COVID-19 has hit our region pretty hard and will continue to do so for a long while to come. In response, Regional Development Australia Tropical North (RDATN) has devised a regional recovery strategy to ensure our region is in the best possible position as we move out of COVID-19 and into an uncertain economic future.
Recognising that water, roads and ports are the drivers behind our agriculture, tourism, education and small business sectors, RDATN has identified four priority infrastructure projects that build on existing industry and provide the greatest stimulus in the short term to kick-start our economy and create more than 3500 new permanent jobs for the region.
Construction of a 195,000 megalitre dam in the Lakelands Irrigation Area will increase the value of our regional produce by more than 50 per cent, create 1210 jobs during construction and a further 1144 on-going full-time positions in full operation. Conservative economic multipliers estimate the downstream per annum flow-through effect to be in excess of $1.5 billion and over 3400 full-time positions.
Improving and investing in the region’s road network is vital to connecting our region to its seaports, airports and southern markets and integral to regional growth. By improving road linkages between key areas such as Lakeland to Weipa, Cairns to Mareeba, Mareeba to Georgetown, as well as prioritising Ootann Road (a critical connector between the Burke Development Road and the Kennedy Highway to the south) we will ensure our region’s supply chain connectivity and provide links to agricultural precincts, port and the airport into our markets. We will also be improving passenger transport and supporting drive tourism across FNQ.
Investment in tertiary education to attract and retain essential skills in the region is integral to our economic growth. Construction of a purpose-built campus for CQUniversity would pave the way for additional courses to help meet the needs of our growing local community, address workforce skills gaps and build regional capacity.
Establishing the Cairns Gallery Precinct will provide a vibrant and expansive arts district, showcasing international and domestic touring exhibitions as well as contemporary local and indigenous art. It will position Cairns as the Arts and Cultural Capital of Northern Australia and create 177 jobs and $20.7m of economic benefits (GRP) annually.
The RDATN Economic Recovery and Reconstruction Strategy also considers the region’s infrastructure needs. Assessment of water security projects (such as Nullinga Dam and the Gilbert River Irrigation Project) and understanding the capabilities and deficiencies of our regional ports is vital to the future of our agricultural export industry. There are also new opportunities afforded to the region through the establishment of a Cairns-based Biosecurity (Irradiation) Treatment Facility to remove the need for FNQ produce to be transported to Brisbane or further south before being exported off-shore. Much of our locally grown produce is harvested, trucked to Brisbane, sold at market and re-transported to FNQ for distribution to remote communities. This can take up to two weeks. Under RDATN’s strategy, produce from Lakeland could effectively be picked, washed and treated in Cairns and back into remote communities within three days.
As the custodian of two World Heritage areas, FNQ has an excellent opportunity to further its clean and green image by becoming a trial site for a hydrogen-based hub. This is a natural extension of the abundant hydro and solar assets already existing in the region. The extensive cane train and cane-processing mill network is a good example of where this technology might be used in a practical sense, but opportunities exist in tourism as well. Imagine providing an additional visitor experience by transporting tourists to our natural attractions using renewably generated fuels.
There is a wealth of regionally significant and catalytic project plans across the region still looking to get started. Unfortunately, many are held back by red and green tape or a lack of funding to undertake the necessary studies required to attract finance. RDATN’s strategy seeks to remove these barriers, assist with project assessment and fast track the approvals process to get these projects started and our economy moving.
There are also those projects which have received funding or a funding commitment from government or other sources, such as expansion of the Cairns Convention Centre, to meet conference demand, the continuation of sealing works along the Peninsula Development Road to improve connectivity across Cape York and provide indigenous employment opportunities, delivery of the Cairns Marine Precinct and Lakelands Irrigation Area Scheme business cases to provide much-needed infrastructure and construction of the Wangetti Walking Trail, Queensland’s first purpose-built dual walking and mountain biking track in a national park to attract thousands of new tourists and inject up to $300 million into the local economy. RDATN recognises these existing opportunities and other proposed additional projects and aims to build on them through physical and economic connectivity.
RDA Tropical North has a clear focus to not only see FNQ through this crisis, but to ensure we leverage every opportunity to strengthen and grow our economy through the development of appropriate infrastructure and industry.
Regional Development Australia (RDA) is a national network of 52 committees made up of local leaders who work with all levels of government, business and community groups to support the economic development of their regions.