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Outside Queensland’s southeast corner, no cities have a population larger than 200,000 people, while Brisbane itself bustles with 2.2 million citizens. Picture: Glenn Hunt
Matthew Killoran
The Courier-Mail
Instead of having cities of varying size, from major metropolitan hubs to mid-sized cities and smaller provincial centres, much of the population is concentrated in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.About 60 per cent of Australia’s population live in capital cities, as compared with, for example, the US, where the top five cities account for less than 10 per cent of its people.“Australia has just one non-capital city that has more than 500,0000 people, I think that’s a disgrace,” says Minister for Northern Australia Senator Matt Canavan.

Ipswich is Queensland's fastest growing city
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From an area in economic death throes after the decline of traditional mining and rail industries, Ipswich is now Queensland’s fastest growing city. CREDIT: Channel 7
Outside Queensland’s southeast corner, no cities have a population larger than 200,000 people, while Brisbane itself bustles with 2.2 million residents.North of Rockhampton, there are just 700,000 people. And, while the capital is enjoying opportunity and growth, the regions are hurting.The north’s unofficial capital of Townsville has hit a road bump in its development, with unemployment reaching 10.6 per cent, while youth unemployment is even higher.
It’s a similar story in Mackay, Bundaberg and many of the smaller cities and towns spread throughout the vast state. Each have their own challenge
s but all of them are cut off from the opportunities which present themselves in the southeast.Demographer Bernard Salt says it could have been very a different story if early European settlers had sailed up the Fitzroy River, instead of the Brisbane River.
“It would have made much more sense if somewhere like Mackay or Rockhampton were the capital city, in the same way Sydney is midway along the NSW coast and Melbourne is perfectly positioned in the geographic centre of Victoria,” Salt says.“Brisbane is at a disadvantage. It’s off centre, which leads to separationist dissent.”Salt says as Queensland heads toward a population of six to seven million people by the middle of the century, it needs to be serviced by a range of bigger cities of varying size.“If any state has the capacity to develop a decentralised network of cities, it’s Queensland and it should to deliver job opportunities and services to the local people,” he says.
Demographer Bernard Salt says it could have been very a different story if early European settlers had sailed up the Fitzroy River, instead of the Brisbane River. Picture: Josie Hayden
Demographer Bernard Salt says it could have been very a different story if early European settlers had sailed up the Fitzroy River, instead of the Brisbane River. Picture: Josie Hayden
Source:News Corp Australia
Encouraging people to relocate regionally, as a way of expanding provincial centres while taking pressure off the southeast, has been a frequently floated plan by governments of all persuasions in the past decade.Premiers Anna Bligh, Campbell Newman and Annastacia Palaszczuk have all had it on their agendas, but it can be a slow process.And population growth in Queensland has slowed since the booming early 2000s.The most direct way for politicians to achieve the goal would be by relocating major government departments to regional cities, such as Toowoomba, Townsville or Mackay.Victoria made a deliberate effort to do just this, with some of its government departments shifting southwest to Geelong.Offices of the Transport Accident Commission, Work Cover Australia, the NDIS and a division of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, along with staff and their families, were all moved to the regional Victorian city in the past decade, Salt says.“Queensland needs to look at Victoria – it needs to start spreading the love around,” he says.It is a concept that is also on the Federal Government’s agenda, Canavan says, but one that is often met with some internal resistance.The Grains Research and Development Corporation has headed to Toowoomba but there is a push for other agencies to follow suit.Canavan says there were talks held about relocating the part-government-funded Meat and Livestock Association out of its Sydney or Brisbane offices and into northern Queensland.“The last time I checked, there’s not many cattle still running down Roma Street,” he says. “Northern Australia has half the beef in our country and they don’t have an office in northern Australia.”Defence is also suited to and expected to play a large part in developing the regions.Already on the table is the Singapore army base expansion, which will see more than $2 billion injected into Rockhampton and Townsville over the next 20 years. That will drive jobs in construction and tourism, as well as defence, but has not been without controversy.Until a recent Federal Government backdown, there were fears farmers would be
forced off prime agricultural land to make way for the expanded training fields, and conflict between new and old industries is one of the growing pains as a region shifts and grows its economic base.
