Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey.
Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey. mike knott

Council pushes for Bundy innovation hub in Senate inquiry

BUNDABERG Regional Council has made a strong case for the region to be established as an "innovation hub" in a parliamentary inquiry into regional inequality.

On February 14, the Senate referred an inquiry into the indicators and impact of regional inequality in Australia to the Senate Economics References Committee.

The inquiry was particularly focussed on looking at government policies and programs in education, infrastructure, innovation, employment, building human capital, enhancing workforce skills, manufacturing; and fiscal, improved coordination, regional development and decentralisation policies.

Following the referral, the committee called out for councils, individuals and organisations across the country to share their experiences and views on regional inequality in written submissions.

In its submission, Bundaberg Regional Council acknowledged the region's strengths in business and industry, including a traditional agricultural base, a value-adding manufacturing sector and tourism.

Major Jack Dempsey said it was these strengths that provided the region with a "comparative advantage and an ideal platform for innovation, local consumer spending and export-oriented growth".

"Yet the region also suffers from a comparatively high degree of disadvantage due to high levels of unemployment (14.9 per cent), chronic public health issues and a drain of educated youth to larger population centres," he said.

Backing Cr Dempsey's claim was this year's State of the Regions Report, which indicated Wide Bay Burnett had the highest unemployment rate (14.9 per cent) in Australia.

Youth unemployment (28.8 per cent), obesity (67.2 per cent) and the completion of Year 11 or 12 (57.5 per cent) were a number of issues the mayor cited.

He also pointed to Bundaberg's regional broadband capacity constraints.

"While Bundaberg was one of the first 10 communities to begin rollout of the NBN, communications issues have persisted," Cr Dempsey said.

"Council is hopeful for future opportunities through the Queensland and Australian Governments that may provide fast, affordable and high-speed internet."

Cr Dempsey told the NewsMail a visit by Queensland Chief Entrepreneur Steve Baxter had resonated with the council believing it was area of opportunity that could be built off the back of the State Government's commitment to delivering high-speed internet.

"This opportunity lays within the availability of distributing spare capacity on the fibre networks utilised by state-owned corporations to Bundaberg and other regional centres constrained by slow connectivity," he said.

"The Bundaberg region has a number of telecommunications service providers that could assist the council in delivering this spare capacity where most needed."

Pushing for an innovation hub to be established in Bundaberg, the mayor (in his submission) stated that "Following a favourable investigative outcome regarding use of this infrastructure, the council would seek to be an early-stage pilot region for rollout of this high-speed network".

Drone aerial views of the decommissioned ex-HMAS Tobruk, in preparation to becoming an artificial reef. Currently moored in an area controlled by the Gladstone Ports Corporation (GPC) near Bundaberg, Queensland, AustraliaImage taken: 12/2016 | DIGITAL ORIGINAL | original filename: DJI_0039.JPG
Drone aerial views of the decommissioned ex-HMAS Tobruk, in preparation to becoming an artificial reef. Currently moored in an area controlled by the Gladstone Ports Corporation (GPC) near Bundaberg, Queensland, AustraliaImage taken: 12/2016 | DIGITAL ORIGINAL | original filename: DJI_0039.JPG Stephen Elliott-Hunter

Another key concern Cr Dempsey cited was the underutilisation of the region's existing infrastructure assets like the Port of Bundaberg.

"The Port of Bundaberg is a remarkably strategic port location along the Queensland coast but is incredibly underutilised," Cr Dempsey told the NewsMail.

"Over the past 10 years, the port has handled between 12 and 16 vessels a year."

Currently, the council, in partnership with the State Government, is working on the phased delivery of investigations into key aspects of the Port of Bundaberg, in the hopes of qualifying the facility for state and federal assistance to bring long-term projects about.

Cr Demspey said an additional factor that contributed toward Bundy's regional disadvantage lay with Wide Bay Burnett's location.

"(We) are geographically isolated from where substantial investment has historically been delivered," he said in his submission.

"The Bundaberg region is hopeful that the Commonwealth will consider Bundaberg and the greater Wide Bay Burnett for such future investment opportunities that will help alleviate these issues of regional disadvantage."

These opportunities range from industry cluster initiatives to coordinated support from the State and Federal Governments.

Submissions into the inquiry closed on April 30, with the final report due by the the last day of sitting in June 2019.

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