the project, saying it meant his family would not be separated throughout the year.

Mr Bowden, who was promoted to the portfolio last month in a cabinet reshuffle, said projects like the Paru bridge were just one of many required in the NT.

No NT projects were cut in the federal government review of the nation's infrastructure on Thursday, with the prime minister instead allocating the territory $200 million to seal the Tanami highway between Alice Springs and the WA border.

However, it's not all good news for the NT government.

Under a new policy flagged on Thursday, states and territories could be forced to increase their funding share to 50 per cent, raising concerns outback NT road projects could be left abandoned.

"Without the federal government as partners, we will lack the capability to invest in roads and bridges like the Paru project," Mr Bowden said.

"If we're unable to do those projects then communities are not benefitting."

The NT minister is meeting with federal counterparts next week to try and secure an exemption to the 50/50 split.

Mr Bowden said he was encouraged by the federal government's $200 million Tanami highway spend that they would agree the NT needs more help.

He said the NT, which is more than $8 billion in debt, lacks enough own-source revenue to fund the necessary projects.

Neve Brissenden - AAP

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