Glenys Schuntner (pt 1) Regional development: a north--east perspective

Uploaded by ABARESoutlook2012 on 03.05.2012


Good afternoon and thank you, Leigh, for the introduction.

I think Collene's act will be a very hard one to
follow and I must admit I'm sitting here green
with envy listening about royalties for regions but
we won't go there on that political tack right now but
maybe it'll come up in question time.

I guess from a North Queenslander you'd expect
us to stand up here and say well the North is
great we want a separate state.
But I won't be going down that path today but I do
hope to share with you some insights into the
North and why we believe there's a huge amount of
opportunity and why we believe a little bit more
attention could be afforded us up north but
also to be able to deliver for the rest of the country.

In terms of the North and by way of introduction of
RDAs you've heard from Glenys that it was a
government initiative a few years back to
establish the Regional Development of Australia
Committees around the country.
And in total there are 55 of which about six of
those are across the northern area covering the tropics.

And the part that I'll focus on a little bit more
is about the three RDA regions in the north of
the Queensland state.
Now in terms of the tropics and looking right
across the northern and the great focus that the
department has at the moment on office of
Northern Australia and everything north,
that area accounts for about 3 million square kms.
It's roughly 40% of Australia's land mass or
on international terms is equivalent to much of the
Southeast Asia region right to the north of us.
The world's tropical zone is significant in many aspects.

40% of the world's population live in the tropics.
80% of the world's biodiversity is in the tropics.
And 20% of the current world gross product is
generated in the tropics with significant growth ahead.

So as Professor Sandra Harding, the
Vice-Chancellor of James Cook University strongly
advocates, many of the world's most significant
issues such as health, environment,
economic development, development of governance
and judicial structures, education and increasing
expectations of the growing middle class all
play out in the tropical zone around the equator
and around our part of the world.
Northern Australia is a significant player in the
world's tropical zone and has opportunities to
develop collaborative partnerships to export not
only products and services but also know-how whether
that be through aid programs or through
commercial opportunities that will ever be increasing.

In terms of tropical Northeast Australia, if we
call it that in the terms of the northeast today,
roughly about 826,000 square kilometre area.
So once again a very vast area accounting for 48% of
Queensland or in national terms 11%.
It's a very diverse region.
If we look at in aggregate across my RDA region and
neighbouring RDA regions where several sectors hold
more than 5% of the employment in the region
such as retail, health and assistance services,
construction, public administration and safety
obviously on the back of strong government and
defence presence, accommodation and food
sector driven by tourism in the area,
very strong education presence with having our
own regionally-based university at JCU.
The mining sector of course and importantly for
many people here today agriculture which equates
to about 5.2% of our regional employment.
That is, about 16,000 people.
The agricultural sector in our region very strong as
you've heard today about the beef industry,
Luke and others who were presenting on that earlier
today certainly in terms of cropping,
there's large fruit production,
there's large vegetable production and of course
one of our biggest crops continues to be a strong
exporter in our forests and that's the sugar industry
with approximately 85% of our sugar going over overseas.

Of course on top of that there's other lifestyle
horticulture and cut flowers so it's a very
significant and diverse agricultural and grazing
sector that we have.
However when painting the picture of our region and
I think this goes back to Glenys' point before about
looking at the evidence behind any of the business
cases we've developed for our region,
one has to look further than the aggregate of a region.

We find even though at the high level our region is
very diverse.
It is also very different from one part to the other.
You can't aggregate and average out data in a lot
of cases.
So for a couple of points like that for example we
talk about population, it's about 818,000
across the northern Queensland region.
We'll be over one million by 2030.
So while that approximate you know density is about
one person every kilometre we have cities like
Townsville, 185,000 people but we have entire shires with
just 267 people in Mapoon for example,
so great diversity and spread and density of population.

Similarly, if we're also looking at unemployment,
a very critical factor when looking at economic
development in our region and others.
We have areas with 0.6% unemployment in Mckinlay
Shire now our chair and the mayor out there could
name every five of those, he knows the people who
are unemployed.
But in the rest of the region we've got very
varied statistics.
We have one part of the region to the south of us
which has, Woorabinda Shire has 71.5% unemployment.

So once again a 6.1% average will not give you
the picture of what the regional situation really is.

Similarly on education levels when you're looking
at schooling or whether you're looking at
post-schooling if you look at that when we're looking
at future labour force development we have areas
with only 8.2% achievement of grade 11 or 12, whereas that
is of course much higher in some of the
better-privileged city areas.
The same with post-secondary education.
So as you can see from those statistics one of
the important messages I'd like to leave with people
who work in research, look at our future policies,
look at our future investment in regional
areas, there's a lot of digging below the surface
to get to the real picture within a region.

In terms of our strengths in the North,
we certainly believe that one of those significant
strengths is water.
And obviously there's a lot of it and too much of
it around in Australia at the moment.
But this just as an example,
this is the Burdekin Dam which was one of the big
infrastructure projects of the '80s in Queensland.
Its area and capacity is 1.86 mega litres,
roughly equivalent to 4 Sydney harbours.
When it floods, Sydney Harbours flow over that
spillway every day.
It's significant in being able to open up over
103,000 hectares of farming land that survives
on that water.
It helps support the sugar industry,
vegetables, cotton and rice for example.
In the area we have significant rainfall,
obviously being in the tropics you would expect
that with a variety of different agricultural
lands and climates across the the region,
we have everything from shires with about
1,200 metres to other shires with 9.6 metres of average
rainfall so very significant figures in
terms of rainfall.
In terms of other advantages for our region
being in the tropical zone in the North obviously if
the climate that goes with that,
the fertile lands that go with that but also very
significantly for the whole of the North as was
mentioned in the beef strategy discussions this
morning, is our proximity to our major markets.
So for example to be able to access international
markets from the north of Australia and save several
days of shipping to save several thousands of
dollars of fuel costs and other costs,
you know there is a great advantage in getting to
market quickly and efficiently and effectively.

