Regional development

Economic opportunities abound for regional Queensland

Speakers at the eighth CEDA Queensland Economic Development Forum described a raft of opportunities across tourism, defence, agriculture and transport set to boost regional Queensland economies for years to come.

Delivering the event’s keynote address, the then Federal Minister for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government, the Hon. Dr John McVeigh, a Toowoomba native, said regional Queensland has a significant university sector, skilled workforce, high-quality education, good jobs growth and leaders with vision, dedication and entrepreneurialism.​

Dr McVeigh outlined the Government’s economic measures, including tax relief and budget reform, which, he said, was helping to boost regional economies.

The Government, he said, has a plan for a stronger regional Australia with an outlook of at least 10 years.

Dr McVeigh said a key plank in the Government’s plan for regional Australia was the creation of jobs, particularly in the private sector, through the $220 million Regional Jobs and Investment Package, which is harnessing projects in regions that have significant opportunities.

In regional Queensland, he said, there were opportunities for jobs in tourism, transport hubs and new manufacturing.

Public service job opportunities will also be boosted in regional Australia through the Government’s dedicated plan to decentralise public sector jobs away from Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne.

Possible new trade deals with Europe and a post-Brexit UK could also provide opportunities for farmers and regional manufacturers, he said.

Dr McVeigh said opportunities would also come through partnerships.

“I talked about governments working with the private sector. Equally we need local government working with state government, working with federal government irrespective of the politics of the day,” he said.

Dr McVeigh reminded those present that Brisbane, along with other significant centres, owed much of its success and opportunities to regional Queensland.

An entirely new industry for Australia

Rheinmetall Defence Australia Managing Director Gary Stewart told the forum the Germany-based company was in a fortunate position to be part of creating an entirely new industry in Australia.

And, he said, that industry will become an enabler for Australian defence capability, an exporter of defence technology and an employer of youth in design and manufacture for years to come. Much of that activity will come from Rheinmetall’s new base at Ipswich.

“Without doubt we are right now in the largest uplift and investment in defence capability in Australia in a generation, across all of our domains whether it’s sea, land, air or cyber,” Mr Stewart said.

He said there has also been a strengthening of federal public policy in this regard that has provided impetus for Australia to reach its global potential for design, manufacture and development of defence industry products and services.

There has also been recognition at a state level that defence industry is a key enabler for employment, investment and economic growth, he said.

“We now see a state and national policy and investment framework in which industry can play its role to build an enduring sovereign industrial capability," he said. 

“It is, in short, a great time to be working in the defence space here in Australia.”

Mr Stewart said Rheinmetall is currently half way to delivering 2500 high-mobility protector trucks to the Australian army that are being finished and delivered from Wacol in South-East Queensland.

In addition, he said Rheinmetall will build 211 Boxer combat reconnaissance vehicles for the Australian army with potential for export opportunities.

He said defence is one of the areas in which we can create better paid and highly skilled jobs in regional towns.
He noted the establishment of Rheinmetall’s regional centre of excellence at Ipswich that will be operational in 2020.

“Australia has all the ingredients for a strong, resilient and enduring international global industry that can compete and win on the global stage,” he said.

More investment needed in agriculture

Laguna Bay Pastoral Company Chief Financial Officer, Zoe Kenneally said Australia has a natural advantage in producing many exportable agricultural commodities and meeting a global demand that is now outstripping supply.

“Australia is really in the box seat when it comes to capitalising on our natural, geographical and expertise in the agricultural industry,” she said.

She noted a National Farmers Federation goal to grow farm production from $60 billion to $100 billion by 2030.

“This won’t be achieved without significant investment into this sector, especially given already high levels of efficiency and sophistication of many Australian farmers,” she said.

“It’s clear there is increased demand for product, but we need more capital to grow.”

However, she said, 95 per cent of Australian farms do return the minimum $2 million per year on investment that most investors expect to see, effectively ruling them out of institutional investment.

She said Laguna Bay has designed a joint venture model of investment that has enabled many young farmers to keep their family farm and the company has had great success with this model.

Finding the right asset and then finding the right partner to operate your asset is very important, she said.

Sealink’s growth beyond South Australia

Sealink Non-Executive Director, Terry Dodd, recounted Sealink’s expansion from South Australia where the business began operating ferries to Kangaroo Island.

He said Sealink investors sought to expand beyond South Australia to ensure growth of the business and were able to capitalise on the many opportunities available in Queensland.

Sealink acquired businesses operating services to North Stradbroke Island and in Gladstone, Townsville and Kingfisher Bay.

He said Sealink is now a top 300 publicly listed company with consistent dividend growth.
In 2018 the company has 1600 staff including 400 in Queensland, he said.

Following the forum presentations, Minister McVeigh, Mr Stewart, Ms Kenneally and Mr Dodd took part in a moderated panel discussion. They were joined on the panel by University of Southern Queensland Institute for Resilient Regions Executive Director, Professor John Cole OAM; ConocoPhillips President-Australia East, Wendy King; and Queensland Airports Limited CEO, Chris Mills.