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.
The months roll around too quickly it seems. Herewith a roundup of some issues making news. For more regular updates you will find us on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.
Welcome to HARD TALK , the ENTERPRISE NORTH newsletter where we discuss, warts and all, some of the important issues affecting the economic growth and development of our northern region and our city. I have been MIA for a bit having been in PNG doing some work so apologies for this delay.
There have been several disappointing but unsurprising announcements since we last communicated. The first being the State Government again dropping the ball with the Nullinga Dam Project with Building Queensland effectively signing it’s death knell in the short to medium term by saying the business case just does not stack up. This is a major blow for the region and work will continue now on some validation on the work done by Building Queensland and their consultants. The reaction to the news has been mooted and disappointing given that much has been made of the potential for growth in the agriculture and horticulture sectors, the future need for urban water supply, the emphasis placed on water storage in light of the prolonged drought conditions and the availability of funding for the construction of the dam. Nullinga Dam will remain as a major regional infrastructure requirement and our advocacy for it will continue and will cease only when we are satisfied that the water needs of region have been secured https://www.cairnspost.com.au/news/cairns/nullinga-dam-business-case-predestined-for-failure/news-story/281d7663d48073a85774b4d25f9c335b This issue has been discussed with the CRC who will be leading the regional response to Government. The CRC has been involved in the issue of regional water security for 3 decades and is their issue to own and to lead the advocacy.
The other disappointment was the announcement that the Kur World project to the west of Kuranda has been effectively downscaled due to access restrictions imposed by the condition of the Kuranda Range Road (KRR). Now this is unsurprising given that the KRR is fast approaching capacity and any large-scale development to the west of Cairns requiring logistic connectivity to Cairns will be subject to the vagaries of DMR analysis. Like Nullinga, this is a major infrastructure issue for the region that has largely been ignored for decades. The day of reckoning has arrived so expect to hear a lot more on this issue. The quick political fix with both of these for the past decades has been to do yet another expensive study outsourced to southern consultants. This has been always the default position of governments here when you defer the inevitable, instead of dealing proactively with growth and development challenges. It is again a failure to walk the talk after decades of talking the talk. Much of this has to do with a failure of “governing” where governments at all levels are operating in areas that were the responsibility of others and they have no business in being in. Responsibilities have been deliberately blurred so as to blame others for failure. It used to be the case that states were responsible for hospitals, cultural facilities, building certification and standards, roads (with the exception of highways) and dams and the list goes on as they owned the assets. Separately through COAG funding agreements were done with the Commonwealth and the states got on with the planning and delivery. Not now as a bureaucracies are paralysed by incompetence and the outsourcing phenomena. Nullinga and the KRR are caught in this political stalemate between Queensland and Canberra that has affected so much of our opportunities to grow and develop. Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) is yet another issue unlikely to be resolved anytime soon as funding agreement has to include the State Government. Industry and business needs to advocate more robustly for governments to come together to address this cancerous paralysis. Have a look at the issues allegedly caused to local governments due to the Belcara legislation as another case in point.
