NORTHERN NEWS …growing Cairns and North East Australia June 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 June 2019 edition of HARD TALK.

Enterprise North is unashamedly committed to a better deal for Northern Australia and by definition Cairns and TNQ. We will relentlessly pursue an advocacy agenda supporting this commitment for the provision of appropriate infrastructure and government policy settings that grow our population numbers and our economies to provide prosperity for all. We do this within the agreed framework of the bipartisan Developing Northern Australia agenda. In doing this we occasionally tread on some toes and might bruise some egos, but our purpose is always to represent our members interests and to ensure we engage respectfully, robustly and with integrity. Regional Queensland and Australia is at the crossroads as the struggle continues to keep our economies ticking along.

Our population growth is at the lowest levels for 20 years and additionally here in the Far North our tourism visitation numbers are on the slide yet again. It is always very difficult to get accurate numbers that are current, but as I move around, the continuous anecdotal messaging I am getting is that the current economic conditions resemble the levels found around the time of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). Whilst the natural tendency of most, including me, is to remain optimistic, there is also an obligation to tell the truth. The reality is our regional economies are in recession. The quicker we fess up, the quicker people will engage to fix the problem. So, let’s unpick some issues that are contributing to this economic malaise.

Year to Year Population Growth, Main Cities (Significant Urban Areas), Northern Australia 2008 - 2018.
Year to Year Population Growth, Main Cities (Significant Urban Areas), Northern
Australia 2008 – 2018.

The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) Debate is only going to intensify. This issue continues to haunt Cairns. The constant controversy surrounding the supposed state of the GBR and the continuous stream of one sided commentary is having a detrimental effect on the investor confidence into tourism development and continues to place our marketing efforts on the back foot. The insipid responses to negative stories from a variety of people, including some maritime and dive industry members as well as the industry generally, further exacerbates the situation. The region needs to respond more forcefully and truthfully to the negative messaging. ‘A mountain of money won’t change the climate’ in The Australian on May 21st, 2019.

The role of the Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef ( ) requires careful examination here. This is a very public organisation established with much fanfare, headquartered in Cairns and funded by public largesse, including substantial establishment and ongoing operational funding from the Cairns Regional Council, and yet it’s structure, it’s charter, it’s operational modus operandi and its public officers largely remain from public view. Nevertheless the public social media profile is growing daily and much of the messaging is unrelated to the GBR but on the negative climate change debate more generally and is causing detriment to the positive messaging being done to promote the future wellbeing of the GBR by the vast majority of those who are invested in it.

Quite clearly there is a disconnect and the messaging plays into the hands of a much wider political narrative attributing the damage to the reef to the biased and unsubstantiated climate change narrative linking the destruction to rising CO2 emission levels. The linking of this narrative, as solely an Australian issue, is clearly wrong and remains unchecked. The larger narrative needs a whole of community and region engagement as if left unchecked the consequences are dire.

The recent Adani announcement is likely to release a whole new wave of militant and passive environmental activism that we are not prepared for. Fighting back will take resolve and coordination. This is an issue where you cannot engage by walking both of sides of the street. Our consistent view is that emission levels are a worldwide issue and that Australia is meeting its domestic emissions targets but crucially for us the issue here is of correcting the false national and international perception that the GBR is on the path to destruction. Make no mistake this unchecked environmental activism has caused great damage to our image and the effects are flowing through our economies in Northern Australia.

City marketing and promotion. There is an ever increasing need to step up the pace with the international and domestic marketing of the City and region as a place to visit, and importantly a place to invest. This should not be left to Tourism Tropical North Queensland (TTNQ) alone who receive $3M of direct ratepayer budget support from the CRC and who are all too easily influenced from George Street. TTNQ has neither the capacity nor the ability and is suffering a perception of lack of purpose and competence as it struggles to market a confused message. This of course suits Brisbane and the other destinations such as Hamilton Island and the Whitsundays Tourism who enjoy considerable clout in George Street.

