Now or never to keep our Coasts afloat

 

Girt by sea, and with resident populations invariably genetically blessed, the Gold and Sunshine coasts are at the economic crossroads.

They have always been a magnet for tourists and those wanting to escape the rat race for a life of sun, sand and surf.

Yet with the impact of COVID-19 hitting hard, both have enormous challenges, particularly for those relying on the tourism industry.

Other sectors are flying, including the property industry, which can't keep up with the demand from mostly Victorians keen to escape the Andrews dictatorship.

The reality for Queensland is that the Gold and Sunshine coasts will continue to play crucial roles in the overall health of the state's economy.

When they are doing well, Queensland is punching above its weight on the national stage.

The fact that international tourists will likely not be seen in either region for at least another 12 months adds another layer to the conundrum.

Sabella Mitchell 10, Beau Barnes 9, and Nash Mitchell 9, from Brisbane enjoying some beach time at Cotton Tree on the Sunshine Coast. Picture: Lachie Millard
Sabella Mitchell 10, Beau Barnes 9, and Nash Mitchell 9, from Brisbane enjoying some beach time at Cotton Tree on the Sunshine Coast. Picture: Lachie Millard

With growing pains comes the inevitable strain on roads, schools and overall liveability.

The Gold and Sunshine coasts need to convince those who come to visit that they are great places to live, not just holiday.

As Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate says just about every day, he wants his city to be a place where local families can be confident that their kids will have jobs in the future.

That means creating industry beyond tourism. It means embracing the possibility of southeast Queensland hosting the 2032 Olympic Games.

As Brisbane Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner says: "Our battle-worn state needs the jobs bonanza that would come from fast-tracking infrastructure, delivering vital roads and transport upgrades. It needs the economic stimulation that a decade-long run to the 2032 Games would guarantee Queensland.''

That means the Morrison and Palaszczuk governments must get fair dinkum about infrastructure provision. Our skies need to be reopened. Tourism will only again start to thrive when domestic air travel is up and running.

The Sunshine Coast appears in a stronger position than the Gold Coast to emerge from its post-COVID-19 economic funk.

The Sunny Coast is on the cusp of a major boom and legislators need to start thinking about tangible transport options to cater for the growth.

A heavy rail line into the Sunshine Coast is now not just a matter of if, but when, considering the increase in activity, particularly around Maroochydore.

The upgrade to the main arterial road network is also seen as paramount because congestion and traffic snarls on the Bruce Highway, especially at weekends, are a disincentive for people wanting to work and holiday on the Sunshine Coast.

There are several key projects that are about to set a flame under growth and prosperity on the Sunshine Coast.

Last week, the local council entered into a development agreement with the Walker Corporation to build the Maroochydore City Centre on a 53ha greenfield site, known as the Horton Park golf course.

Walker Corp will spend $2.5bn to deliver 160,000sq m of commercial and retail space and 4000 residential apartments during the next two decades.

It is estimated that the Maroochydore City Centre will create 15,000 jobs over the lifetime of the project.

Within the next month, council will complete the $334m expansion of the Sunshine Coast airport at Maroochydore.

This will deliver a new international standard runway that will make the region accessible to a wider range of national and international destinations. This project is estimated to deliver a $4.1bn economic benefit to the Sunshine Coast during the next 20 years.

Under the watchful eye of Mayor Mark Jamieson, the Sunshine Coast council is working on an international broadband cable network, a digital trade hub, a solar farm and an application to UNESCO to have the entire area deemed a biosphere reserve.

This is visionary stuff.

Meanwhile, on the Gold Coast, the post-COVID-19 recovery has begun - but for the tourism sector, the pain is real. Village Roadshow boss Clark Kirby - who runs Movie World, Sea World and Wet'n'Wild - estimates his business alone will lose $20m a month during summer unless borders are reopened.

Air New Zealand is bleeding $80m a month and Air Asia X looks like it is about to fold.

Gold Coast Destination chairman Paul Donovan told a Gold Coast Bulletin future forum last week that the challenge of COVID-19 dwarfed anything he had seen in the past 40 years.

"Throw in airline strikes, airline closures, 9-11, recessions - add them all up and they don't compare to what we are seeing are now,'' he said.

The key for Gold Coast tourism is extra product. The fact that Village Roadshow is building a new rollercoaster at Sea World shows a willingness to trade out of this pandemic.

But Mr Kirby says if the borders are not soon opened to Sydney and Melbourne visitors, the opportunity to invest in new product would disappear.

"It's make or break this next decision on the borders,'' he said. "I can't run a business without certainty.''

The Gold and Sunshine Coasts are growing cities with the ability to expand and become powerful and enduring economic drivers for Queensland.

But they need help from our decision-makers. They need the roads, schools, trains and hospitals to lure people to cities that are recognised as world class leaders in innovation and liveability.

Now is the time.

 

Originally published as Now or never to keep our Coasts afloat



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