Press Conference – CQ University, Cairns – Tuesday 14 June 2022


SUBJECTS: Labor’s commitment to CQ University Cairns; sports on Cairns Esplanade.

CR BOB MANNING, MAYOR OF CAIRNS: Firstly, welcome everybody this morning. It’s a great pleasure to be here. I want to particularly welcome the Minister, the Federal Minister, and Nick, the Vice-Chancellor and President, and Nita. There’s a very important function going to be performed here today. I was thinking last night, I remember when the previous vice-Chancellor got the idea of some sort of the university centre in Cairns, and that was placed in Florence Street. And when he took me over to it this day, it was an old timber house and I thought: Golly gosh. How do you pit that against the might of the bricks and mortar at JCU? Well, [indistinct], was telling me yesterday, this is about ten years to the day when they opened over there, and look what’s happened in ten years where today there’s announcements to be made in regard to this site. I want to particularly thank the Minister, firstly for coming so quickly and reassuring people. I mean, this will mean so much to the people of Cairns and so much to us all. So to you, Minister, thank you very much for coming here and being with us.

Warren, I forgot- didn’t recognise you there before, my apologies. And the idea of having the local Member here too, well, I think that’s a great idea and it’s great to see things working that way. I think that’s the way we all want it to be. So without any further ado, I’m handing over to Nita. Thank you very much.

SENATOR NITA GREEN, SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: Thank you, Mr. Mayor. It’s a pleasure to be here with you today. And thank you, everyone, for coming. I just want to thank our Minister for Education, Jason Clare, for coming to Cairns so quickly after becoming the Minister, to talk about this important project. As most of you know, this is a project that Federal Labor committed to well before the election had even been called, because we knew that this was so important for the future of Cairns.

We know that this is a project that will deliver the skills that we need for the jobs of the future. It’s not just the construction jobs that this project will deliver, but it’s the jobs for generations to come, the skilled jobs for generations to come that students walking through the walls of this building will be able to deliver here in Cairns.

It is no mistake that the local member, Warren Entsch, is here today because this was a bipartisan commitment. Eventually, by the time the election came, both parties had committed to this project and I think that goes to show how deep the advocacy from CQU was; from Nick and his team, but also how important we understood, and all parties understood, that this was a commitment that was needed for our community.

When I was asked after the election, what was my number one priority for Federal Labor here in Cairns, it was this project: the CQ University campus. We’re very eager, obviously, to begin these discussions today. But again, it is so important that we have Minister Jason Clare here to really show that this is something that we are getting behind, that we are getting to work, and that we’re not pulling up when it comes to getting this work done. We want to see jobs here in Far North Queensland and this is the beginning of that process. Thanks very much.

PROFESSOR NICK KLOMP, VICE CHANCELLOR OF CQU: Hey, everyone. My name’s Professor Nick Klomp, I’m the Vice Chancellor and President of CQ University. And it’s one of those days when it’s terrific to be the Vice-Chancellor of a university, to be in front of the site for a new campus here in Cairns.

We’ve been in Cairns now for ten years and we’ve watched double digit growth every year, year on year. Such has been the demand for tertiary education here in the region we’ve outgrown our current site, and it’s terrific that we have an opportunity now, with the support of Federal Labor, to build a brand new campus here in Cairns, right in the CBD. We’ll be able to double our number of students from just over 2000 currently to 4000 students over the next ten years. And importantly, increase dramatically the number of graduates in areas that, at the moment, industry and government and businesses just can’t get enough of, in engineering, in accounting, in all the allied health. There’s so many areas that we need graduates in and CQ University is delighted to be part of the growth of Cairns by providing the skilled workforce so urgently needed.

I want to put a shout out to so many people involved. I’m not surprised that we’ve got bipartisan support for this project, and I really would like to thank Warren Entsch, the Member for Leichhardt, for showing us that support. I’m not surprised because the business community, the council through Councillor Bob Manning, but all the councillors, were so supportive of this project. The community recognised that they want this. It was really, really obvious.

For Minister Jason Clare to be coming here so early in this new Government, come straight here in recognition of how important it is, and I’m just delighted to be here. Can I also thank Senator Nita Green. She was one of the early adopters, recognising very early on how important this was and really got the ball rolling in getting all sides of politics to put the politics aside and to make sure this project happened.

