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.
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.
Well life has certainly not slowed down any and many chickens seem to be coming back to roost. There has been a gear change in the opposite direction to where we should be headed. Let’s deal with some of the issues of importance to us as we seek to grow our economic activity, our population and grow our regional influence.
First to some positive news. I was recently in Sydney alongside our foundation member Sea Swift attending the Bi Annual Pacific International Maritime Conference and Expo. This is a major international event and the clear message from that is the national shipbuilding project is underway and specific programs are proceeding and are on time. I attended a presentation where specific timelines for the delivery of naval vessels were provided which was very positive for Cairns as there was a commitment to major works at HMAS Cairns to provide improved capacity to homeport four Offshore Patrol Vessels as well as to commence work on establishing Cairns as a sustainment hub for navy defence assets. This is wonderful news and you can find a link to these new generation ships here: http://www.navy.gov.au/fleet/ships-boats-craft/future/opv This is all part of our changing strategic role within the context of our need to robustly engage with the region and underscores the importance of Cairns within the regional context. This should not be lost on Ports North who currently are invested in a strategic planning exercise looking at the growth options for the next 30 years. This is an important issue for the city and region. Enterprise North have collaborated with Sea Swift in developing a concept to address the strategic connectivity of the Port of Cairns. This concept answers many of the challenges and provides outcomes that if adopted will drive investment into port infrastructure. You can see it here: https://enterprisenorth.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/4c96d077a2e6ca52ff6af8e9e97d150d.jpg
The issues of aviation access to Cairns and the role of the Cairns Airport continues to attract attention and for all the wrong reasons. I write this in the midst of a never-ending promotion of Brisbane as being the only international gateway of any significance to Queensland. You all know how important our airport is to this region, the history behind the airport growth and development and the many thousands of jobs created over the decades as well as the crucial role it played in the “internationalisation” of Cairns. Our international connectivity over the past 10 years has declined sharply and the lack of any positive planning and aggressively going after market share by the current ownership has allowed our accessibility to be eroded and traffic flying over the top. Cathay’s imminent departure from Cairns after a 25 year sojourn is testament to what I am talking about. Our only response to this unhappy situation thus far is the odd announcement that the State Government is working its way through a business case that might lead to developing Cairns as a freight hub as well as frequent announcements from the Minister, Tourism and Events Queensland (TEQ) and Tourism Tropical North Queensland (TTNQ) that we are out there calling for expressions of interest from prospective airlines to fly here under some financial inducement afforded by the Aviation Attraction Fund. You can see some commentary about Cathay leaving here: https://enterprisenorth.org.au/the-cathay-announcement/
In the meantime, the Cairns Airport is continuing to invest in domestic facilities to largely cater for outgoing traffic and to create an airport “destination” along the lines of other major airports that are considered hubs and distributers. Whilst we wish the airport well with the investment, what Cairns needs above all is some pretty immediate investment into a warts and all analysis of our limitations as an international airport and our capacity to develop into a feeder destination and establishing again our primacy as the international gateway to Northern Australia. This is our aviation challenge. You can view an interesting video here: https://www.youtube.com/embed/VGFCh0oHzEs and an interesting and exciting, but now abandoned development plan here: https://www.cairnspost.com.au/business/20-year-1b-cairns-airport-expansion-could-be-fasttracked/news-story/862caeba6f5f7a2de5d19e967e9cf469
So, what has happening with Nullinga Dam? Nothing pretty well. Many promises, much talk, lots of excuses, much hand wringing and some lame attempts to holding people to account. Let’s go back a bit. “Nullinga” has been around for decades and represents planning for and providing a regional bulk water source for urban and agriculture use and if done properly represents an investment in drought mitigating infrastructure. The Federal government put $5M on the table in 2016 for the State Government to spend on studies coordinated by Building Queensland (BQ). Three years later the activity came to nothing and again the region was dudded. At this point the Cairns Regional Council (CRC) assumed responsibility to run an advocacy agenda to the State Government to review and overturn the BQ recommendations and to take the opportunity presented again by the Federal Government with the new dams infrastructure fund to commit to the project. All industry advocacy organisations were requested to get behind the advocacy approach being championed by the CRC. We took them at their word and agreed. Letters have been circulated to the State Government and the Opposition but we have not been advised of a response. A similar proposal was made to Enterprise North (EN) regarding the advocacy