Daintree cash injection promist from Gillard

Story by the Cairns Post

Gillard's multi-million gifts for the Far North

Brad Ryan

Thursday, August 5, 2010

CUDDLING babies, games with children, chats with jobseekers and a rainforest tour - Prime Minister Julia Gillard packed plenty of photo opportunities into her trip to the Far North yesterday.

But she also packed some promises.

Ms Gillard said a re-elected Labor Government would open a support centre for struggling small businesses and provide $9.4 million towards a Daintree Rainforest Observatory at Cape Tribulation.

To be built with James Cook University, which would contribute $4.5 million to the project, the observatory would include an education centre, laboratory, accommodation for scientists and students, conference rooms and an elevated boardwalk for tourists.

"This, I think, is very good local news - it's good news for jobs, it’s good news for tourism, it's good news for research," Ms Gillard said.

JCU vice-chancellor Sandra Harding said an existing research station only accommodated four to six scientists and could not cater for larger groups of researchers or students or the general public.

Ms Gillard also said her Government would open a centre in Cairns to provide advice to small businesses.

It would be run by lobby group Advance Cairns and Business Enterprise Centres Australia.

"This is a part of the world where small business is such an engine room of growth," Ms Gillard said.

"Unemployment has come down to 9.8 per cent but that is of course more than the Australian average."

Advance Cairns CEO Ross Contarino said the organisation had been lobbying for the centre.

"There's a company in Townsville that’s been servicing the north Queensland area with one officer and we've always said that’s not enough for the area, and especially this part of it," Mr Contarino said.

"Cairns is very much a small business town."

The business centre and observatory announcements followed pledges of $3.5 million to help upgrade the Jones Park rugby league field in Mann St, Westcourt, and a $14.4 million investment in Cairns Base Hospital for 16 new rehabilitation beds.

Leichhardt Labor MP Jim Turnour said the projects were about diversifying the Cairns economy and creating jobs.

But shadow treasurer Joe Hockey, also in Cairns yesterday, said Ms Gillard’s promises could not be trusted.

"The Gillard Government has made promises in the past and they haven't delivered," he said.

LNP Leichhardt candidate Warren Entsch also attacked the promises.

"They are doing little piecemeal things to try to shut up the squeaky wheels and they are not funding things in their entirety," Mr Entsch said.

He said the Daintree Observatory did not compensate for cuts that had been made to the Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility, which managed Reef and rainforest research in north Queensland.

"They cut it to buggery and made it almost ineffective," Mr Entsch said.

The money promised for the Jones Park upgrade would not go far, he said.

"At the end of the day, it's still an open field with lights and what we need in this town is a serious stadium," Mr Entsch said.