We’re really excited about it because we can get moving on this just as fast as we can start turning the soil. I hope that we’ll be cutting the ribbon in a couple of years’ time, and I know that’s exactly what the Cairns community is hoping for as well.

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Thanks very much, Nick and Nita and Bob and Warren. This is my first trip to Queensland as Minister for Education and I wanted to come here first. It doesn’t look like much behind us at the moment, but what’s going to emerge out of the ground here in the next few years, I think, will really transform Cairns and transform the lives of thousands and thousands of young people who call Cairns home.

Bob, I really want to thank you for your leadership and the team at the council. This is council land. Council could’ve flogged this off. They could have sold it off for another purpose, but they chose to  for your advocacy, for the work that you did in helping them make this a reality. 

Thank you, Waz, as well. Different political parties, but a shared vision for Cairns. We’re also partners in advocating against skin cancer and melanoma so we should have hats on at the moment, but that’s a story for another day.

It’s about working together to help build a stronger local community. This will create hundreds of jobs in construction. It’ll create even more jobs when the University campus is complete. The economic impact for Cairns is just enormous. Nick was telling me a moment ago that $50 million to build the campus will translate into $50 million of economic benefit for Cairns each and every year for the next 10 years. That multiplier effect of building a bigger campus here in town is enormous. 

And then there’s the transformational impact of more local students studying locally, going from 2000 students here at the moment to 4000.

The fact is that fewer young people from regional Australia go from school to university than the national average. About 40 per cent of young people, 25 to 34, at the moment right across Australia have got a university degree. In regional Australia, it’s about half of that and part of that is because there’s not a university around the corner, there’s not a university in town. 

So, you’ve got to make the big decision to leave town and study elsewhere and a lot of people in Cairns do that already. I think about half the students who finish high school in Cairns and go off to university, go off to university in Brisbane or Sydney or Melbourne, or one of CQ’s campuses a little bit further south. That’s a big decision to make. And when you leave to go to university you might not come back and work here for decades. 

If you build a campus in town it encourages more young people to go from school to university here. It means more teachers, more nurses, more lawyers, more engineers, more allied health professionals, to fill the jobs that are desperately needed here that are responsible for that extraordinary economic benefit that we’re talking about.

So, that’s why I wanted to come here first because of the big difference that it will make, because what you see in front of us here is bipartisanship and teamwork at all levels of government to make this a reality, and I’ll be excited to be back here in hopefully only a little while.

Thanks very much. Warren, did you want to say anything before we take any questions?

WARREN ENTSCH, MEMBER FOR LEICHHARDT: Only to compliment you. Look, I just want to, first of all, I’ve known Jason for a long time and we’ve worked together in the Parliament. I first of all this morning had the opportunity of congratulating him on his portfolio appointment and I have to say it was an excellent choice. And the fact that he’s up here now so quickly after the election, I’m certainly committed to Jase and that I’ll work very, very closely with him and with the government to make this become a reality. The opportunities that we see here is not just the fact that we are a two full university city, but the additional development, the apartments, and everything else that’s going to happen here is just going to be quite astronomical.

The other thing too, we’re focusing on a whole range of skillsets, and I’m glad you talked about engineering because we’ve almost completed our marine precinct and that’s something I’m going to have a further discussion with how we just finish that off. That’s certainly been one of my babies. But we’ve already looked into starting the aviation precinct down the same line. So what we’re doing here will very much be a catalyst for that as well. So, I just want to say thank you to Nita, to Bob, to Dick. We’ve had a couple of announcements here over the last year or so but this is the one where the rubber’s actually starting to hit the road and it’s going to happen and it’s going to happen really soon. The fact that we committed on both sides of the political sphere to make this happen shows you how important this is. This has been the top of the list now for the last three years. A little thing called COVID slowed the process a little bit, but now it’s all hands on deck. We look forward to having you up here in months – I would suggest months to actually get that golden shovel because that golden shovel’s very, very important. So thank you very much indeed from me.

CLARE: Thanks, mate.

ENTSCH: Really appreciate it. Good work.

JOURNALIST: Minister, you mentioned that, you know, we’ll be turning the sod in the next few months. Do you know exactly when that will be?

CLARE: We don’t have an exact date yet but I’m already putting the hard word on Nick. As soon as we possibly can because the sooner we start work, the sooner you create all of those jobs, the sooner you get the campus built then we can bring students in here to get that education that can transform their lives. So in the documents I’ve seen, it says that work will start next year. If we can get that started even sooner, that’d be fantastic.