for the funding required to increase capacity on the Kuranda Range Road (KRR) which will be run by the Mareeba Shire Council and because of its regional importance on behalf of the Regional Organisation of Councils (ROC). We are yet to hear anything on that score. Lack of action on the KRR is now impacting on development to the west of Cairns and will increasingly impact on the growth and development on export opportunities of our horticulture industries to the west as well as our connectivity to Cape York. You can see some commentary on the issue here: https://enterprisenorth.org.au/budget-2019-response-road-funding-welcome-in-federal-budget-but-little-else-to-crow-about/ These are important projects for the region and Northern Australia. They are at the forefront of our Infrastructure and Policy Manifesto that you see here: https://enterprisenorth.org.au/enterprise-north-infrastructure-and-policy-manifesto-2018/ The advocacy for these projects requires vigilance and review and needs to be constant. A reminder of what we are advocating for can be seen here: https://enterprisenorth.org.au/ouragenda/
There is some welcome positive news around visa and regional migration and our thanks go to the office of Warren Entsch MP and his staff for their positive responses as well as some good work done by the Cairns Chamber of Commerce. In short there are many more employment categories liberalised to allow flexibility for both the hospitality and horticulture industries as well as providing some real incentives for migration to the regions. One of the key reasons for driving our establishment was to advocate for population growth across Northern Australia and the recent designation of Cairns for a FNQ Designated Area Migration Agreement (similar to Darwin) provides us with the flexibility we need. You can read more here: https://www.cairnschamber.com.au/fnq-dama
We will be hearing more in coming months about the need for a comprehensive visitor levy for the city and region. We simply cannot compete against the might and weight of our competitors in the SE Corner. The Gold Coast and Brisbane beat us at every turn and it shows. This issue has been discussed with a degree of indifference over many years and in October 2017, the Cairns Mayor flagged the levy along with the support of a similar organisation to Brisbane Marketing to be established under the auspices of the Cairns Regional Council. It appeared the time had come at last to shift the dial and get on with it. I understand that conversations are going on as to how this might be implemented but the incontrovertible fact is that what is needed to compete adequately against the southern opposition is beyond the reasonable capacity for the Cairns ratepayer and businesses to absorb solely and will require some robust advocacy to get to a solution. You will see a copy of my recent correspondence to the Mayor on the issue here: https://enterprisenorth.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/6Sept19Levy.pdf
You will have heard recently at the establishment of the Cairns Tourism Industry Association (CTIA). I was approached by a number of industry figures to advise and assist on a strategy to counter the declining influence of Cairns based businesses within the regional tourism organisation Tourism Tropical North Quewensland (TTNQ). Added to this were growing concerns by those invested in the industry of the declining visitor numbers broadly and the general confusion of the marketing approach of TTNQ, the poor perception of the Great Barrier Reef and the lack of any counter argument as to its health and wellbeing and a lack of aviation focus amongst other things. In short there was declining focus on Cairns. From those discussions and the media interest that you can see here: https://enterprisenorth.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Cairns-Weekend-Post-March-16-2019.png along with the very public issues of aviation access. A decision was taken to establish the CTIA. The detailed reasons for this step are described here: https://enterprisenorth.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/CTIA.pdf which explains my role in it. I am currently investing time and energy (not to the detriment of EN) in the set up of the CTIA which I view as an investment in strengthening the industry and any positives in this approach compliments the activities currently undertaken by EN in regional growth and development agenda across northern Australia.
There is ongoing commentary in the State regarding how regions are being allowed to fend for themselves in the absence of definitive and factual statements on infrastructure and service delivery. Once again promises are made but seldom kept and there is a widening gulf between levels of government regarding previously agreed levels of responsibility and accountability as well as COAG agreements and who is driving the bus …..drought/water issues, health and connectivity being some of the standouts and as we focus on LG and State elections in early and late 2020 respectively these issues will in focus . Additionally, the vexed matter of climate change and the absurd positions claimed by some in the discussion that is impacting on regional performance. This article earlier this week is evidence of sorts of activities that will have dire consequences on our regional economies should they be implemented: https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/politics/classified-queensland-plan-to-close-down-coalmining/news-story/0d7cbd5a2c7d7bc004557c801194dc13
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-151019
Enterprise North Inc.
Social Media Messaging
The challenge for any 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.