The tourism marketing message needs to change and the recent public discussion on this was clear. It is all about Cairns being the gateway to the GBR. More broadly the Mayor indicated in October 2017 that the CRC would take the lead and establish Cairns Marketing (or something similar to the Brisbane Marketing model) and this organisation would assume overall responsibility for investment and major event marketing under the CRC Strategic Development Plan. This would then allow TTNQ to reorganise under a new business model and to concentrate their efforts on tourism destination marketing and promotion.

The money raised via a visitor levy (or a similar mechanism) and the current allocation of $3M to TTNQ should be controlled under a CRC sponsored/owned trust whose Board would be appointed by the CRC from suitably qualified people and would operate under appropriate guidelines similar to those applied to the Cairns Regional Gallery Board. This would then provide some legitimate “ownership” of this important aspect of civic leadership around the issue of corporate engagement that is currently lacking. The initial target of this fund should be $15M. We need to disengage from the current marketing programs of Tourism Australia and Tourism and Events Queensland and re-engage with our own destination campaigns.

Aviation Route Development. The recent announcement of the impending withdrawal of Cathay from Cairns after 25 years sent shockwaves through the city. It is not the role of Enterprise North (EN) to dissect the rationale of the decision here except to say that some of us have long held the view that you cannot solve sustainable aviation access issues by throwing government money at airlines (some foreign government owned) without an agreed set of contractual obligations on all parties. EN is on the record on this issue. Aviation route subsidisation, by offering an upfront sugar hit via a financial incentive, is the least effective policy fix. Destination route development, in our case, is the responsibility of the Cairns Airport operators acting in concert with the local tourism and industry bodies and supported by the State and Federal Govt regulatory bodies and the Local Government. In the end it is a team effort.

To do this successfully we have to have an achievable and sustainable strategy so that in the end no one is blindsided. There is little evidence of this here in Cairns presently, and those responsible for industry marketing and advocacy need to step up. Our responses, rather than being well considered and proactive, have been reactive with the inevitable consequences. You cannot easily replicate a service such as that provided by Cathay who commenced with twice weekly triangulated services and now provide 4 services weekly overnight as suggested by others. This is an airline which has survived the commercial highs and lows and loyally supported the destination through the GFC and SARS. We will learn again as a City the necessity to value who our partners are, and the markets we have, and the need to nurture and foster them and to stay connected.

There is increasing pressure being placed on our ongoing international services by the powerful forces of Brisbane Airport and it is time for a more activist approach to the marketing and positioning of Cairns as the International Gateway to Northern Australia. The key to the confidence in the region is the delivery of those projects that are in the promised pipeline. Included in those is a potential freight hub at the Cairns International Airport to be kicked off via a $10M contribution from the State Government as well as the commencement of the long promised $175M upgrade of the Cairns Convention Centre in Q1 2020.

The Global Tourism Hub is currently spinning its wheels as the region awaits some positive indications of investor interest in the State Government Integrated Development process. Similarly it would appear that the proposed Nova 8 development is in a similar position as the proponent awaits the outcome of State Government deliberations on the GTH process. Thankfully the Crystalbrook developments are proceeding on schedule and providing the ray of confidence and sunshine in a somewhat confused economic landscape. Expect to hear a lot of the Team Queensland branding message in the months ahead as the pernicious influences of the State SE corner growth agenda is rolled out.

Already we have seen first-hand the extraordinary growth of influence being exercised by the Brisbane Airports Corporation and the Gold Coast Airport on the aviation landscape on the back of the successful Commonwealth Games of 2018 and now with an upcoming future Olympic bid by Brisbane. Whilst the State Government is talking up the regions for their domestic purposes, the proof for us will be in the pudding. Don’t expect an easy road ahead. For us it will be about the costs of doing business, our energy costs, our insurances, our water assets and the costs, the performances of our ports and airports, our hospitals and of course our logistic connectivity via our road and rail systems as well as the suitability and adequacy of our education and training systems to provide a ready work force.

Equally it is not all about the State. Since I last communicated we have had a Commonwealth election with the incumbent government returned and a State Government budget brought down last week. The stark reality is that we will need to continue our robust advocacy to ensure that promises made are promises to be kept. Our emphasis will be on holding people to account whilst at the same time providing some suggested solutions to grow our economies and opportunities across Northern Australia. You can see our current policy and infrastructure priorities 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.