Welcome to Northern News, one of the many engagement forums where Enterprise North will discuss the issues that matter to each of us. Kevin Byrne, Enterprise North Inc.
Well what a year to date. Who would have thought that an event such as this COVID-19 pandemic would wreak so much catastrophic damage across the world so quickly and with such vengeance? To say that much of the developed world was unprepared is being generous and in a sense understandable, but as we continue as communities and nations to seek answers, we are reminded yet again of the value of preparation and planning for the present and the future. As I write this, our Prime Minister, along with the Chief Medical Officer are addressing another press conference where the central theme is responding to our current situation using evidence-based data. Sadly, the continuous questing about the use of contacting tracing data tells me that we have a long a way to go. Readers of Hard Talk over the past eighteen months would be aware of our warnings that our regional economy was slipping into a recession. Unemployment figures were notoriously unreliable as were tourism visitation figures and of course our population growth numbers for a number of years had declined. So we entered the ring severely handicapped.
In the early stages of the national health response, I was concerned that the regions would be locked into a “one size fits all” mindset. And so it was. It was important that as a vibrant remote economy our voice had to be heard robustly and effectively. Once governments locked down the communities with no end in sight, they effectively destroyed much of the economy overnight leaving little space for optimism. For the regional community of Peninsular Northern Australia, the consequences were immediate. Tourism operations were brought to a standstill and aviation ground to a halt. The timing could not have been worse given that we were just returning to pre GFC recovery numbers of a decade ago. The focus for many now is on the recovery post lock down, but how and when?
ENTERPRISE NORTH’S objects and purpose are well known. You can see them here. Our position on the recovery suggestions was the subject of separate correspondence sent to heads of the COVID-19 Regional Coordinating Committee (Messrs Entsch, Healy and Manning) and is available here. Importantly the Enterprise North public response has been characterised by recognising the gravity of our current economic predicament, encouraging governments to recognise the special circumstances of our region and rejecting the notion that our lives will be changed forever and so too our economies. We need to return to rebuilding our economies quickly and with purpose with a revised set of priorities that will have at its core, policies and infrastructure priorities that will prioritise employment, investment opportunities and population growth. Now is the time for governments to recommit to sustainable regions and apply the blow torch to all projects currently remain unfunded. Many were projects conceived in a different time and have little relevance to the immediate requirements of recovery and regional growth. Our economies will be different and the challenge will be about managing the transition.
ADVOCACY: The COVID-19 issue has again drawn comment about the role of advocacy in times of crisis and the issue of who speaks on behalf of whom and with whose authority. Enterprise North, as the name implies, is a member organisation with a wider focus to grow the city and Northern Region as part of a stronger North Australia. Our focus therefore is broader than many think, and is misinterpreted deliberately by many suggesting that all should be on the same advocacy page with the same agenda. Whose agenda? These times call for some robust responses, that make sense and are well considered and have some expectation of success. You can see my commentary here. The emphasis should be on kick starting immediately the recovery process with infrastructure projects with committed funding in place including the Cairns Convention Centre upgrade, HMAS Cairns facilities upgrade, the Cairns Airport Freight Hub and other jointly funded regional road projects and the State Government should use this occasion to formally abandon the ill conceived Global Tourism Hub proposal. Major regional infrastructure proposals should be re evaluated against new demand and planning criteria, re prioritised with realistic timelines for delivery so as to create a more realistic private investment landscape and here I refer to regional water, energy and transport aligned projects. Key to our future and growth will be to draw on our strategic location and our engagement with the various partners across the north. This is now our great opportunity and we need to plan accordingly and quickly. Whilst we will see a dissipation of the role and influence of tourism in our regional economies we should foster the opportunities to grow and support marine export opportunities, mining and resource extraction as well as developing indigenous projects such as the Diatreme project at Hopevale. This report from Cummings Economics provides for some sober reading that requires some robust regional responses. You can see Bill’s report here. Further I was recently requested to do an OPED for City Life and you can see that here.
OUR MEMBERSHIP: I am very conscious of the difficult financial conditions prevailing everywhere but now more than ever our advocacy is required to work with others to get us through this difficult time. Our office continues to operate, albeit on a number of computers in different locations, but our overheads still have to be met and life has not stopped. We are just working in a different way, so I urge you to stay the course with us as we work to create a more resilient economy and region when we are through this. I thank you for your forbearance and support. I am often reminded about the challenges of Regional Australia but none more so than now.
Links of Note
- The most recent Regional Development Australia Far North Queensland & Torres Strait (RDA FNQ&TS) information on upcoming grants and tenders from government, corporate, philanthropic and private sectors. https://www.rdafnqts.org.au/news/newsletters/
Enterprise North Inc.
Social Media Messaging
The challenge for any organisation like ours is getting the message out to the target audience efficiently and effectively. Our messages are around what we do and why we are doing and that is growing our economies and population. There are a few videos discussing items of interest on the web but here is a sample of what is out there. Please engage with Enterprise North and share your ideas on our social links at Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin or by leaving a comment below.