NORTHERN NEWS …growing Cairns and North East Australia May 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 May 2019 edition of HARD TALK. At Enterprise North we pride ourselves in our steadfast commitment to grow and develop the north of Australia and the past little while has presented some challenges. At times some of the conversations have become a little willing but we make no apologies for that. The link here to the Northern Australia economic snapshot from the Office of Northern Australia gives you some idea of what constitutes North Australia and you get an idea of the importance of where Cairns and the region fits into this narrative. Governments keep ignoring us at their peril.

Politically much has been said over decades about the importance of North Australia but in truth much of this is just lip service. Our part of the world has largely been ignored and continues to this day. Here are many of the issues that are largely being ignored across the board and require focus and remedial effort. Talk is becoming cheaper by the day here.

Issues of economic survival and growing our industries were in sharp focus with the announcement by Cathay that they were suspending operations on 27 October after continuous operations of 25 years into Cairns. You can see my response to our members here. A good number of people were saying that they were blindsided by the announcement which beggars belief as they should not have been across their brief. Cathay’s announcement was another of a list of announcements on international service withdrawals over the past 12 months that impact our region so surely there is something amiss. The glib responses by many whose responsibility it is to ensure that we maintain our international connectivity and to market and promote our city and region were breathtaking in their arrogance and ignorance. This airline has played a key role in our tourism growth and development linking us to Hong Kong and the wider world through their hub as well as providing worldwide freight connectivity so vital to our primary industries. In instances like this we need to be able to respond which we did and I am pleased we played a role in demanding some step up to their responsibilities. We are looking for a positive outcome here as it is vitally important that we keep our existing connectivity. You can hear what I said on the 7 News here and on 4CA here.

The current population growth numbers are not good and point to some serious issues in Northern Australia. We are faring better than most and so we should but the overall trend should send alarm bells ringing everywhere. Have a look at the graph here:

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.


Now this is not an aberration and has been coming for some while. So, what to do to fix it? Simply we need to stop promising and to start doing. We have listened to the usual suspects for too long. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Water. More storage is required and that means governments need to commit to building more dams. We are still awaiting the completion of a business case for the proposed Nullinga Dam some 3 years after commencement. Can this State Government be believed with the Building Queensland process? Pressure needs to be applied through the Regional Organisation of Councils through to the State Government to resolve this and make the decision. Commonwealth funding has been identified and the region demands the matter be resolved;
  2. Cairns Sea Port and the Cairns Marine Precinct. Forever the key pillar of our growth agenda, we are pleased at the recent announcement that Ports North are to proceed with the development of a strategic growth plan for the Cairns port within the next 12 months. This is years overdue and further points to the management neglect of our regional planning processes as well as key economic infrastructure assets. Where is the coordinated integration of the city and seaport interface since the adoption of the City Port master plan in 1995? Nowhere to be seen. Again a State Government issue and an agenda driven from Brisbane. You can see our previously announced suggestion here that might serve as a start to a more robust planning process. Many will recall the fanfare around the development of the precinct linking it the narrative around the promised expansion of HMAS Cairns to accommodate additional ships. This was the promised compensation for losing the BSE/Damen bid to build the new generation Pacific Patrol Boats (PPB program) to West Australia. The problem is that Defence are looking at the Common User Facility model that exists in WA and SA where Commonwealth marine facilities investment is open to multiple contractors on the one site. There is no space for this in the current Cairns Port configuration and there is resistance to this from the three existing private port lessee operators. Reason again for the Cairns Port to become proactive here. Cairns has been forced to go it alone for now with each private operator forced to carve out their own piece of the marine maintenance pie. Unless this is resolved, it is not likely that the Commonwealth will invest in essential infrastructure to fund private operators on state controlled land. The solution here rests between the State and the Federal governments and unless resolved soon we will see the opportunity lost again. This is a major strategic issue for Cairns and requires a robust response and involvement of the three levels of government. Yet another broken promise. You will find that in our previously submitted port precinct development plan that incorporates new wharves, a logistics hub, relocation of the fuel farm from the boundaries of the CBD, HMAS Cairns expansion options as well as expansions options to accommodate commonly used facilities and ship building options for the future.
  3. The University Scene. Cairns is currently home to two larger university campuses and a smaller Charles Darwin University campus. James Cook University has been operating in Cairns for 25 years and CQU who operate a CBD campus for the past 8 years. Despite lofty ambitions to develop Cairns as an education hub in the tropics, combining the university offerings along with TAFE and other VET sector participants, difficulties remain in attracting the numbers of students previously anticipated. Here again it is about how the city and the region presents to the outside world and the quality of the education institutions. Education Queensland works alongside the local Study Cairns education lobby group and if figures are any guide, then our share of foreign students continues to slide. A lot more work needs to be done in marketing the destination as a place to study, work and play;
  4. Agriculture/Horticulture development. Key to an integrated regional economy is the development of this sector that continues to attract private investment even in the absence of a coordinated and agreed infrastructure plan. We need to provide reliable and affordable base load power, affordable and reliable bulk water access, reliable road distribution networks and reliable and affordable access to the logistics network. Once again there exists a Tropical North Queensland Regional Economic Plan 2011-31 which lacks buy in (similar to the Developing North Australia Plan) but it is rarely referred to in the haphazard way we develop our resources. You can see the Our North, Our Future: White Paper on Developing North Australia with its many commitments.
  5. Tourism and marketing. There is much frustration within the industry. Destination marketing is multi faceted at the planning level but at the delivery level the message needs to be simple and effective. The reef is not dead and nor is it dying and nor does it need resuscitating. The visitation needs to be managed. Perhaps the last word on this should be left to the Editor of the Cairns Post, a relentless advocate for Cairns and the region “Our campaign highlighted three action points that could turn the dial — aviation attraction (even more important now), introduce a tourism levy and get back to good old-fashioned destination marketing, screaming Cairns as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. It’s May but are we in our action stations yet? Hell, we can even say Cathay is just unfortunate. But that’s not an option. We have serious problems that need to be solved by serious people now. This glorious region deserves that”.

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.