29 December 2014

Two Airports Call for Townsville; Conflict of National Security for Existing Air Transport Facility

Townsville's real estate industry is an instrument of calibration and diagnostics for the broader economy.

So the current limitations placed on Townsville's most strategic economic asset being controlled by national security interests or constrained by federal budget priorities is a subject worthy of further investigation and reporting in this article because of the impact on property and investment interests in the City.

The real estate industry is one of the most critical arteries that carries the economic life blood of capital and cash flow to the businesses and employees of the City. In fact the real estate, rentals and hiring sector is the highest contributor to the Gross Regional Product (GRP) in the Townsville economy.

As proposed by the Townsville Real Estate Blog (TREB), facilities development will be critical to achieve immediate economic stimulation and sustainable development for the City over the next decade.

The rejection of Townsville's bid for direct international air traffic carrying passengers and goods draws attention to a potential conflict of interest between border protection priorities and Townsville's business and property interests.

Conflicts of interest or fragmented decision making posses a direct threat to the short term creation of jobs and long term growth plans for the City. The security and commercial interests of Townsville's garrison city raises serious questions for town planners and political leaders.

The bid by a fledgling group of local private investors to buy the lease rights to the Port of Townsville under a State government initiative to reduce government debt is an example of the depth of feelings in the community to control such a regionally strategic asset.

As this strategic shipping facility shares parallel commercial and military functions like the Townsville Airport, it too is most likely to have similar uncertainties for investors that are inherent where ring fencing of government and national security interests is a punch line in today's environment of intense governance policies.

For decades the federal government's military and security assets in the garrison City has been attributed to Townsville's reputation for growth, stability and relative certainty. Achieving the status of being the Capital of North Queensland and a legacy of strong population and economic growth over the past 20 years are proud credits for a relatively conservative community in regional Australia.

The findings to the Taskforce on the Development of Northern Australia did no feature Townsville as some people may have expected. The focus of infrastructure and centres of business development instead is directed to a greenfield site in the Northern region of Western Australia.

One of the findings in the Green Paper, Joint Submission to the Northern Australia Taskforce, identified that "Governance arrangements across the various jurisdictions and regions of northern Australia are fragmented and require streamlining and/or collaboration. Land and water use arrangements are crucial examples of these governance challenges which are central to future development opportunities.", the Green Paper considered.

The Green Paper also identified that "Stagnation can only be overcome with new investment targeted at new markets and offering new experiences. Several proposed integrated resorts in the Cairns region (Aquis Resort and Ela Bay Resort) exemplify the type of large-scale investment that may be required to reignite tourist demand.

Townsville Enterprise claimed to be stepping up their lobbying efforts to secure international air services following the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service's decision to reject the proposal by Air Asia to launch direct services from Townsville to Denpasar.

The decision by Customs and Border Protection Services has suggested the rejection of the international carriers proposal was attributed to resourcing of security processing equipment and personnel.

One has to question the viability of strategic national security assets and commercial private sector assets operating in parallel on military controlled land and government controlled transport infrastructure such as the Townsville Airport, and to a less extent, the Port of Townsville.

Tourism has an economic impact less than real estate, rentals and hiring in Townsville. The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service's decision to reject direct services from Townsville to Bali is a massive limitation to the City's ambitions to develop a broad-based economy. Such a decision has heightened sensitivity in a region where unemployment is sitting at record levels, and tourism is a critical pillar in maintaining a comfortable balance for an economy retracting after a recent downturn in the mining industry.

The military priority of the Townsville Airport is a menace to sustainable economic development. For the people of Townsville, leveraging the airport is a passionate interest to facilitate international trade directly into the Capital of North Queensland, especially for the largest City identified in the federally proposed Northern Development zone.

Could the growth of Townsville's air transport economy mean that commercial and military traffic have access to separate dedicated facilities? Does Townsville now plan for an international airport to the west of the City?

During World War II, Townsville accommodated multiple airfields. One of which is still operational today used for amateur aviators near Woodstock only 30 minutes West of the City.

The Australian Defense Force has budgeted for an extension to the Townsville runway to accommodate larger logistic aircraft being added to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) fleet. The extension of the runway could also accommodate larger international aircraft. As the runway extension is driven by RAAF imperatives, consideration for parallel commercial traffic could not be confirmed by local RAAF Command.

Townsville Enterprise confirmed a strong interest by international tourism operators for direct services between Townsville and Bali. Townsville Enterprise Acting CEO said; "This is an issue affecting Townsville North Queensland that will continue to undermine attempts to properly develop the city and achieve the economic potential of Northern Australia. International air services are critical in connecting the north of Australia to a global market which is vital to the growth of the region.

The Acting CEO continued to report that "Townsville residents remain disadvantaged due to the Federal Government’s policy regime that proposes significant additional costs for passengers using Townsville International Airport, which is the 11th busiest airport in the Nation. No such charge is imposed on passengers using any capital city international airport in Australia."

"Townsville Enterprise, Townsville City Council and the Townsville Chamber of Commerce have been leading a united charge on this issue over the past few months. The issue was at the centre of a number of Ministerial meetings in Canberra last month and correspondence is ongoing.", the Acting CEO commented.

In the context of heightened sensitivity for national security, a strengthening global free trade framework with developing countries, and a local economy entrenched with tourism services, could these conflicting elements mean a extended period of frustration and struggle for a clear passage for international traveller markets into the Townsville region?

This potential "Cold War" between federally controlled security assets and local commercial tourism and property investment interests could be the catalyst for broader debate about a second airport with international specifications for the Townsville region.

Townsville's economic ambitions are dependant on the direct link to international trade through increasing air traffic, shipping and ecommerce activity.

A federal government centred over 2000 kilometres from Townsville facilitating a conflict of interest contrary to the interests of the people of Australia's 2nd largest regional economy could again be called to action at the next ballot box should the community find the observations of TREB worthy of further comments and debate.


Townsville Real Estate Blog
Townsville Enterprise website
Townsville Bulletin

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