JOURNALIST: What’s the overall timeline for construction, opening, students arriving?

CLARE: I might get Nick to answer that question. I think I know what the answer is but you tell us what the answer is.

KLOMP: It’s a great question. The sooner the better. But now we’ve got the commitment for money, we can get moving really quickly. We’ve seen some artist’s impressions of what we’ve done and we’ve worked with council preliminarily already. So, we reckon that we can get moving and maybe have a turn of the first sod this year. So overall, a couple of years from now, we can be cutting the ribbon and opening the campus. And of course, that means all new courses as well because we’re bursting at the seams at the moment. So it’ll allow us to breathe out and attract more students into new courses. It’s very exciting.

JOURNALIST: Does the university have plans to support students in finding accommodation? Right now, our housing and rental crisis is at its worst. I guess, where are these students going to live when they come here?

KLOMP: So at the moment, the accommodation is tight. There’s no doubt about it. And yet still a couple of thousand students, 2100 at the moment, are coming to university and the town is prospering because of that. But now with this announcement, and Warren just touched on this as well, there’s more people that are recognising other business opportunities, other economic growth for the regions as well. So as we’re building this campus, there’ll be other opportunities for other businesses to start thinking about accommodation and other economic growth drivers in the region. I’m very confident that it’s going to be fine.

CLARE: The experience elsewhere in the country is when you build university campuses like this, student accommodation follows; that there is a need to find more places for students to live close to where the campus is. I’ve seen that all around the country. Warren, you touched on it a moment ago. You might like to add to it. But there are other opportunities here to build more student accommodation that will come when the campus is up and running.

ENTSCH: You’re right, Minister. I mean, one of the great things about this project is there is no accommodation. It is seven floors of learning. Now, there are projects that have been stalled just around the area here looking for an opportunity. The reality is those opportunities by this announcement now, by the funding, by the fact that we’ll be starting in the next couple of months, means to say that there will be more cranes in the sky. We’ve got a couple at the moment, there will be more cranes on our skyline, as they race to make sure that they have the accommodation ready for when this complex is open. So that’s not the issue here at all. There’s plenty of land. There’s plenty of projects that have been approved by council in the past that have stalled because of a range of reasons. This is going to be the catalyst that will see that go very, very quickly. So it’s very exciting, more opportunities than just building a campus.

JOURNALIST: Can I get Bob? Obviously this is going to bring more people into the CBD, especially with the recent Cairns Council proposal to reinvigorate the CBD and bring that sort of up a little bit higher with anti-social behaviour. Is having a project like this going to also help with that?

MANNING: Well, a project like this does make changes to the CBD, it’ll bring more people into that. We always say what we need is legs, two of them for each person and that fills up the city quickly. But having young people here studying, having young people living here – and it is a reasonably attractive CBD down to the water’s edge – so I think, as Warren said, that will follow fairly quickly. There are projects within stone’s throwing distance from here which stalled with COVID and then were shut, the file was shut. I know those files are being reopened at this very moment.

JOURNALIST: Just on some other local things, I know you’re a fan of the oval ball, but given what happened this morning, is there council plans to have any of the Socceroos games projected on the Esplanade during the World Cup?

MANNING: I don’t think we’re rated that level, but what a great effort by the Australian team. I didn’t think we could do that. We could go through and win so many games like that.

JOURNALIST: But the council has, at other times, had games and other things projected on screens on the Esplanade. Any chance of games-

MANNING: Yeah. Look, the Olympics are 2032…

GREEN: Just say yes, Bob.

MANNING: …We’ve got a long way to go. Okay, I get your point.

JOURNALIST: Sorry, Bob. Different kind of football, but there’s a bit of chat today that St Kilda might not renew their contract to have their yearly game at Cazalys, but maybe the Lions will spend half their games up here while the Gabba goes under construction. Would you like to see that here?

MANNING: I’d like to see the Lions here. I think the Lions are a great side and they’re just getting themselves ready for the end of year run. Look, we’ve got the Australian and New Zealand One Day cricket teams here in September for a three days’ series. That’s going to be great for the town. But I notice we’ve lost [indistinct] and that’s because of the problems they’ve had. But what a wonderful weekend we had with the iron man. It just really set the city alight the whole four or five days. So we’ll get our share of this stuff as best we can.

JOURNALIST: Sorry to make it all about football.

CLARE: All good. Thanks very much.


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