I recently was asked for some editorial content on regional development and the link to Cairns. It is reprinted https://enterprisenorth.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/KEVIN-BYRNE-FULL-ED-JUL2019.pdf in full and has caused some comment. Because of smaller population numbers, remote regional economies are more reliant on the successful coordination of effort of those managing the key economic drivers. Here our tourism industry is reliant on our marine port, our airport, our local governments and the industry organisations to work in synch to maximise our opportunities in an increasingly hostile and competitive environment. Increasingly this will call on us to step up to the challenges and go it alone when the opportunity arises. We need to be prepared to step up and step out. A case in point is our airport where we are competing against Brisbane and the Gold Coast for the international passengers. The business case for the Cairns airport has to include freight to underwrite some services and hence the importance above for Nullinga Dam and the KRR as essential infrastructure worth fighting for. My call for the Council to take a modest ownership stake in the Cairns International Airport is repeated again here. It comes with no financial downside to the CRC and represents a sound investment in vital regional enhancing infrastructure https://buff.ly/2JKmseE
Readers of this column will be familiar with our intervention on issues relating to the continuous negative diatribe on the fictitious state of the Great Barrier Reef, so what a wonderful positive statement made by the Honourable Susan Ley, the newly minted Commonwealth Environment Minister recently on the state of the Great Barrier Reef on her recent visit north. This is the first time in my memory that an environment minister, at both the State and Federal level and from either side, has shown such support for our marine tourism industry and our destination. This is the support our destination needs and deserves and our thanks also due to the efforts of Warren Entsch who has recently been appointed special envoy to the Great Barrier Reef who facilitated the visit. You can see some of the story here https://buff.ly/2ZY6vHy
It is wonderful to see some positive investment in game changing infrastructure down at the Portsmith marine maintenance area. BSE Slipways have recently commissioned a ship lift facility that is sure to play a major role in positioning Cairns as a premier regional marine maintenance and refit hub. This has great implications for future defence contracting work as well regional international opportunities not to mention opportunities presented by the growing demand from super yacht visitations. Interestingly at the same time, the NT Government announced that they would provide a similar facility in Darwin in partnership with some private investors but I understand this is unlikely to get much traction anytime soon. This is a major investment by BSE slipways and is encouraging for those invested in the marine sector. You can see additional detail here https://www.ibinews.com/companies/worlds-largest-travel-lift-given-colourful-official-launch/34655.article?fbclid=IwAR10_GeByvQByrnLyKc5E4Y9RuszL7evSCsdIAq_aCvT-Zr5mODClg4fJvY
Higher education has been in the news of late. It seems the issues of China dominate our discussions everywhere and with declining Chinese enrolments in our universities there is real concern that this will affect our regional universities. You can access recent media about Charles Darwin University here and this is but part of a larger issue https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-08-16/university-funds-interstate-training-cairns-while-cutting-jobs/11423202
Now we have been talking for some time about the real advantages of opportunities provided by our second tier universities that predominate in our regions, but this is not reflected in attendance numbers which have flat lined. There is also the issue of funding which is driven by Commonwealth policy settings and recent issues around alleged foreign influence have not helped the cause. Education it seems is our third biggest export earner nationally and many university business models are reliant on increasing numbers of full fee paying foreign students to make ends meet. For those interested in this issue that impacts the Cairns economy you can read about it here: https://www.theaustralian.com.au/inquirer/we-need-to-talk-about-our-reliance-on-overseas-students/news-story/60e49d8a7928b58afbbd1ac966da1203
Much has been made recently of the Pacific Step Up program which is essentially an increase in Australia’s programmed aid activities across the Pacific. The recent Pacific Forum coverage regarding the alleged effects of climate change masked the real discussion that should have been had and that being maintaining sustainable economies into the future. There should be a home grown concentration of effort by the Forum countries to do better and strive for economic independence. This article shines a light on much of the mischief associated with the constant blame game and grandstanding https://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/media/pacific-islands-leaders-get-a-free-kick/news-story/ea221c3095015f245da2edd87af6ba41.
Notwithstanding the negativity, there are real possibilities for Cairns with the expansion of activities that have recently commenced on Manus. There will be two aspects to this issue. The first will be the expansion and upgrading of the current assets to accommodate the delivery of four new pacific patrol vessels for the PNG Government, followed by a yet to be defined upgrade of Manus to accommodate the logistics around a larger defence presence and capacity. The opportunities due to our proximity are in manufacturing, supply and servicing the construction phase and thereafter base maintenance operations from HMAS Cairns. You can see more of the recent activities here https://www.couriermail.com.au/news/national/manus-island-new-home-for-australian-navy-as-chinas-influence-in-the-pacific-islands-grows/news-story/ec9dc7b253cf8fb54067ecbebe3ce928
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://mailchi.mp/rdafnqts/rda-fnqts-grants-and-tenders-15th-august-2019
- Enterprise North’s Kevin Byrne speaking with John Mackenzie on 4CA. An informative discussion on the impact of airports to the regional economy, and some commentary on the Great Barrier Reef. https://buff.ly/2LIotKq
- Interesting development statistics for Northern Australia https://mailchi.mp/17e7c7cfcd8e/our-north-our-future-enewsletter?e=fa124e3e77
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