OPINION: 'Gladstone, are you done?'
I HAVE a proposition for the people of Central Queensland.
And that is, Central Queensland is like no other place on the Australian continent.
Central Queensland has a little bit of everything!
There's the big city of Rockhampton with its television and radio stations, its boarding schools, its Beef Week events, and its full-scale shopping centres. There's the seachange coast of the Shire of Livingstone with its laid-back lifestyle in every place between Yeppoon and Zilzie.
There's the industrial town of Gladstone, the mining community of Emerald, the agricultural community of the delightfully named Shire of Banana, and there's the indigenous community of Woorabinda.
If it's diversity you're after, then Central Queensland has it in spades.
But in many ways, it is the diversity of Central Queensland that gives the region its strength and its resilience.
The collapse of the mining boom in the region's resources towns has been to some extent offset by industrial growth and a heightened demand for lifestyle.
Those retiring and grey-nomad baby-boomers just cannot resist the lure and the allure of a Great Keppel sunset.
The whole Central Queensland region contains around 225,000 residents, including 86,000 within the urban area of Rockhampton making it the 20th largest city in Australia.
Over the 13 years to 2030 the broader region is expected to add a net extra 25,000 residents according to a new set of projections released by the State Government last November.
The problem is that the projected level of growth for Central Queensland is 12,000 less than the number actually added over the past 13 years. A breakdown of the data shows that it is Gladstone that is expected to more or less 'stop growing' during the 2020s.
Between 2004-2017 the number of people living in the Gladstone Regional Council area jumped 13,000 to 63,000. But over the 13-year period to 2030 Gladstone is projected to add barely 1000 in total.
Both Rockhampton and Livingstone are expected to add more people in the future than has been added in the past, and which is good news for the building industry and tradies living in these communities.
The reason behind Gladstone's rate of growth grinding to a halt is of course the fact that there are no major projects on the drawing board of the scale that attracted so many workers and residents over the last decade or so.
So, the outlook is, Rockhampton grows as does Livingstone meaning that there are even more opportunities for prosperity in these communities going forward.
However, Gladstone's tradies and shopkeepers will find the going incredibly tough over the coming decade.
The resultant question for Central Queensland, and for Gladstone, is quite simple: are you done? Or, do you think that your city and community have more to offer?
Because I think Gladstone has more to offer, just as I think that Australia's most diverse region has more to offer.
Every major Australian state has an industrial 'muscle' town. Sydney has Wollongong. Melbourne has the Latrobe Valley. Queensland has the power generation, the alumina smelting, the LNG loading facilities of Gladstone.
Queensland will be a bigger state by 2050. A bigger state will require more power, more industrial might, more muscle, and Gladstone is just the town to deliver precisely that in a 21st-century way.
I see the recent marking-down of Gladstone's growth outlook as an issue.
Gladstone is a go-ahead, can-do kinda place that attracts workers, that accommodates families, that well understands how to build communities, and that is far from done.
Rockhampton and Livingstone and Emerald and, yes, you too Banana and Woorabinda, may you all unite and project your voices loud and proud to the Queensland nation - so that they can hear you in the air-conditioned offices of No 1. William St - Central Queensland in general, and our beloved Gladstone specifically, are far from done.
Recast your thinking State Government of Queensland and set about envisioning the kind of society that this state might be, and the muscle that you might need, in order to create a bigger Gladstone: arguably the jewel in the crown of the most diverse region on the Australian continent.