Oct 2, 2010

Politics Kills The Walkways

Author: Bruce Williams
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14th September 2010 Vol 21 Issue 25

Politics Kills The Walkways

Bruce Williams

The construction of the vital missing link in our walkways, at least until the next federal election, is dead.

Ewen Jones, newly elected Member for Herbert has categorised election promises of both major parties as 1: confident will be funded, 2: on the edge, and 3: unlikely to be funded. He places the $4m+ walkway upgrades on Magnetic Island in the third category. This unpalatable diagnosis is certain to anger the Magnetic Island public as much as the failure of the Nelly Bay Harbour which led to a decade of agony and dissent within the Magnetic Island community during the nineteen nineties. Regrettably, from his position as a back-bencher in opposition, Hon Ewen Jones’ chances of pushing the project through in the next three years is likely to be similar to those of his predecessor Peter Lindsay who also was an enthusiastic supporter of the walkways in both government and opposition, yet was unable to bring them to fruition.

High achieving ex-mayor Tony Mooney accepted the project as a “vital part” of his campaign; before the election he was confident of gaining the approvals. He spoke to Community News on Saturday about the prospects of the project. He revealed that “... to get that project signed-off depended on me getting elected.” Once elected, he felt confident that he could successfully negotiate the project through the machinery of Government. Despite his loss in the election, Mr Mooney has pledged to “... make it (the completion of the walkways) a mission of mine”, and to do what he could to push the project so that it would have a good chance of success at the next federal election, irrespective of who will be the candidates. Mr Mooney’s determination to help us in this matter should be matched by a determined and organised community planning program.

During the years leading up to the recent election, many individuals and organisations such as the RSL, MIRRA and MICDA have invested much time in promoting the completion of the “missing link” above the cliff between Nelly Bay and Arcadia. Every Magnetic Islander experiences the risky trip over the dangerous road between upper cliff and the fall to the rocky coast below. Walkers and bicycle riders are faced with another three years of running the gauntlet beside all manner of converging motorised transport as well as falling rocks and panicked wildlife.

All stakeholders realise that the project needs support and commitment from the Townsville City Council. There is no doubt that the mayor and councillors are aware of the importance of completing the walkways. Deputy Mayor David Crissafulli in particular has been proactive since his election in pushing the issue. Regrettably, the Council has been unable to support the completion of the walkways financially. No doubt because of the parlous state of TCC coffers, its financial support was limited to the production of a (very good) glossy submission describing the project and its need.

Readers of last Friday’s Townsville Bulletin will have noticed an article written by Townsville City Council Mayor Les Tyrell. The mayor wrote “… our council was in the fortunate position of securing commitments to fund significant local projects from both sides..” Many readers of this observation must have hoped for a more gutzy contribution to the fate of the project than the mayor’s patting his council on the back merely because they had some success in gaining political promises before a federal election. If there is another serious accident on that section of road, or a death, the Magnetic Island community is certain to expect more concrete action than the production of self-congratulation for a will-of-the wisp.

Both candidates (Mooney and Jones) had gained some sort of commitments of over $4 million to be spent on Magnetic Island walkways. There was, however, some difference in where the money is to be spent. Jones (Coalition) saw the construction to take place beside the Nelly Bay to Arcadia section of road, while Mooney (Labor) was talking about the whole road from Picnic Bay, through Nelly Bay to Arcadia. That is the first in a number of areas of confusion.

The second area of concern is that The Gillard minority coalition of Labor, the Greens and Independents may only last as long as the first by-election . Since Federation there have been 146 by-elections, which translates to an average of 3.5 by-elections for each federal parliament since 1 January, 1901. In the event of the resignation/death of one member of the Gillard coalition ( currently 76 members to 74 in the Liberal/National/Independent ), and a loss to Gillard in a by-election, a new Abbott Coalition may very well form government. By-election wins mostly favour the opposition over the government by a ratio of 35 to 5. There may very well be a new election called at the time of the first by-election, only a heart-beat away. There can be no guarantee that allocation of priorities in this event will reflect those of the recent general election. Neither Labor or Liberal support for our walkways was funded.

The walkways promises on both sides were made to a marginal electorate during a tight fight which favoured regional electorates such as Herbert. There is no guarantee that future aspiring governments will feel as pressured by regional electorates as at the recent cliff-hanger. Labor’s promise of the walkways funding was engineered by Tony Mooney who, as a previous mayor of Townsville understood the pressing need to finish the walkways project. Another future Labor candidate for Herbert might have different priorities elsewhere in the electorate. Politics is a very uncertain business.

Another uncertainty comes about because the approval of projects such as the completion of our walkways has been made in times of stability and relative prosperity. There can be no doubt that International trade does not favour many of our traditional trading partners. Australia’s national optimism is tied to the strength of the Chinese economy. There can be no guarantees that China’s economy will continue to grow at its current rate. The US is teetering on the edge of another contraction. Promised but unfunded items such as the walkways are not always guaranteed of permanent support. The paperwork at this time surrounding our project has not even been produced; there are no guarantees attached to such election promises.

Asked what the Magnetic Island community can do to prepare the way for another joust over the walkways, Mr Mooney advised us to “Get the three level of government together on this matter.” He continued that we should utilise the existing structure of the federal government to prepare a strong submission.

Elected members of parliament should support serious community proposals irrespective of their political allegiances. In our case, he advised that North Queensland Senator Jan McLucas and Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese should be our targeted representatives.

Whatever is said and done, one fact stands out: BOTH major political parties are already aware that the Magnetic Island walkways are vital. All of our local organisations may find it appropriate to come together to begin this process of preparing for the next federal election. That process may be raised at the next MIRRA monthly meeting. The walkways are dead. Long live the walkways!

Lauchlan Kina with his hand reel and tackle box that he won at the Magnetic Island Boat Club’s Junior fishing Competition at Picnic Bay on Sunday

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