National political leaders pledge cash in bid for votes
THE battle for votes in the Far North has stepped up a notch with the Prime Minister and Federal Opposition Leader visiting Cairns this week on whistle-stop tours.
Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott both arrived with big wads of cash to sweeten the bargain for voters in the key seat of Leichhardt, which takes in the former Douglas Shire.
Mr Abbott on Monday announced $92 million in spending for tourism initiatives over four years if the LNP is elected.
The package includes $10 million to promote Cairns in China and New Zealand, as well as $62 million for infrastructure grants and research.
LNP candidate for Leichhardt Warren Entsch said the promised funds could help kick-start projects such as the Daintree Gateway and Port Douglas Waterfront proposals.
“It would give people encouragement to know there is money available, that the government was tourism-friendly and ready to put dollars in,” he said.
Leichhardt Labor MP Jim Turnour pointed to $40 million in tourism grants and $30 million to market Australia to China promised by the Government over the next four years.
Mr Turnour also said he had helped bring an extra 5225 airline seats into Cairns Airport in the last year.
“The Gillard government has invested millions of dollars to bring airlines back to Cairns,” he said.
“Under the former member, Warren Entsch, we saw airline after airline leave Cairns in that 12 year period.”
But Tourism Port Douglas Daintree executive officer Doug Ryan was unimpressed with the promises from both parties.
“It has to be marketing money, not infrastructure and all the fluffy stuff that money gets wasted on, we need dollars for direct marketing,” he said.
“I haven’t seen anything that I would say is extremely beneficial for our region at the moment.”
This week was the first time either party leader had ventured to the region since the election was called almost three weeks ago, but neither made it as far as Douglas.
During her trip, Ms Gillard also announced $9.4 million for a rainforest research facility in the Daintree and $14.4 million for 16 new rehabilitation beds at Cairns Base Hospital.
In April, Labor also committed to building a $13 million drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre at Cooktown, which will be accessible to patients across Cape York including Mossman from 2011.
Mr Entsch said it was unlikely the LNP would announce a similar project during the election campaign, but he was “absolutely committed” to establishing a rehab centre for the Cape.
The Opposition candidate is the bookies’ favourite to win Leichhardt, with Sportsbet odds putting Mr Entsch at $1.60 and Mr Turnour on $2.20.
But his campaign hit a snag when Tony Abbott would not commit funds to Mr Entsch’s grand vision for the Cairns region.
Mr Entsch recently floated his idea for Cairns sports tourism industry, which included a 20,000seat football field, Olympic hockey and tennis facilities and a pool refurbishment.
He made the comments as an alternative to the proposed $241 million Cairns performing arts precinct, to which Labor has committed $40 million.
But Mr Abbott would not back either project, saying Labor was on a “spending spree” and his priority was responsible financial management.
Meanwhile, neither party has changed their positions on illegal turtle and dugong hunting, with the LNP committed to cutting hunting by 90 per cent within 100 days and Labor investing $10 million in a sea country indigenous partnership program amongst other initiatives.
On the prowl: Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott in Cairns this week