1. Over the years what is the one thing you have come to appreciate about the city of Cairns?
Cairns is unique in Australia in that it is simultaneously a big regional town at its core and a small international city in its outlook. Other regional centres can lay claim to many of our benefits – relaxed way of life, superb climate, relatively low cost of housing and ease of getting around. But none can boast an international airport with a history of direct global access, a fistful of five-star hotels, a vibrant night life and a genuine global brand like we have right here in Cairns. These dual benefits have seen the modern Cairns emerge as an innovative, globally-focused city benefitting from being a significant exporter to the world (led by tourism) but at the same time retain its charm as a relatively remote centre proud of its significant role in the far north of Australia.
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?
Cairns has prevailed through a series of external shocks over the past 35 years – from the pilots’ strike of 1989, to the Asian financial markets crash in the late 1990s, the 9/11 terrorist strikes and collapse of Ansett Airlines in 2001, SARS in 2003, the Global Financial Crisis in 2008-09, the Aussie dollar surging through 110 cents US in 2011 and any number of natural disasters. The COVID-19 crisis is challenging us in an unprecedented way – indeed we are among the hardest hit regions in the nation, given the make-up of our economy. But the key message to remember here is the continued resilience shown by our business owners and operators over a long period of time and through many major disruptions. That spirit of ingenuity and determination will see many businesses pivot, innovate and in some cases completely re-invent themselves in the years ahead to re-ignite new growth opportunities.
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?
As the leading peak economic advocacy and economic development organisation in the region, Advance Cairns has been heavily involved in an array of initiatives to seek assistance for the region in response to the impact of COVID-19. We have been working in close collaboration with sister organisations Tourism Tropical North Queensland, the Cairns Chamber of Commerce and Study Cairns since the first COVID-19 wave hit pre Chinese New Year in January. Advance Cairns formed a 40-strong business reference group in early March which is playing a vital, ongoing role in informing what’s known as the Economic Response and Recovery Sub-Committee (ERRSC), one of two standing sub-committee established to provide advice to the Member for Leichhardt, the Hon. Warren Entsch, the Member for Cairns, Michael Healy, and the Mayor of Cairns, Cr Bob Manning, who jointly make up the Local Leadership Committee overseeing all levels of government response to the crisis. As executive chairman of Advance Cairns, I sit on the ERRSC which has been meeting regularly to put forward a raft of recommendations across three phases – business survival, short-term stimulus opportunities (2020 focus) and finally recovery and resilience (2021 and beyond). Much of the stimulus and recovery/resilience advocacy is centred around the Pathway to Prosperity manifesto Advance Cairns released last August – which is focused on driving much greater investment into health, education, water security, marine maintenance and road infrastructure as well as supporting growth in our biggest sector of tourism and aviation. These initiatives were front and centre when Advance Cairns, TTNQ and CCoC led the biggest ever business delegation to Brisbane in February known as the Cairns TNQ Convoy to Capital Q. We continue on a daily basis with dialogue to representatives from local, state and federal government seeking further support to rejuvenate our economy.
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?
While the Advance Cairns team has continued working throughout with a mixture of in-office as well as at-home, the one thing about self-isolation I have enjoyed is working on our farms on the Atherton Tablelands. We live on one property near Yungaburra and have another at Tarzali so the fact that weekends are free from many of the usual interruptions/travel etc has meant much more time to dedicate to farming activities.