North Queensland based Labor Senator Jan McLucas recently lamented the rivalry between Cairns and Townsville and called for more cooperation between these two great northern cities (Cairns Post, 25/5/2015) – I agree.
Many politicians from Townsville and Cairns, of all levels and persuasions, have wasted time on it. It’s a pity Senator McLucas’ article, having made a sound point, then descended into a political response to the Federal Government’s current focus on developing Northern Australia.
The $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility will be informed by the Abbott Government’s Northern Australia White Paper. The Commonwealth is supporting a strategic plan, with a complementary funding program and it’s time for Labor to put politics aside and give credit where it’s due.
With this commitment to Northern Australia, opportunities and strategies to develop North Queensland will come into focus. I’m hoping the Northern Australia White Paper and the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility looks beyond the old two-dimensional axis involving Cairns and Townsville.
The Hinchinbrook Electorate runs from the northern suburbs of Townsville to the southern boundary of the Cairns Region. It includes a number of local communities that have been disadvantaged by the domination of Cairns and Townsville in North Queensland’s development agenda.
The economic development opportunities of Cooktown and Cardwell, Mount Isa and Charters Towers, Ingham and Normanton, Proserpine and Innisfail, Mareeba and Weipa, Bowen and Tully, Hughenden and Atherton, Cloncurry and Ayr, cannot be overlooked.
Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s important that Townsville, Cairns and even Mackay grow strongly. They are our major service centres and our supply chain hubs. They are also competing directly with Brisbane, Ipswich and the Gold and Sunshine Coasts for major infrastructure funding.
However, I feel strongly that developing North Queensland is as much about Burketown, Mission Beach and Richmond as it is about Cairns, Townsville and Mackay. Our regional economic advocacy groups need to pay attention and spread the benefit of this focus on the north.
There are many opportunities for economic development projects in North Queensland from minerals and energy, to tourism and agriculture. Anti-development green groups are a threat, but if governments have the courage to stand up to them, there can be a positive future for the north.