But more could be done in the defence space, Canavan says, moving more assets and services to the regions – such as patrol boat maintenance contracts to the Cairns port.“Look at what Lavarack Barracks did for Townsville in the 1960s,” Canavan says.“It gave it that spur and it has never looked back, not withstanding a couple of rough years.”
The Wagner family have been keen to take advantage of the opportunities China offers, expanding their Toowoomba airport to include international freight. Picture: Glenn Hunt
The Wagner family have been keen to take advantage of the opportunities China offers, expanding their Toowoomba airport to include international freight. Picture: Glenn Hunt
Source:News Corp Australia
China is one of the great hopes for the future of the north and the other regions. Asia more generally and China specifically have a growing appetite for Australian produce and are willing to pay top price.The entrepreneurial Wagner family from Toowoomba have been keen to take advantage of this, expanding their self-built Brisbane West Wellcamp Airport to include international freight.It opens the region up to be able to directly export goods from “Australia’s food bowl” into Asia and embrace the growing export market.Tourism will also need to be encouraged and attracted to the regions.More than one million Chinese tourists visited Australia in the past year, with some predictions suggesting that could grow to as high as three million people over the next decade.Salt says to secure a fair share of this, there needs to be more direct flights arranged between second-tier Chinese cities and second-tier Queensland cities.“International air linkages are absolutely critical,” he says. “That is where you could really drive growth and development, whether it is in tourism, fresh agribusiness, trade or mining exports.”
But to sustain the growth there needs to be continued investment in hard infrastructure.Ask anyone north of Rockhampton and they will likely tell you too much of the state’s wealth has been splashed out on tunnels, roads and rail in the southeast.Opposition regional development and infrastructure spokesman Anthony Albanese says more federal investment in regional infrastructure is necessary.“Queensland is critical to our national economy. It is the most decentralised state in Australia but the Commonwealth is reducing infrastructure investment at the very time it should be promoting regional growth,” he says.“Just last week Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe implored the Government to lift investment in transport infrastructure to improve quality of life and boost economic productivity and job creation. The Government should heed this advice.”Albanese says increasing tourism promotion in the state would also assist economies up and down the entire coast.The Government points to its $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility fund, created last year to invest in and co-fund major projects, $700 million for regional roads and the $100 million Outback Way investment.There has also been 14 dams and weirs worth $20 million earmarked for development, anticipated to aid the agricultural economy.

#GoQld has launched for 2017. Video: 7 News Queensland
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#GoQld has launched for 2017. Video: 7 News Queensland.
As much as anything else, there needs to be a cultural change, according to demographer Salt.“Local middle-aged people, Baby Boomers, show off to people about where their sons and daughters are – ‘my son’s in London, my daughter’s in New York, she’d love to come home to Charters Towers but there’s nothing for her here’,” he says.“It’s a statement about being able to catapult their kids somewhere important.”The smaller, more provincial cities, lose a significant amount of their youth as they relocate to bigger cities nationally and overseas in search of opportunity.“When you don’t provide opportunity, after 18, maybe 22, if you can’t convince a university campus to set up in the town, because there are no jobs locally to meet people’s aspirations, those young people leave,” he says.“I think we need to develop a culture at a local level where leaders of the community stop showing off about who they know that’s famous that left the community and start celebrating those who come back or those who build successful businesses or make a contribution locally.“I would rather see a mayor congratulate a 28-year-old bricklayer who has built a business, hired two apprentices, plays footy, who contributes to the local Rotary club and contributes to the community, rather than showing off what famous sportsman used to live here.”This week,
The Courier-Mail
’s #gold campaign highlighted more than 43,000 fulltime jobs disappeared from regional Queensland’s workforce in the past year.While the mining boom is over, there are other opportunities out there to be harnessed, whether it is tourism, resources, agribusiness or innovation.The potential is there to drive not just one new economic powerhouse city, but a series of them.It just needs governments, business, industry and Queenslanders to take action. matthew.killoran@news.com.auOriginally published as Queensland is backed into a corner