Cairns – Student Unions and urban (over)development

On Thursday I visited another University campus, meeting the Student Association representative for the Cairns campus of James Cook Uni. They were very unhappy about the potential impact of the planned Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU) legislation, unlike their Townsville counterparts. Ideology aside, it would make for some interesting meeting dynamics when reps from the two campuses get together!

Cairns is a much smaller campus than Townsville, with about a quarter of the student population and there is much greater doubt about the ability to maintain existing services. Once again, it is the ‘welfare’ type services which are most at risk as it is not feasible to directly make them user-pays.

My view is that it is almost certain that some form of VSU will pass the Senate after July, but the big test will be whether the Government sticks with the current ‘scorched earth’ model, or goes with something similar to what has operated in Victoria, which restricts partisan political activity whilst enabling fees to be collected to cover the cost of student services. Community and political pressure is what will make the difference, and it is regional campuses – especially the smaller ones – that are most likely to fel the biggest impact.

I also met with other groups about various environmental and development issues in the Cairns region. Inappropriate coastal development is a problem in many parts of Queensland, but Cairns seems to have a particularly large number of developments causing concern.

There are too many areas at risk to list here, but there are two that stuck out to me. One is a plan to build a large residential and tourist development at False Cape. This is in the area directly across the Inlet from central Cairns and would be the first major intrusion into the green vista that currently greets all visitors. It would inevitably lead to more development on that side of the inlet, creating an impact that could never be reversed.

Another interesting issue which has been bubbling along for a while is the desire to redevelop the site where the Cairns Yacht Club currently stands. This is on the National Trust’s endangered places list. The building is not much to look at from the outside, but it has played an important part in the history of Cairns. I went to have a look at the site. It is nearby the large marina where many tourist boats depart for reefs and islands, alongside the Hilton hotel and barely noticeable amongst all the other modern glitzy tourist buildings. It has a tiny rectangle of sand beach in front of it, walled in on all sides. It reminded me of the film footage of the last Tasmanian tiger – the single final remnant, caged in and awaiting its imminent demise. However, there are many locals fighting to preserve it in the face of the strong pro-developer mentality that holds sway with the current City Council.

I flew back to Brisbane that evening. It was good to get back home, although I spent an hour and a half chairing from 8.30pm on a phone hook-up discussing planning and issues for the Senate team, while my daughter kept running in and tugging at my sleeve trying to get me to come and play. I’ll end up being that guy in the “Cats and the Cradle” song soon. Still, I’m in Brisbane until Monday now, so I will get some more time with her over the next few days.

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