Far North Queensland has missed out on several mega-projects but did secure other important commitments in last night’s Federal Budget.
Extra funding to address doctor shortages, further upgrades to key highways, support to revive international tourism and Defence investment in Cairns were highlights specific to this region.
Broader national programs also set to benefit the region’s business and industry include the fuel excise cut, extra incentives to take on apprentices and tax breaks to SMEs looking to bolster their digital capabilities.
However, the Budget did not include major infrastructure projects sought by the region including upgrades at the Cairns port ($300-$400m project), a new CBD campus for CQUniversity ($50m) and urban water security for Cairns ($215m).
Advance Cairns chairman Nick Trompf said the Budget had a heavy emphasis on addressing cost of living pressures through initiatives such as the fuel excise cut, tax breaks for middle and low income earners and one-off payments to specific demographic groups.
“With an election less than two months away, it was always expected the Federal Government would focus on addressing the inflationary pressures now in the economy, so these measures came as little surprise,” Mr Trompf said.
“But in other parts of regional Queensland the Budget had funding for mega-projects such as Sunshine Coast rail ($1.6bn), upgrade of Gold Coast light rail ($1.12bn) and the Hells Gate dam inland of Townsville ($5.4bn),” Mr Trompf said.
“Disappointingly, we missed out on our big headline announcements, although it should be recognised that the far north is soon to enjoy the benefits from previous advocacy wins led by Advance Cairns such as road upgrades to Cairns’ southern access ($600m+), Captain Cook Hwy ($287m), Cairns Western Arterial ($240m) and the Kennedy Developmental Road ($120m).
“Similarly, work is now starting at James Cook University’s site in Northern Cairns using the Federal Government’s $60m towards the Cairns University Hospital precinct.”
Highlights from Advance Cairns advocacy included in the 2022-23 Budget include:
Defence – $70m for the Cairns Regional Maintenance Centre, $15m for HMAS Cairns refresh, $4m for army boat building contract and $918m to build 12 Offshore Patrol Vessels, four of which are to be based in Cairns
- Health – $99.3m for 80 extra Commonwealth Supported Places for medicine students in rural and remote areas
- Tourism – $15m for marketing to attract international tourists to this region
- Roads – a further $31.6m towards upgrading the Gulf section of the Savannah Way and $68.5m for the next stage of the Peninsula Development Road
Mr Trompf said a number of other funding pools had been created which provided real opportunity for the far north to capitalise.
- An extra $380m in the Northern Australia Roads Program
- $880m more for Roads of Strategic Importance
- $100m extra for the Export Market Development Grant program
- $2bn in a Regional Accelerator Program across a range of sectors including education infrastructure and manufacturing
Mr Trompf said: “The far north still has excellent prospects to get on the front foot to secure funding from these pools for much-needed infrastructure.
“Our focus will now turn to the imminent election campaign where we will be seeking to secure further commitments from the Coalition and ALP for the major projects which will drive growth in this region.
“For example, the ALP has already committed to CQU’s new campus so the onus is now on the Coalition. On the other hand, the Budget’s medical student CSP pledge provides Labor with the opportunity to go one step further and specifically allocate these to Cairns.
“Plus, we will be advocating hard to both sides of the House for the funding for the Common User Facility at the Cairns port, which will require $300-$400m in federal and state support, and continue our backing of Cairns Regional Council’s urban water security project.”