Winning the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games presents South East Queensland and this region with wide-ranging economic and social opportunities. It also brings into immediate focus what we will need to achieve over the next 11 years to ensure the region is positioned to seize these opportunities.
Over the past decade the Sunshine Coast region has taken many positive steps forward, including growing the economic base off the back of population growth, doubling of USC and TAFE student numbers, significant investment from governments, councils and the private sector in a range of major projects.
We have seen the benefits of Sunshine Coast Council investing in assets such as the new runway for the Sunshine Coast Airport and the subsequent airport sale to Palisade Investment Partners; the initial planning and development of the Maroochydore City Centre and the partnership between SunCentral and investor Walker Corporation to master plan, build and deliver the CBD development; and the installation of an international broadband submarine cable.
There have also been State Government investments in the Sunshine Coast University Hospital; upgrades to other state-owned regional hospital and health facilities; and the investment in the upgrades of the Bruce Highway and major connecting intra-regional road structure such as the Mooloolah River Interchange — most significantly funded by the Federal Government.
The region has also relied heavily on private sector investment including significant projects such as Aura, Harmony, Birtinya, Bokarina Beach and our major retail centre expansions at Sunshine Plaza, Kawana Shopping World and Birtinya.
All in all, it has been a positive decade of growth for the Sunshine Coast region and now, thanks to the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games announcement and Sunshine Coast Council’s role as a delivery partner, we are well positioned to capitalise on yet another positive decade.
In order to do so, however, we will need to work quickly and collaboratively to deliver a strategic road map that identifies the infrastructure and investment required over the next 11 years, and harnesses a united commitment from all levels of government, the private sector and the community to make it a reality.
We are operating in what may be a protracted period of uncertainty and Sunshine Coast Council will need to position the Coast as an appealing and engaged investment destination to retain and attract investors as we prepare for 2032.
To build and maintain momentum in this region, councils will need to work with the investment community to hear their challenges and demonstrate that the Sunshine Coast region welcomes and appreciates private sector investment. Unless we do, the regional economy will struggle — particularly in these tough times.
We need to secure investment in new resorts, tourism accommodation and attractions. Projects in these sectors have continually experienced difficulty getting approvals or subsequently getting underway, creating investment uncertainty and a widening gap in high- and medium-end resorts and accommodation. If this is not addressed now, we will definitely not be ready to cope with the demand in 2032.
Connectivity within the region
One of our greatest challenges for the Games will be efficiently getting people into and around our region. Improving all methods of transportation to move people between Brisbane and Sunshine Coast venues will be a priority, and a reliable and efficient heavy rail spine should be the starting point.
The roadmap needs to focus on improving our rail connections with Brisbane to ease congestion on the Bruce Highway, and improving connectivity to and within the region through projects such as rail connecting through to Maroochydore — thereby enhancing its role as the city centre.
To deliver an efficient and effective rail system the three tiers of government need to be in lockstep to provide the connecting rail infrastructure that will underpin the economy, help enable future growth and allow the region to maximise the benefits from the 2032 Games.
There should be no piecemeal approach. If Maroochydore is to truly be considered the city centre beyond Sunshine Coast Council’s aspirations, then heavy rail really is non-negotiable — it is the only sensible destination for heavy rail services into the Coast from Brisbane.
Our focus on achieving this needs to be immediate and practical, and comes with the realisation that we don’t have the luxury of taking our foot off the pedal, as has happened in the past.
We are already experiencing a lack of skilled workers in many industries and at the same time we have an unemployment rate that is too often higher than the state average — particularly the youth unemployment rate. Our focus must be on getting the skills and capabilities in place to power up to be ready for the Games.
Cut red tape that slows down development, get private investment flowing, get public sector funding for essential hard and soft infrastructure, improve housing supply and housing affordability and create essential skills, capabilities and jobs across a range of industries.
We need an environment that encourages and enables the private sector to step forward and invest and we then need a skilled and keen workforce to fill the jobs created across all industries, in addition to those that will come from the public sector.
What we know is that the Sunshine Coast is currently looking to attract private and public investment to strengthen core capabilities in areas such as food and agribusiness, manufacturing, logistics and ICT. We also know we are experiencing significant housing affordability and housing supply problems across all housing price points, including community housing.
We therefore need to devise a strategy to deliver the affordable accommodation essential to attracting seasonal workers and the casual workers needed to deliver the road and rail infrastructure essential to move visitors and athletes participating in the Games.
The Games is a catalyst for planning and infrastructure that will subsist and endure well into the future, when the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games are a distant memory. Get that wrong and it’ll be an unmitigated disaster.
To address these opportunities and challenges over the next decade we need alignment and intent between our political and business leaders and our community.
Only then can we look to be ready for the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.