Shameless self promotion laid bare

The attached advertisement in last Wednesday’s Cairns Post, pre prepared prior to the budget announcement of last Tuesday, needs to be called out for the nonsense that it is.

The advertisement claims to have delivered $658M of funding to the region. This is not the case as each undertaking is caveated by matching commitments from the State Government which is yet to be secured and not guaranteed. This is deliberately misleading and disappointingly quotes the Federal Member for Leichhardt claiming the ”pivotal role of Advance Cairns in securing these massive federal government commitments”. This is quite a stretch as nothing is yet delivered and won’t be until the rubber hits the road many years down the track. There is continuing chatter by some of the funding being for the magic pudding “Cairns ring road” solution to the traffic issues of the northern beaches suburbs. The $287M Captain Cook Highway extension is to extend the national highway from its current end point at Comport St in the City to the Smithfield roundabout. This is an extension of the national highway only.

The article in The Australian at the link explains more of the detail of the funding and the political rationale behind it. You will see here that the Federal Government announced a $100B, 10 year infrastructure funding package from which these road funding announcements will come should the government be returned. They are not yet legislated so are not secured as claimed. Now our region accounts for 1.1% of the country’s population, so on a per capita basis our entitlement should be expected to be $1.1B. $577M is a good start but there should be much more to come. This funding announcement had absolutely nothing to do with the Canberra convoy as claimed. This graphic in the Australian article explains it.

This series of missteps has proven yet again the political partisan nature of some of our regional advocacy around the big ticket items. The claims made by Advance Cairns are not only wrong and mischievous, but completely ignore the many other advocacy efforts undertaken by the regional mayors who travel to Brisbane and Canberra on a regular basis and the efforts of other regional organisations such as Enterprise North which play a similar and complimentary role to other advocacy efforts including those of Advance Cairns. Each and every election cycle we are faced with the same conundrum. Why is this so? The answers are many and include organisation structural and governance matters, but essentially they talk to the shameless self promotion by the executive of Advance Cairns who consistently align their advocacy efforts to the politically connected option. Advance Cairns, which I had a role in founding in late 2000, is now an organisation so politically beholden and aligned, it is seen by many as an extension of the office of the local Federal Member. In the past two years it has lost the funding and membership of the Cairns Regional Council and the Regional Organisation of Councils and we have been witness to the embarrassing spectacle of the Chairman’s recent behaviour implicating himself in a thwarted attempt to obtain a $2.4M taxpayer funded grant under the Commonwealth Government Regional Jobs Investment Program. Any claim to fearless, apolitical and robust advocacy on behalf of the self proclaimed “peak independent non government advocacy organisation” has been laid bare.

Advocacy successes for big ticket expenditure for the city and region are very welcome and are usually hard won. Whilst last week was all about “congestion busting” road infrastructure, there should be more. There was great expectation three plus years ago that we were all but “guaranteed” the Pacific Patrol Boat contract to a Cairns based consortium, only to be disappointed. We were never in the race as it turned out, but were assured as the second prize that we would get the better end the deal by having the ongoing naval maintenance contracts awarded to Cairns. Now three and a half years down the track, and after numerous pronouncements since, there is ongoing silence.

It is not unreasonable to seek the continuing commitment to the Marine Maintenance Facility of which only $24M of a previously “promised” funding package approximating $150M has landed. Further it is not unreasonable to request confirmation of the proposed continuous rollout of a $300M+ upgrade to the facilities at HMAS Cairns. Similarly, we ask where is the commitment to Nullinga Dam as part of the $1.4B national water storage fund to support the growing urban and northern agriculture demand, and where is the support for improved railway connectivity as part of a northern logistics and connectivity plan. On the policy front, business and industry will continue to struggle to contain costs around power, fuel, water, immigration and workforce issues as well as exorbitant insurance costs unless these issues are attended to by government. There continues to be little progress on the broader Northern Australia growth agenda discussion despite the region providing 10.7% of the nation’s GDP with 5.2% of the population across 40% of the national landmass.

Northern Australia matters to us and the economic wellbeing of the communities matters, so it is the responsibility of all involved to advocate with integrity and credibility alongside others who are similarly committed, and that includes our local government regional leadership. Our effectiveness is enhanced with less one upmanship and more truth.