NORTHERN NEWS …growing Cairns and North East Australia July 2019

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.

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 the July 2019 edition of HARD TALK.

In this edition of HARD TALK I will be dealing with the nexus between growth and development and the crucial role that is played by the three principal actors here and that is the Cairns Regional Council, the Cairns Seaport and the Cairns International Airport. In our 2019 Policy and Infrastructure Manifesto under the Cairns 2050 Growth Planning Project we argue for the delivery of the Cairns 2050 Plan involving financial commitment, participation and cooperation from the three levels of government to making it happen. In a recent article entitled Time To Step Up, I again argued for the cooperative approach from the big three to driving the planning and provision for growth infrastructure and being loud and bold in doing so.

Interestingly, what is becoming clearer for communities is that we can no longer expect to get an acceptable level of regional investment unless we are prepared to go out on a limb and advocate robustly for it. There is increasing evidence that the more muted your messages becomes and the less your message is understood, then you can expect very little by way of delivery of major projects. This is increasingly the case the further you are from the major urban and political centres and is being played out here with some very important issues.

Firstly, lets address the Cairns Convention Centre. There has been ample evidence for a number of years that this facility was due for a facelift and a capacity upgrade. The project received rare universal support. Plans were drawn up, budgets prepared and announcements made. That was two years ago. During this time of course the project was undergoing assessment by Building Queensland so as to inform government as to the viability of the project. Happily we are advised that the Government will make a decision in the next two weeks. A similar issue presents regarding the Nullinga Dam. Now this project has been around for much, much longer. In 2016 the Federal Government committed to fund the feasibility into building the dam. Further the Federal Government committed to funding the dam as money was “on the table” in the Federal Government’s water infrastructure plan. Again because water is a “state” issue and the project needed the agreement of the State Government to proceed, Building Queensland was tasked to complete the required studies to again inform the Queensland Government who would eventually own the infrastructure. Again we await the outcomes of that study. Who is Building Queensland? It is a State Government entity that conducts feasibility analyses for the government for any project usually over $100M. Whilst they  are not the final arbiter of whether a project proceeds or not, they are used frequently by this State Government to kick the can down the road and can delay and frustrate the progress of projects across the State. Many of these projects on their own, and depending on the project’s Terms of Reference, will not stack up financially immediately, but invariable and over time will be sound projects and drive economic benefit. They deserve our support and we will continue to advocate strongly for them. Water security is essential for our urban and rural communities and underpins the future export growth potential of our horticulture industries and impacts directly our international airline connectivity and tourism growth.

Talking of future growth projects, it is important to note some of the opportunities that might present themselves for our region and Northern Australia more generally in the decades ahead. You can listen here to an extensive radio 4CA interview with Fred White the MD of Sea Swift P/L and a founding member of Enterprise North where he addresses the logistic issues of a growing region and the need for suitable infrastructure to service our regional engagement. Cairns Post article covering the issue is available here.

There is improved infrastructure being added to our marine maintenance precinct in Portsmith each month. This will enhance our reputation as a service ready city and region for maritime expansion opportunities. There is little doubt we are approaching a period of protracted uncertainty in our international relationships with our neighbours to the North and East. The One Belt, One Road initiative of China along with their activities in the South China Sea, and the skittish behaviour of our Melanesian neighbours in response to this, points to the need to develop infrastructure commensurate with the current and future strategic demands that might lie ahead of us. We will continue our sensible advocacy for appropriate levels of Defence infrastructure to be positioned in Northern Australia. The growth of HMAS CAIRNS needs to be incorporated in Cairns Port planning now and we will continue our advocacy for the home porting of new offshore patrol frigates in Cairns so as to become the prime strategic naval support base for Northern Australia. This is an exciting opportunity and you can access some recent exciting news here.

There are some really interesting collaborations taking place in the education space. This week two of our members, Central Queensland University and Cairns State High School, announced their “pathways to university collaboration”. You can see the story here of this excellent member project that offers more choice more often to our students. This sort of education agenda is what sets us apart from others and provides for the use of shared infrastructure in a central city environment.

Of course the issue of the state of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is never far away from the spotlight as the GBR is used as the whipping boy for climate change activists. You can see an excellent editorial on the subject from the Australian here. I have been working with a group of GBR marine park operators to ensure that the messaging of the GBR remains in positive territory and we have a statement to that effect posted on our web site. Additionally you can access here some correspondence to Michael Healy, the State Member for Cairns on this issue.

Local Pulse Reading, Enterprise North remains concerned at the lack of economic “lift” in the city and region. Regional growth numbers across North Australia are at their lowest in two decades. Whilst the Northern Territory is faring the worst of all, and is negative territory and their economy teeters, North Queensland is only slightly better with slight growth in Mackay and Rockhampton and flat lining growth in Townsville. This is expected to improve of course as resource projects are allowed to commence. Annual growth in Cairns is 1% compared to average annualised growth of 1.7% over the past two decades. The effectiveness of our advocacy on the right issues will be more important than ever as we work with governments, industry and business to turn this around with the correct policy outcomes. Enterprise North continues to search for realisable practical outcomes to grow our population and opportunities. Our region is in the economic doldrums. Much work needs to be done by governments at every level to ease access to finance, cut the red tape nonsense restricting business activity and provide incentives and optimism to attract investment. Their efforts here need to be genuine. Once done our natural inclination to take issues into our hands should kick in. We have a perfect opportunity with the return of the current Federal Government, and presumably with the retention of the Northern Australia Infrastrucure Facility (NAIF), that there will continue to be access to infrastructure funding for appropriate projects and what better opportunity than now for our City to invest in regional income producing assets whilst driving growth and prosperity. You can access here a letter to the Mayor of Cairns advocating for the CRC to buy into the ownership of the Cairns Airport. A functioning international airport is key to our future success and many large municipalities either own outright or have a stake in their own airports. For those who might be interested in a recent timeline of events regarding the Cairns International Airport you can access it here.

Links of Note

Kevin Byrne
Enterprise North Inc.

Social Media Messaging

The challenge for any startup 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.