This morning I listened to a couple of interviews on local ABC radio.

The first was with a representative of the Cairns Chamber of Commerce. The second interview was with a local union representative (from the AWU). The context for the discussion was the global economic downturn. How may it affect Far North Queensland? What can we do to keep our region’s economy afloat?

Both contributors, I have no doubt, are nice well-meaning people. But what struck me was the utterly vacuous nature of their analyses and proposals. As business is the base of the Coalition Parties – and organized labor the bedrock of the ALP – our apparent inability to take swift, intelligent, interventionist action for our future benefit becomes explicable.

If our local political elites had half a brain, they’d be busting with proposals for significant Federal investment in this region.

We need major projects to stimulate the economy. We also need to develop a more sustainable way of life. BOTH are urgent priorities. Projects that deliver BOTH will enjoy very widespread support.

So where is FNQ’s ‘ready to go’ list of sustainable development projects which our local politicians could be selling – right now – in the corridors of power down south?

Here are a few suggestions:

· Upgrading the region’s sewerage systems to world best practice
· Systematic remediation of te region’s toxic sites
· Large-scale forestation to reestablish riparian and wildlife corridors
· Building a new, high-efficiency rail system for the region
· Upgrading the region’s infrastructure for disaster amelioration
· Establishing more state-of-the-art eco-tourism visitor facilities on public lands

I’m sure there are plenty more. Working out the highest priorities would not be easy.

But there’s a problem.

Every major state-sponsored project (unless it’s a corporate bail-out!) takes preparation time. New infrastructure proposals must be considered, evaluated against alternatives, subjected to EIA etc etc. The lead-in time can be quite long.

Yet we now find ourselves in a situation where a major regional stimulus package may be needed quite soon.

It seems to me FNQ is likely to pay the price for conformist, unimaginative political leadership in recent times.

Local capital – and labor – have yet to wake up.

They don’t seem to realize that the era of (genuine) sustainable development is NOW (25 years ago, actually!). They remain in a mindset of opposing ‘radical’ plans for sustainable development, preferring continuing pubic subsidy of tried and tested activities such as yet more investment in (unsustainable) major road projects.

The relative political weakness of the green movement in this region has meant that projects with a focus on sustainability have been dismissed as ‘dreams’. Meanwhile, other region’s with more enlightened leadership have dreamt on – and as a consequence are far more ready with big ticket plans to take to Ministers like Penny Wong and Anthony Albanese.

Guess which regions will get the dosh, when it starts to flow?

Guess who will miss out?