Brian Courtice.
Brian Courtice.

OPINION: A game-changer to replace Bundy's '5000' lost jobs

Courtice's Corner with Brian Courtice

IN July 2014, the Queensland Government initiated two seminars, one in Mackay and the second in Brisbane a few weeks later.

The participants were all state members of parliament, as well as three delegates each from every electorate in Queensland.

The challenge was to develop a plan for Queensland for the next 30 years.

All participants took the challenge seriously and a number of constructive proposals were raised.

One of the most challenging, but potentially beneficial suggestions was to relocate some state departments to regional cities.

At the conclusion of the seminar in Brisbane, the then Leader of the Opposition (now Premier of Queensland) Annastacia Palaszczuk, stated that she was not opposed to the proposal.

The relocation of a State Government department to Bundaberg as a pilot project would be an enormous boost for the Bundaberg region.

This would probably take several years to implement and requires the cooperation of both state and local government.

The relevant state public sector union would also play an important role.

For instance, those public servants in whichever state government department was identified for relocation should be able to choose if they wish to relocate.

Public servants from other departments at the same skill level could exchange positions to ensure people with appropriate skills and experience, who wanted to relocate, had the opportunity to do so.

There are distinct advantages in moving from a capital city to a regional one like Bundaberg - the affordability of housing and the lifestyle a city like Bundaberg can offer are just two attractions to people relocating to our region.

An injection of several thousand public servants, many of whom would likely be on significantly higher income than the current Bundaberg average, would create substantial economic stimulus in both the service and retail sectors.

Construction of office space for departmental staff would be an enormous boost for the building industry and the demand for new housing would also facilitate significant economic activity for the region.

It requires cooperation between local and state government representatives and the Queensland Cabinet, and if there is good will from all participants, this can be achieved for Bundaberg.

Modern technology and interconnectivity allows many jobs to be performed remotely, in virtual environments, and away from capital cities and this has been demonstrated in numerous public service departments already, both in state and commonwealth government.

Having a modern, serviceable airport, four hours travel by road and less than one hour by aircraft from the state capital means many departments could function just as well in Bundaberg as they could in Brisbane.

Over the past 40 years we have witnessed the closure of Fairymead Sugar Mill, Toft Industries, Massey Ferguson, Hume's Pipes, Wide Bay Bricks, Wyper Petersen sawmill, Burnett sawmill, several other smaller manufacturers involved in irrigation equipment and farming machinery, as well as Qunaba and Wallaville mills.

It is fair to say that Bundaberg has lost over 5000 jobs with these industry closures.

We are currently experiencing drought. Sugar and horticulture growers are struggling with poor commodity prices and catastrophic power prices.

The need is now for lateral thinking, and moving a government department to Bundaberg would be a game changer for our city, and the prosperity of our people.

If governments at all levels are serious about tackling congestion and infrastructure challenges in our capital cities, and promoting growth and economic activity in our regions, opportunities like this can't be ignored.

Brian Courtice was the Labor Member for Hinkler from 1987-1993.

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