So for example we're blessed with ports in
Townsville, Karumba, Cairns,
and Abbot Point and others in the region.
It's also, I guess, one of the things that might not
be as well known of course is that in the North, NBN
rollout is occurring in a very significant way and
Townsville is one of the first release sites in
Australia, one of the first five in Australia
after Tasmania.
And it's not now on second release and quickly moving
into a mass release.
So we also believe in the North we've got an
opportunity not only to capture the opportunities
associated with high-speed broadband but also to play
a leading role in working with our neighbours around
the North to capture those opportunities and I'll
come to that further.
Of course we also pride ourselves in the great
lifestyle as everyone from everywhere in Australia
would say, they love their local area,
they love their lifestyle and that's a very loud
message when we go out as RDA and consult in our
communities, everyone wants to passionately
protect the lifestyle they have and continue to
improve on it.
And of course with that goes a great asset for
tourism whether you be in the Outback,
out the Isa and doing the mine tours or whether
you're on the Great Barrier Reef doing the
dive tours we're very well blessed with that.
In terms of going forward we have a lot of
challenges though and I won't be shy of those.
Certainly in terms of I mentioned before,
education skills, that's a significant area for us.
We need to be getting more of our kids into school
and better education levels achieved so that
we're competitive in the future.
Along with that goes the opportunity and the need
to be able to better engage in indigenous
communities for raising school attendance,
education opportunities and beyond that job opportunities.

And that's where we want to partner with the
government in closing the gap programs and the
private sector to see how we can try to really get
some of those programs leap-frogging and getting
some significant runs on the board.
In terms of that, the other challenge,
mining industry is huge in our region and I'll come
to that a bit more but in terms of that one figure
that's floating around is that we need another
35,000 workers in the next decade.
Where are they going to come from?
One would suspect the agricultural sector is
actually in very strong competition.
The agricultural sector in our region,
and I'm sure this is similar in others,
is already facing aging workforce;
children and youth leaving the farms,
not following on from their families and parents
and generations before them.
And so we have got some real challenges there in
addressing workforce for the whole community and in
particular I would say agriculture.

One of our most significant challenges
though is one of our biggest assets and that's water.

And here you can see a picture which we see all
too often and that is of closure of the Bruce Highway.
I've just put a few words up there,
I was trying to restrain myself in putting too many
words on slides but I did want to quote the RACQ and
the figures.
You just don't know I've made them up.
The Bruce Highway as reported here by the RACQ
in a short period of time was closed 530 times.
530 times between Brisbane and Cairns.
It is a national highway, it is an economic piece of
infrastructure in our country and yet it is
subject to that many closures in that short
period of time.
It is as RACQ have said, a national--
I'll add the word--national an embarrassment.
And it certainly wouldn't be tolerated in other
parts of the country so we do have some big
infrastructure needs and I would argue that the
transport situation while we are,
we're not doing too badly in some areas,
one of our biggest challenges I believe is
getting our infrastructure to the right productive
level it needs to be.
I think if we have the debate nationally as we
have been recently on productivity and the need
for productivity gains, right across the board,
infrastructure in transport would have to be
right near the top of that.
And there are certainly areas where we could be
saving our industries time and costs by fixing that
transport infrastructure.
Other areas that also need attention, I believe, in
our area up the northern area apart from the
coastal roads, other than the inland highways and
certainly the rail infrastructure and I'll
talk more about that Mount Isa to Townsville corridor shortly.

I've also mentioned telecommunications and the
opportunity arising from the National Broadband
Network and access to high-speed broadband.
I would say in that regard it's an opportunity that's
always also associated for us with challenge and I
guess we'll take the politics out of it.
We've got the attitude up north,
we're getting it, go for it,
take it, use it, regardless of what may
happen in the future.
We know there's often political debate.
We try to take that out of our equation and say
"How can we benefit from that?"
Our biggest challenge is also making sure we don't
have a digital divide.
We are concerned on two fronts.
One is that the broadband rollout plan is about
fibre to cities and some regional areas but it's
about fixed wireless and satellite to other areas.
Many of you in the room I think may actually be
lining up for satellite or fixed wireless.
Now that's great, the new rollout will actually
ensure everyone will get better speeds and access
and data capability than everyone has at present.
But what we are worried about is all the smart
technologies that are being designed for
telemedicine, telehealth generally,
also for education delivery,
is being designed around fibre optic speeds of 100
down and 20-50 up in terms of megabytes-per-second.
That's great if you're doing fibre-to-fibre connectivity.

But if you happen to be at the end of the satellite
or wireless solution, our concern--hasn't been proven
yet--but our concern is that some of these
solutions will not be fixing the tyranny of
distance of what the high-speed broadband should be
able to deliver.
So in that space our RDA and others are very
actively working in communities to see how we
can get the best solution possible.
How can we get people on to fibre optic rather than
have to take a second- or third-rate solution?
We understand the economics,
you can't put fibre optic down every laneway in
Australia but the very ones who will benefit the
most from high-speed broadband will be those
who are most remote, 1,000 kms from a service delivery
point of a government agency for example.
So we see that as one of the major challenges.
The other challenge is the digital divide from the
perspective of socio-economic status,
education levels and potentially a lack of
leadership in the local community.
We recognise that there are issues there about
sign-up to even current Internet and solutions for
accessing, sorry--telecommunication
solutions for accessing the Internet.