4 June 2024

Letter from the Editor: People, not polling and politics, must determine CYRP funding criticality

| Lyndon Keane
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The Peninsula Developmental Road and its ongoing improvement is far too critical to the daily lives of Cape York residents to be measured by standard government infrastructure funding yardsticks. Photo: Lyndon Keane.

The Cape York Regional Package (CYRP) open forum in Cairns on 30 May proved two things definitively: one, stakeholders agree continued funding for stages three and four of the project will literally make or break Cape York’s future and, two, ego and polling success are taking precedence over people.

At the heart of the CYRP is the Peninsula Developmental Road (PDR), and the community access roads and bridge infrastructure linking us with the rest of Queensland.

While stage one and stage two of the massive project have delivered some significant local wins to date, a hurdle the State Government diplomatically describes as “cost and resource pressures” has thrown a spanner in the works for the second stage’s completion. Geotechnical issues have caused a cost and calendar blowout on the Archer River bridge, with a reported budget black hole of about $80 million – I say “reported”, because it’s impossible to get a figure from the Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) – having to be plugged before funding for stage three can even be considered.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not pointing the finger at the TMR crew, who are doing a commendable job on a politically and environmentally challenging, extremely public stage. I’m lobbing the blame grenade in the direction of our state and federal governments, who are reluctant to stump up what is realistically another five hundred or so million dollars, minimum, to improve the lives of what are the handful of voters who call Cape York home. One has to wonder how much they actually care about what is arguably the most important issue for the region, given the only political representation in the room was from Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch’s office – Member for Cook Cynthia Lui didn’t bother to send anyone, while the candidates who have nominated to try and end her reign were also missing in action.

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However it’s framed, the politically emaciated elephant in the room is that no matter how much the two upper tiers of government do or don’t spend on upgrading the PDR, bridges like Myall Creek and Laura’s Shelley’s Crossing, and the roads into communities like Kowanyama, it is only ever going to win or lose them one state and one federal seat.

They don’t like to admit it, but the appetite Canberra and Brisbane have for getting the PDR to a standard that’s expected for a main road in every other part of Australia comes down to a numbers game where the social and economic wellbeing of Cape York voters takes a backseat to urban pork barrelling. Make no mistake, if Cook and Leichhardt covered five or six electorates at both state and federal level, the PDR would have been sealed a decade ago.

Last week’s forum acknowledged the decisions around CYRP funding and the project’s delivery couldn’t be made using the normal cost-benefit matrix for infrastructure ambitions in more heavily populated parts of Queensland. But that’s alright, because the PDR isn’t a normal road. As was quite rightly identified during the forum, it’s absolutely more than bitumen, red dirt and water crossings that become impassable for months at a time. It’s our lifeline, and connects the veins crisscrossing the communities that make up Cape York. Without the PDR, there is no Cape York, and without a prioritised rollout of the final two stages of the CYRP, there is no chance of us celebrating any tangible social or economic growth anytime soon.

Politicians aren’t renowned for adopting a commonsense approach to taking advice from we commoners, but here’s something for nothing ahead of October’s state election and the 2025 – providing Prime Minister Anthony Albanese doesn’t pull the trigger early – federal election: the candidates for whichever parties make a genuine commitment to the CYRP and people of Cape York will win Cook and Leichhardt.

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