Strong Australia - Cairns

With more than 200 community and business leaders and a terrific line-up of panellists, our Strong Australia lunch in Cairns provided us with real insights into what locals want for their region.

We know from the federal election results that regional Australians have felt ignored and they want their voices heard. This is the great strength of our Strong Australia initiative which takes us into communities and lets us hear firsthand what locals need to get their regions moving.

Chairman of the iconic Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, Dr Ken Chapman, best summed up where the Cairns region should see itself in the next 50 years. 

“I’d like to think in that timeframe we are going to have all the services you could expect in a capital city,’’ he told our Strong Australia lunch on Tuesday.

“A full tertiary hospital, world-class education facilities and a truly, truly, successful and sustainable agriculture and tourism industry that is leading the world and showing how it can be done.’’

Ken Chapman pointed out that it would be a mistake to ignore northern development, and Cairns had everything going for it. All it needed, he said, was “a bit of love from down south’’.


"We couldn’t have done that without the support of Coles, and our strategic collaborative relationship with Coles underpins our business and underpins our growth."

Manbulloo quality manager Scott Ledger


The panel – which also included Nick Loukas from the Cairns Chamber of Commerce and Norris Carter, the CEO of Cairns Airport – listed several priorities for the region including better transport links, especially to ship freight from the Atherton Tablelands to the airport and ports, and water catchment.

As Nick Loukas told the lunch, which was co-hosted with the Chamber, the region had the “most beautiful rich agricultural land’’ with numerous opportunities to expand but they needed transport and water catchment. The Chamber is advocating for the construction of the Nullinga Dam on the Tablelands.

During our visit to the Cairns region, we were fortunate to have a tour around one of Manbulloo’s mango farms near Mareeba on the Atherton Tablelands which grows Australia’s favourite mango – the Kensington Pride.

Manbulloo is really the story of Australian business: strong partnerships between big and small businesses and a network of trusted supply chains working collaboratively to deliver premium produce, products and services to consumers here and overseas.

The family-owned company, run by Marie Piccone, supplies the majority of their mangoes to Coles under an eight-year supply agreement, and has two orchards in Katherine in the Northern Territory, three near Mareeba and two near Townsville.

It’s a great example of big and small business working together with Manbulloo and Coles innovating together and investing together in a win-win for the local and national economy.

As Manbulloo quality manager Scott Ledger told us, their partnership with Coles is critical to their success and was the catalyst for their expansion to seven orchards and enabled them to plant thousands of additional mango trees in Katherine.

“We couldn’t have done that without the support of Coles, and our strategic collaborative relationship with Coles underpins our business and underpins our growth,’’ he said.

Another terrific example of supply chains is Frank Sciacca’s Pacific Coast Eco Bananas which produces 45,000 cartons of bananas each year and supports about 40 other businesses from packaging suppliers to insect monitoring. 

His “ecoganic’’ bananas are the ones covered in colourful red wax and you can find them on the shelves of Woolworths as well as Hong Kong and Singapore.  

The regions value the relationship between big and small business, and understand that business drives growth, opportunities and jobs in their community. When businesses are expanding, it means Australians can get ahead.


The main message from Cairns is that for regional Australia to thrive, we need to change the nation’s mindset.


The Cairns lunch also heard very clearly that more needs to be done to counter the perception that the Great Barrier Reef is dying. The negativity about the reef’s future is hurting local businesses and the wider community.

As Nick Loukas said, this beautiful natural asset is the best managed reef in the world and people needed to hear a more nuanced story.

“Yes, there’s some damage, we’re certainly not saying there hasn’t been damage, but we’re already seeing some fantastic stories about the regeneration of the reef,’’ he added.

The main message from Cairns is that for regional Australia to thrive, we need to change the nation’s mindset.

We need to embrace a clear purpose and have the vision and courage to embark on strategic nation building. Driving this, there needs to be a cultural shift that we see Australia as more than a collection of capital cities and marginal seats. Our regions are the backbone of the nation, and when they are strong, the whole nation is stronger.

Let’s continue focusing the conversation on how we develop our regions by prioritising the type of infrastructure and services that enable them to grow and attract more businesses, people and jobs.

Our Strong Australia Network is designed to highlight the importance thriving businesses play in driving strong communities.


Date and time

July 23, 2019 at 12:00pm - 2pm


Cairns, QLD 4870
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