Saturday, March 19, 2011

Diversity.....and Cairns.

Every city in the world has an industry that it is built around. The infrastructure, businesses, even housing, are based around the main industry of that particular city. In Cairns, it's tourism.

The tourism industry has long been considered the focal point for any new developments, cash injections and future vision for the area.

Right now in this region we have the biggest unemployment rate in the country. We have huge companies burning out on a weekly basis, the latest being CEC. Almost all of our local construction companies have disappeared and the future of our city is looking grim.

There are some businesses that are thriving in the current climate. Most notably coffee shops and cafe's which are popping up every day and family hotspots such as Paradise Palms and Coconut Village. These are all examples of businesses that are working because of the local trade. They are always busy and the service and standards of products are high.

Restaurants, bars, retail outlets and other service industries are closing every day. New ones are not moving in to take their place. This lack of confidence in our region is causing headaches for the Council, the State and Federal Governments as they field constant questions from residents concerned about the future of their city. The answer is always the same. Diversify, diversify, diversify.

Should we prop up the tourism industry again and suffer the potential consequences the next time the global financial world hits a snag? Should we let the industry shrink further until it becomes a tiny part of the landscape? No, neither will work. The tourism industry has been a stalwart for Cairns and is a lucrative one when it's in full swing. With the tourism season fast approaching, now is the time to invest in the future possibilities.

Tourists are jaded. They want to see things they can't see anywhere else and do something they have no opportunity to do anywhere else in the world. The success of shows like 'Man v's Wild' is testament to the adventurous ideals that so many people have. Cairns could quite easily become the 'Adventure Playground' of the country. It would not be too difficult to make harmless fun a little more sinister and attach some danger and excitement to it. I can guarantee that people from all over the country, and the world, would flock here for the experience of a lifetime. The beauty of the region and the stunning views of the Barrier Reef used to thrill, but the population is not interested in such 'mundane' things these days. Fools they may be, but that's what's happening.

Meanwhile, back at the 'All the eggs in one basket' city formally known as Cairns, there needs to be real investment in this thing they bandy about so often. Diversity.

The Cultural Precinct is much maligned by the 'vocal minority' but the stark reality is that an investment of this scale in our city is long overdue. Spending the same money on bits and pieces throughout the area would not create anything worth noting at it's conclusion. The Precinct will employ the workers laid off by the collapse of our building industry. For a long time. The end result will be well used by large portions of the community. People are already lining up for sold out tickets to the Waifs, Billy Connolly, awards ceremonies, The Man in The Pinstripe Suit.....just to name a few from the past few months alone. A venue much bigger and a hell of a lot smarter will generate the same interest as the current facilities but have the capacity to hold them all! How can anyone deny that this will be a very useful part of our vision for the future?

The money is irrelevant. You can't keep stating that nobody is spending money in Cairns and the infrastructure is getting old, while businesses are failing...then baulk at a huge cash injection that will create jobs, industry and be well patronised. Diversity is the key.

Our arts community is large and the results speak for themselves. Using a decrepit old structure that seats only a few hundred in ugly surrounds they have consistently produced world class shows and performed the most beautiful music you are likely to hear anywhere in the world. Imagine what they could do with a facility this grand?

The building will also house a South Sea Islander exhibition space. This is a culture not explored much by locals but is right there on our doorstep. A space celebrating their history, beauty and future is a much needed and very welcome initiative from the Cairns Regional Council. Here comes that word again....diversity.

Then there is the final stage of development. Did someone say 'museum'? Really? But we have the tragic, tiny space in our city centre for that. It's small, yes. Nobody even knows it's there, yes. But it's got dedicated staff who work tirelessly to show the three people coming through daily the history of this region and of the people of Cairns. You know, the ones who made this town a city. Who grew the tourism industry and created the clever, artistic, progressive community we all know and love. Do they really need a bigger, better, more useful space to showcase this? Hell yes!

The museum is slatted to include a small theatre so that interested locals and tourists alike can watch old footage and documentaries on the early beginnings of our home. Worth it? Absolutely. And what do we call this initiative? Oh yeah, diversity.

Then there is the ecological side of our city. Having won awards in this area through accommodation sites, facilities such as Skyrail, the opening of Cattana Wetlands and sustainable Council practices, don't you think it's time we explored this further? What's wrong with injecting money into the future of this industry? We could design, develop and manufacture any number of ecological products with very little effort. Once again creating jobs, generating investment and creating a whole new focal point for Cairns. It's all about diversity.

With the current crisis in Japan highlighting the dangers of nuclear power, it's past time that our country spent real money on developing more sustainable and ecologically friendly power sources. In our region we have some of the brightest minds in this particular field and I am positive that with the future of our country as incentive (and funding) we could lure other bright sparks to us and create a think tank that could change the world.....and save it. If we spent the money on the manufacturing industry and it was viable and up and running, we could easily translate this from the 'think tank' to develop and manufacture the ideas coming from them, creating yet more jobs and perhaps ensuring future growth in our region.

There are many, many other ways we can diversify our region without having to change our way of life or who we are. The talk of moving Government Departments north to create another diverse option is a good one, but probably more suited to Townsville. They have the nuts and bolts in place and many industries that are not reliant on transient populations or international money chaos. Townsville diversified years ago and have proven that it works. You just have to make sure that the ideas you implement will work here. Not everything will.

The next thing on the agenda is the Community Consultation meeting to be held this coming Monday in the Council building at Spence Street from 10a.m. till 2p.m. If it's at all possible to attend I urge you to do so. Unfortunately at the moment, with the current consultation procedures being utilised by our Council....we have to go to them, they aren't coming anywhere near us. It's a shame but that's the reality.

Lets see where we are in 6 months time. Will we have chosen a design for our Precinct and be champing at the bit to get it started? Will we be announcing plans to open a centre for ingenuity somewhere in the region? Will we be starting to manufacture the first of many future ecological products that will change the way we live? Or......

Will we be ruing the lost opportunity to build a facility of world class standard while we sit in sticky seats at the Civic Theatre? Will we be despairing about the 200th business that has failed to make a profit and is announcing it's own 'fire sale' before liquidation? Will we be considering Nuclear Energy as a viable, sustainable method for powering our southern suburbs? Probably not the last one, at least I hope not.

What can we do to rebuild our city and to halt the constant collapse of all of our local business interests?.......Buy local......and DIVERSIFY!

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