It is no secret that, over the past four or five years, under both state and federal Labor governments and a Labor dominated local government in Cairns, Cairns and the region have been struggling.
Labor continually argues that it is all about the global financial crisis, but unfortunately it is a lot more to do with the fact that there has been very little investment in the area from a government perspective.
There appears to be an absolute lack of vision. The region is heavily reliant on tourism and it has been suffering immensely, particularly given that the markets from which we take our tourists-Japan, the United States and Europe-have also been suffering.
There has been an effort to maximise opportunities in the region by building on the capacity that we already have, recognising that we have in the vicinity of 26,000 hotel rooms and a whole array of restaurants and other existing infrastructure and recognising that tourism tends to be seasonal, with the summer period being the down time.
The idea was born that we should look at setting our region up as the fourth tropical sporting capital in the world. At the moment there is Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Singapore; there is no reason why Cairns could not be the fourth. Over the next decade, many international events will be held in tropical areas. We already send many of our elite athletes into tropical conditions in these destinations for months at a time.
Through that concept the Cairns Business and Sporting Group was born. Members of the group include the General Manager of the Shangri-La Hotel, Rob Weedon; John O’Brien, a well-known Cairns citizen; representatives of the Chamber of Commerce; representatives from tourism; and representatives from hockey and all of the big sporting entities in town. The group worked on a framework to establish what we hope will eventually become the tropical campus of the Australian Institute of Sport. They spent close to 12 months on this project and came up with a comprehensive package.
The project was endorsed by the Queensland Chamber of Commerce, Advance Cairns and Tourism Tropical North Queensland. They all thought it was a great thing for us to strive for to start to make things happen. When the project was finished, as a courtesy it was passed on to council and they were asked to be involved in it. I was absolutely gobsmacked today to read responses from our loony left councillors-obviously one-term councillors.
Councillor Kirsten Lesina, who is going to be standing at the next state election, claimed that the group lied about projects, saying that they were ready for construction. Councillor Di Forsyth said they were a waste of councillors’ time and the mayor, Councillor Schier, said that it was a bit of a hodge-podge list. While she acknowledged the importance of upgrading facilities, she said that there was really nothing in there that was worth working for with the council.
I find that amazing, when the council, and these three councillors in particular, finds that the most practical way to try to create industry and opportunities for Far North Queensland is to try to get into the Guinness book of records for zumba and to try to create a ukelele festival.
The council has been absolutely focused on a performing arts precinct in Cairns, where at least half of the population is totally opposed to the idea of it, but it has locked in the money that is to be spent. At the end of the day it will accommodate something like a thousand patrons and will do absolutely nothing for the economy. Their comments are a slight not just on me, who strongly endorses this vision for a tropical campus for our athletes, but on all those well-meaning sports and business people who have put a lot of their own time into making this happen.