Renee Cluff

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State budget: Tropical North Queensland ‘overlooked’ on infrastructure spending

Despite pledging the importance of the regions in her budget speech, Queensland Treasurer Jackie Trad has failed to deliver any new big-ticket items for Tropical North Queensland.

A host of top infrastructure priorities have been largely ignored in the document, with no funding included for the Cairns University Hospital, Nullinga Dam, the Cairns Gallery Precinct or the Kuranda Range road.

CEO of advocacy organisation Advance Cairns, Nick Trompf, said it had requested $90 million to pay for the second stage of the tertiary hospital to progress its Research, Education and Innovation Centre.

“We are bitterly disappointed the State has not put forward funding towards the Cairns University Hospital after the region was given a $60 million commitment from the Federal Government earlier this year,” Mr Trompf said.

“The Treasurer has failed to deliver on this catalytic project which has immense economic and social benefit.”

However, he applauded an increase in recurrent funding for day-to-day operations of the Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service.

“That is significant because as much as we’re disappointed about the infrastructure spending, that recurrent funding is the backbone of the health service.

“The gap is narrowing now between funding in terms of our service compared to the Townsville service, which is a tertiary hospital.

“When the Cairns hospital finally obtains full tertiary referral status this will be boosted significantly further.”

On the transport front, only $100,000 of a requested $365 million was allocated to begin a study on the duplication of the Cairns Western Arterial Road.

No money was set aside for a study on a Kuranda Range road upgrade, the sealing of the Gulf Savannah Way or an expansion of the Cairns Aviation Route, for which $50 million was requested in the wake of the loss of Cathay Pacific’s direct Cairns to Hong Kong flights.

While it didn't get any funding for the Gallery Precinct, Cairns Regional Council's acting Mayor Terry James said he's pleased to see overall spending in the region has increased.

“Today’s Budget saw a significant increase on last year’s capital expenditure, from $412 million to $633 million, which equates to nearly an extra $800 per person in the region.

“In regard to the Cairns Gallery Precinct we understand, based on meetings with the Minister, the State Government is committed to this project," he said.

“However, they are first wanting the Federal Government to commit to the project as well.

“Looking forward, we hope to see funding for it in the next State Budget.”

What was included was $30 million to build the Wangetti Trail between Palm Cove and Port Douglas, although that funding won’t be available for another two years.

One of most significant positive announcements was the lowering of payroll tax for regional businesses by 1% and the increase in the payroll tax free threshold from $1.1m to $1.3m.

However, Mr Trompf said overall, it was a budget of re-announcements, including a number of roads projects which the State is obligated to contribute towards as part of federal-state funding arrangements.

“The State Government has just 16 months to convince those outside the south-east of their plans for the future,” he said.

“Regional Queensland voters rejected the ALP at the federal election and will be pivotal in deciding next year’s state poll.

“In the tropical north the Government faces a threat in potentially two of its four locally-held seats.

“State Cabinet needs to act on the messages they are getting from their local ALP MPs, business and industry and local government and invest substantially more in our region.”