If Central Queensland were its own state, it would be the richest state in the nation. Central Queensland produces $40 billion of wealth for Australia every year, from a population base of just over 400,000. That’s an income per person of more than $100,000, double that of Tasmania.
A basic tenet of any successful business is to invest more where you already are good at making money. Clearly then, the business of Australia should invest more in Central Queensland.
Now is the perfect time to do that. When the mining boom was roaring it was hard for governments to construct roads or dams because they had to compete for scarce workers and scarce capital with a cashed-up mining sector. The cost of constructing infrastructure is already falling so now is the perfect time for the public sector to pick up the slack.
That is why the Australian government is investing record amounts in infrastructure. The last budget raised infrastructure spending by $58 billion over the next several years.
A few months ago, a group of Central Queensland politicians, myself, Michelle Landry, Ken O’Dowd and George Christensen identified that we needed to fight harder for CQ’s fair share of this funding. The region was doing it tough on the back of mine closures especially.
While the end of the mining boom creates real challenges, there are also opportunities. There are skilled workers available to build the infrastructure that would have been too costly to consider at the height of the boom.
As a team, we have scoured the region for infrastructure projects that are ready to go and will deliver for our nation. All up, we have identified $4 billion worth of projects. We will present these projects to an LNP Central Queensland policy meeting in Rockhampton today. This list of projects forms a testament to the wealth that this region already produces and the even greater wealth that it could produce in the future.
Dams are crucial for developing the CQ region to underpin future mining projects and to boost agriculture in the region.
Central Queensland has several suitable dam sites some of which could start tomorrow. The proposed Connors River Dam would store 373 gigalitres, cost $1.2 billion to build and already has state and federal environmental approvals. Approvals for the Nathan Dam, the expansion of Eden Bann Weir and Rookwood Weir are expected in the next year. The Urannah Dam proposal also has potential in the future to grow an important agricultural area of the state.
Rockhampton is already the beef capital of Australia but it could be the beef capital of the world with more irrigated agriculture providing more jobs in the fattening and processing parts of the supply chain.
Education is already a strength for Central Queensland but it too has the potential to grow. An Institute of Agriculture could build on the already strong agricultural record of CQUniversity.
Tourism is a source of massive untapped potential for Central Queensland. The Great Keppel Island revitalisation project, another project already with environmental approvals, would be fantastic for the region and a casino licence should be granted to it. If it went ahead it could prove a catalyst to bringing an international airport to Rockhampton. The development of the Yeppoon foreshore should also be a priority.
The challenges facing Central Queensland are a microcosm of those facing the nation. We have enjoyed more than two decades of uninterrupted economic growth. For the second part of that period we have grown rich on the back of higher prices for black rocks and red rocks.
In 2005, a shipload of iron ore could buy 2,200 flat-screen TVs. Today, the same ship of iron ore can buy around around 11,000 TVs.
That won’t keep happening in the future. To stay wealthy and to keep providing jobs, we must invest in those assets that will make us more productive.
Central Queensland is the perfect platform to build new, diverse and future opportunities. While there are a multitude of projects, they particularly concentrate around the cattle, tourism and education sectors.
A reef, beef and teach investment plan for Central Queensland can keep its status as an economic and jobs powerhouse for the next decade ahead.
This article was originally published in The Morning Bulletin 19 December 2014