NORTHERN NEWS …growing Cairns and North East Australia February 2020

Kevin Byrne Enterprise North Inc.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.

Herewith a roundup of some issues making news. For more regular updates you will find us on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

Welcome to our first edition of Hard Talk for 2020, the Enterprise North newsletter for 2020 where we talk about the issues that matter. These thoughts are designed to focus our collective endeavours towards building more economically resilient communities across Northern Australia with an immediate focus on Cairns and North Eastern Australia.

As I write this, I am reminded of the events unfolding in southern Australia and the power of nature and of course the calamitous effects of extreme weather conditions that are so much of our natural lives up here. Unfortunate and all as these events are, communities do in fact recover however the speed of the recovery is invariably linked to various forms of government interventions. We wish all involved well.

Welcome to the new decade. Looking ahead there appears to be very little to be excited about so we need to steel ourselves for the fight ahead to change the future landscape. At the risk of yet again being accused of lacking optimism, it is good to recap what might have been achieved in the past five years say. The big issues that would impact on real change are as elusive as ever. Here are some:

WATER: There has been no progress at all on developing a regional bulk water storage project. It is not even in the planning stage consideration despite the Nullinga Dam option being discussed, promised, assessed and advocated for by many for the best part of twenty years. We are as far away from any action on this as we have ever been with the Queensland Government accepting the findings of another $5M business case negating the need for a dam for a further 20 years pointing to other options available for the region. The Cairns Regional Council has undertaken the lead advocacy role on this issue;

KURANDA RANGE ROAD: The need for increased capacity on this connectivity to open up and link the area to the west of Cairns to economic opportunities around the sea port and airport in Cairns is as far away as ever. Again we are looking again at further studies with no commitment to capital funding, so again we are a long way from any action. The Regional Organisation of Councils (ROC) is in the driving seat here and working with the State Department of Mains Roads (DMR) to progress planning and options. The KRR is currently at capacity and this is surely the number 1 roads issue for the region linking Cairns west the tablelands and further west to the Northern Territory and north to Cape York to the PNG border. It is all about connectivity as we build economic resilience;

CAIRNS PORT DEVELOPMENT: The recent completion to a limited dredging program to complete a widening and modest deepening on the main shipping channel to the Cairns Port is most welcome however much more needs to be done. Cairns needs to see itself as a regional logistics hub and consequently a land use plan of the port precinct needs to focus on an integration into the City land use plan to ensure optimum use of the assets to ensure an efficient regional logistics hub to include an expanded railhead. The detailed strategic planning exercise for the Cairns Port has only recently commenced. The Cairns Port need to see themselves as economic facilitators rather than port land asset managers, and they need to broaden and widen their view of where Cairns needs to head to establish itself as the international logistics hub of North Eastern  Australia ;

CAIRNS AIRPORT: Perhaps the single biggest economic driver of regional economic performance, this organisation continues to disappoint and its poor performance continues to hamper any immediate prospects of an economic turnaround. The international terminal, once our pride and joy, is now a shadow of its former self and continues to fail to attract and retain additional international operators. The pressure on our international operations will only increase as the Brisbane Airport influence expands and the politics of Team Queensland plays out in the regions. There is now a real imperative to build, market and promote a fresh vision of an international aviation hub with export capacity to augment the marketing opportunities of the Cairns brand and linking our connectivity as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the world. This goes to the very heart of our geographic opportunities/advantages;

TOURISM INDUSTRY: This continues to be our major economic contributor but arguably our most neglected over the past decade. We have seen a continuous decline in the marketing and promotion of Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef as our pivotal marketing message rather opting to follow along with the national and state policies of the Aussie experience concept as opposed to the destination concept that served us and the region so well. Additionally the continuous negative focus on the state of the Great Barrier Reef to both internationally and domestically audiences, combined with tepid responses by many to  the ongoing narrative has played havoc with the genuine efforts of marketing Cairns and the GBR as a place to visit and stay. The consequences are explained in our declining visitation numbers. This issue was the reasoning behind the establishment of the Cairns Tourism Industry Association who are fighting hard to have their voices heard. These are in the main small to medium businesses with all their skin in the game fighting for survival. There is a long way back on our road to recovery here now that the corona virus issues have added another dimension to the industry woes that requires some concerted coordinated intervention.

So that is but a small snapshot. There are more of course, but let’s turn to some positives. There are a few:

HMAS CAIRNS: Here we have some really positive news. The Federal Government has embarked upon a series of projects that will bring to Cairns home porting of four new ships as well as growing maintenance and servicing opportunities not just for Australian defence assets but those of our allies as well. Additionally there will be growth in personnel assigned to HMAS Cairns. This is a deliberately phased program, monies budgeted for, timetables set and expected outcomes have been articulated and understood. Defence operates in deliberate manner and their programs are well researched and planned and the implementation considered. This program has resulted in certainty for businesses in the marine sector with the expected local outcome being employment growth in that sector as well as an enhanced defence presence. This is great news;

CRYSTALBROOK COLLECTION: The arrival of Ghassan Aboud to Cairns heralded the commencement of a rebuild and build of three new hotels in Cairns. This was a wonderful outcome that gave a fillip to the construction industry and a shot of confidence to a depressed region and tourism industry more generally. The challenge now will be to turn around the poorly performing city and regional marketing and promotional efforts to complement this investment.

CAIRNS CONVENTION CENTRE: Progress on this State Government facility has been painfully slow since the initial announcement however it is understood that the project start time has been confirmed, contracts are in place and construction timelines agreed so the region can look forward to the project proceeding. This is good news and will provide some confidence and added incentive to our important MICE market;

SUPERYACHT LEGISLATION CHANGES: Recent  bipartisan agreement to legislation governing changes to  chartering arrangements for foreign flagged vessels are very welcome news and on the face of it will provide logistic and servicing opportunities,  however the success will be in the implementation and  in particular around likely access restrictions to the GBR and expanding port infrastructure across the north.

In conclusion this is a testing time for the communities across the north. Our future successes will be dictated to by how quickly we build our resilience. Successful communities will be those who integrate new opportunities and adapt to the unexpected challenges that are thrown in front of them. This year our focus will be on the policy settings for the new decade that will give regional Australia a fighting chance to compete equitably.

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.

Kevin Byrne
Enterprise North Inc.

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