Professor of Tropical Regional Development at The Cairns Institute, JCU
1. Over the years what is the one thing you have come to appreciate about the city of Cairns?
I grew up at Trinity Beach, went to Cairns High, and was away for over 20 years in my early career. This place is in my blood, both because of the people who call it home, the great industries we have and the stunning environment and diverse culture we live in. In troubled and good times, I’ve always felt that we live in a town with a very strong sense of place. We pull together in the hard times, and there are many leaders around town focussed on making the place even better in the good times.
2. The region has experienced many tough times throughout the years, but none quite like we are experiencing now. What is one message you would like to give to the people of Cairns at this uncertain time?
I am old enough to remember the Pilot’s Strike and more recently the Global Financial Crisis. COVID-19 is bigger and uglier – but we always can, and always do, bounce back. The impact and recovery from these disasters, however, can be made worse by some structural problems in our economy and the way the whole region works (i.e. from the Torres Strait to the Gulf to the Cassowary Coast). These include the lack of a clear “whole of region” vision for the future, limited planning for new agricultural development, infrastructure gaps, and significant energy and cost-of-living issues. I think it is important that we start planning for how we deal with some of these bigger picture structural issues now so that we are better positioned to bounce back post-COVID. This will mean working in new and more collaborative ways across industry sectors and with state and federal governments.
3. Leaders like yourself have united to fight for the region in what are unprecedented times – what role are you and your organisation playing in all of this?
Universities have a very important role to play during the COVID response and recovery. They play key roles in providing the evidence for good decision making and in lifting the capacity of decision making through quality education. Through my current appointment to the Advisory Committee to the Taskforce reviewing the Northern Australian agenda, I want to make sure that these key structural issues facing the future of our region are at the front and centre of the national response.
4. While there are many negatives about the current situation we all find ourselves in – what is one thing you are looking forward to doing while in isolation?
I largely have worked from home for the last 10 years, but the constant travel is a killer. Being in isolation with my partner Michele and with both kids back from Brisbane, COVID has in some ways delivered a blessing in disguise – together with the family in a great location with good internet!