Leadership needed on expansion in Northern Queensland
The Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland (CCIQ) is urging significant Federal Government support to realise the development potential of Northern Queensland.
CCIQ, which will discuss its submission to the Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia at a hearing in Brisbane tomorrow (Fri May 30), believes there are good prospects for growth in the north.
But it believes policies are needed to address the issues of skilled labour shortages, lack of connectivity and security of energy supply.
CCIQ General Manager of Advocacy Nick Behrens said skills shortages and poor labour mobility were key reasons why businesses did not relocate to Northern Queensland.
“The Federal Government should take action to repeal the July 2013 changes to the 457 visa program so business owners can more easily employ international workers in areas of immediate skilled labour shortages,” he said.
“Together with policies to upskill the local workforce and increase labour market participation, a streamlined skilled migration program will allow businesses to compete globally.
“If Northern Queensland is to realise its potential as the gateway to the Asia-Pacific and the Asian Century, then the regulatory impediments to skilled migration must be addressed so the region is attractive to prospective international and domestic investors.”
Mr Behrens also called for government policies to help reduce business operating costs and provide regulatory certainty for business investment.
“Ultimately, the benefits of increased trade and investment with Asia will depend on the competitiveness of local business,” he said.
“And tax holidays or concessions for Northern Australia are not the longer term answer.
“Holistic tax reform, a fairer industrial relations system and reducing the overall volume of regulatory compliance, which will benefit businesses generally and lay the foundations for sustained regional growth.”
CCIQ believed there was a need to recognise the unique challenges of the region and address the infrastructure bottlenecks that were a decisive factor on business location and expansion in Northern Queensland.
“Small and medium businesses are especially vulnerable to rising fuel prices and weather-induced supply chain disruptions, so the Federal Government’s decision to reintroduce fuel excise indexation will add to those cost pressures,” Mr Behrens said.
“Concerns over security of electricity and water supply, as well as access to affordable broadband services, including the NBN, are other reasons businesses choose not to invest in North Queensland.”
Mr Behrens said weather-proofing critical road infrastructure and expanding the future rollout of the NBN could positively influence business investment.
“There is merit in considering options to expand local electricity generation capacity to overcome transmission network losses in the region,” he said.
“Improvements to water infrastructure for flood mitigation and water management policies for varying business uses across Northern Queensland are also needed.
“The potential for industry development in Northern Queensland is undisputed and business confidence indicators continue to trend upwards.
“Realising this potential will require persistent efforts from all levels of government in collaboration with the business community.”