As we approach the Federal election, there is no better time to attract the attention of our national leaders and to highlight what could be achieved in Cairns with some investment from the top level of government. You might recall that it wasn’t that long ago that the idea of rebalancing the ledger in terms of Northern Australia was in vogue.
Cairns is the regional capital of Tropical North Queensland and is a strategic gateway to the Pacific, Asia and beyond. It’s home to a resident population of 165,000 people in Cairns itself, or 250,000 in the Cairns (SA4) region. In addition, on any given night, up to 30,000 visitors may be sharing our piece of paradise.
Cairns is one of the largest and most dynamic regional cities in Australia. With world-renowned natural assets, unique liveability and solid economic fundamentals, it’s no wonder people want to live and invest here.
Cairns’ population growth (2.3% per year in the 15 years leading to 2016) far exceeds the national growth rate. Significant private investment and renewed business confidence in recent years has also led to a reduced unemployment rate, currently sitting at 6.4 percent (Nov 18).
With all this in mind, it’s time for the Federal Government to recognise our region’s achievements and its potential.
Cairns is strategically positioned to support the Federal Government’s Northern Australia agenda, although this agenda seems to have disappeared from the TV screens of late. The region also has an important role to play in alleviating the pressures being experienced in some of the nation’s metropolitan cities – largely as a result of population growth and migration. But to enable Cairns and the broader TNQ region’s enormous potential to be realised, investment both in policy and infrastructure is critical.
We sometimes feel that we in Cairns are victims of our own success. The people of Cairns have worked hard to diversify and strengthen our economy and to attract private investment. As a result, both levels of government have taken a step back and left us to support ourselves. While we’re flattered by this sentiment, it’s time to get the support we believe we have earned.
Federal Government investment in the Cairns region will not only support the local community but will deliver benefits for Northern Australia and the nation as a whole.
Investment should be in the context of a broader regional strategy to ensure initiatives complement and contribute to the realisation of a long-term vision. With this in mind, and as I mentioned in my first Connect Cairns column, Cairns Regional Council and key regional stakeholders have worked closely together to develop the Cairns 2050 Shared Vision which summarises the key projects we are all working towards. All of our election priorities are contained within this “vision”.
In this election year, we are calling on the Federal Government and Opposition parties to commit to priorities such as:
Reef and Rainforest Management and Funding
Commitment to undertake a detailed independent review of Great Barrier Reef (GBR) and Wet Tropics Rainforest (WTR) management structures with a view to achieving consolidation and simplification (including consideration of the establishment of an independent World Heritage Commission); and GBR/WTR funding (quantum and structure) requirements for long term management and preservation.
Commitment to the expansion of HMAS Cairns and ancillary facilities (including specific funding allocations) as well as commitments to undertake naval maintenance activities in Cairns. Investment should be adequate so that the region is appropriately placed to respond to the emerging geo-political situation to our North, through the posting of major fleet units to the HMAS Cairns base. This level of expansion will have significant flow on economic benefits, and support skill development in the marine maintenance sector.
Commit $350 million towards the establishment of Nullinga Dam to support agricultural development on the Atherton Tablelands and also support the long term urban water security needs of Cairns.
Cairns Gallery Precinct
A $13.3 million contribution towards the estimated $39.8 million capital cost of the project (encompassing the heritage-listed Cairns Court House, Cairns Art Gallery and Mulgrave Shire buildings and a new contemporary exhibition centre).
Cairns Road Network
Extension of the National Land Transport Network to Smithfield and funding commitments to deliver capacity improvements on this key road corridor and $800 million towards an estimated $1 billion project to resolve safety, capacity and reliability issues on the Kuranda Range Road and to enable the road to deliver significant economic benefits for the broader TNQ region.
University Facility Development
Funding commitments to deliver James Cook University’s Enterprise Bundle projects and CQUniversity’s Cairns Campus and Community Impact Plan.
University Hospital status for Cairns Hospital
Funding commitment for land acquisition and facility development for a research institute that will support Cairns Hospital achieving university hospital status.
Commitment of resources and funding to undertake the feasibility and business case work required to establish the viability of a variety of renewable energy projects so that there is adequate investment in to a sustainable, strategic and long term energy security plan
Aviation Route Development
Establishment of a $100 million International Aviation Attraction Fund (similar to the Queensland Government’s Attracting Tourism Fund) to assist regional/non metropolitan Australian airports, including Cairns, in securing new direct international routes for tourism development, and working closely with the Cairns Airport and wider tourism industry.
City Deal for Cairns
Commitment to establish and implement a City Deal/City Partnership for Cairns in conjunction with the Queensland Government and Cairns Regional Council to support the implementation of the Cairns 2050 Shared Vision.
To read the Cairns 2050 Shared Vision, the foundation from which we will be advocating to all federal candidates in preparation for the upcoming federal election Connect cairns.qld.gov.au/vision2050