When Australia was created in 1901, Rockhampton was the third biggest city in Queensland - 4 per cent of Queenslanders lived here. Today we are just the 8th biggest town and less than two per cent of Queenslanders live here.
We should have a much larger population in Central Queensland given our abundant natural resources. The mighty Fitzroy River is the second largest water catchment on our east coast, behind only the Murray-Darling.
Yet there is just one major dam in it (the Fairbairn at Emerald). The coal and gas resources inland of Rockhampton are some of the richest in the world yet most of the royalties from there ends up building rail lines and tunnels in Brisbane.
We have some of the most beautiful coastlines and islands in the world yet in the past 15 years two major resorts have shut. And, of course, we have just seen our daily newspaper stop printing so it is great news
that a new one has gone to print so quickly.
There is more hope that the next decade will see Rockhampton and Central Queensland return to its rightful place as a centre of opportunity. The Adani Carmichael mine is finally going ahead. Rookwood weir is being built. Defence upgrades at Shoalwater Bay are bringing $1 billion of investment to the region, much of it to local businesses. And, the new Rockhampton Ring Road is the biggest government funded project in regional Queensland.
There is now a pipeline of work that will create thousands of jobs over the next decade. That will give people the confidence to move to and invest in our region. Many of those projects are the result of the political voice that the Rockhampton region has found over the past decade. For the first 100 years or so of Australia this area was a safe Labor region and it struggled for political attention. Today it is a battleground contest and that helps keep the focus on Central Queensland.
At some point, however, we should take the next step in our political maturity. Why is it that our region continues to be governed by a small corner in the south east of our state?
North Queensland today has 1 million people, double the population of Tasmania. Our economic output is 40 per cent higher than that of southern Queensland. Why don’t we create a state of North Queensland and run it ourselves?
A new NQ state would mean we would control how the coal, gas, bauxite and copper royalties are spent. A new NQ state would mean we could demand that the headquarters of the mining companies move offices to where the mines are, bringing thousands of well paid, professional jobs to our region. A new NQ state would give regional Queensland a voice at the National Cabinet table. Not a single leader in National Cabinet lives in a regional town.
More important than anything else though is that a new state of NQ would be pro-jobs, pro-farming and pro-mining. The Brisbane dominated Queensland Parliament is now focused on Brisbane issues like public transport (see the multi-billion dollar cross river rail project) not the development of our regions.
To take full advantage of our natural resources we need leaders that will build dams, cut out the red tape and create jobs. For those that say it can’t happen who would have thought Brexit would happen, who thought Trump would be elected? If we are determined to take charge of our own destiny there is nothing stopping us doing it.
In the Constitutional Convention debates of the 1980s, the Central Queensland Separation League moved a motion to retain the right of the Queen to separate a colony based on a petition from the residents of that area. This was in response to the strong desire at the time for Central and North Queensland to be separate states one day. Their motion failed but the Constitution does retain a section allowing for
the creation of new states. If we had created a new state years ago maybe Rockhampton’s population would not have declined so much in relative terms. We still have the power to push for a greater say in how our region is governed to grow for our future.