Editor's Letter: Buying Local needs to be more than a catchphrase

There’s been a lot of hoo-ha lately about buying local. Support local small business! Keep it in Cairns! Our future depends on it… etc etc!

Yes, it’s important. Very. We’ve known that for eons. The coronavirus shutdown has just amplified it, big time.

As global supply chains remain disrupted and large corporations are able to ride out the downturn that is crushing small businesses all over the place, the Buy Local mantra was suddenly front and centre, loud and clear.

A lot of people and just about every organisation talk the big talk about buying local. But not all of them walk the walk and put their policies into practise.


First, the positive examples.

On this front, Cairns Regional Council deserves credit. Of all the levels of government and all the various organisations, the council gets top marks for buying local.

About 90% of their capital works budget over the next 12 months will go to local contractors and suppliers. And whatever the project may be across its vast portfolio of responsibilities, tender opportunities are always offered to locally owned companies to apply for. Buying local seems front of mind at council, and that’s an awesome thing.

In the private sector, there are lots of awards I could hand out to businesses operating with a focused buy local philosophy. Cairns Bank takes its role as the only locally-owned financial institution very seriously, and I commend CEO Peter Phillips, the board and the team for their ongoing commitment to using local contractors and supporting local businesses whenever it’s practical to do so.

Kudos to both (and many more I don’t have column space to mention).


On the other side of the ledger, the negatives. So many organisations, quasi-government entities, departments and lobby groups aren’t as awesome at walking the walk of buying local.

Even worse, some of them don’t even offer local businesses the opportunity to tender for projects, despite their 'buy local' rhetoric.

Across an array of services and sectors, too often I get calls from local business owners who are frustrated and angry at the lack of opportunities to even participate in tender processes, let alone win the work based on their merits and track record.

I’m looking at Ports North, Cairns Hospital, Advance Cairns, Northern Queensland Primary Health Network, Cairns Chamber of Commerce, TTNQ and State and Federal Governments. I’ve got examples involving failures by all of the above when it comes to buying locally.

Their apparently blasé attitude towards buying local is made worse when many of those organisations talk the talk of local buy – some even have local procurement policies in place or run marketing campaigns spruiking the concept – but in reality there are too many occasions when they practise the opposite.

Every time one of those organisations uses capital city contractors, southern consultants and multinational corporations without giving local businesses the opportunity to quote or participate in the tender, it’s a tangible kick in the face to the local economy. And more needs to be done to hold them to account on it.


If we’re serious about creating a more self-sustaining, self-reliant economy here in the Tropical North, everyone’s first thought needs to be: “buy local”.

Those organisations listed above, every government department, every one of us in business needs to operate with “buy local” as a core function.

Every day. Every purchase, every contract awarded. Our first thought each time should be: 'Is there a local provider I could get a quote from on this service or that product?'

This extends to contracting and spending with locally-owned businesses as well – where possible – instead of multinational corporations who may (or may not) operate with an outpost in Cairns. They’ll do just fine without our peak organisations, advocates and departments furnishing them with contracts.

We have to get used to living in an economic bubble with scant details on when state and international borders will be re-opened and things start to return to some kind of normal.

Buying local must be more than a catchphrase if we're going to sustain a local economy with locally owned businesses, who keep their profits in Cairns, create employment and contribute in myriad ways to our community.