Cooktown: A different type of zoo - The Good Oil by Rod Brown*

With the strong dollar, inbound tourism into Cairns is pretty grim. You have to feel sorry for the shopkeepers and restaurant owners.

Anyway, I'd never been to Cooktown, and have a long lost cousin there, so last month I did the four hour drive from Cairns. The Mulligan Highway was unsealed up until five years ago. Now it's a beautiful drive with the majestic Great Dividing Range on your right, and wildlife everywhere. Brahman cattle as big as houses, and I nearly cleaned up a herd of brumbies and a pair of plain turkeys (aka bustards).

Cooktown's population is only 2,000 and has retained its frontier character. There are some great Queenslander type pubs with timber floors. On the first morning I wandered down the main street past the spot where Captain Cook repaired the Endeavour. At the main jetty, the ferry from Cairns was just docking with a sprinkle of tourists. I got to talking to a veteran fisherman casting a line.

"Get many crocs here?" I asked innocently.

'Put it this way, mate, don't wash your bloody hands down there', came the reply in typical Far North Queensland understatement.

'See that rock wall behind us? A couple of months back a croc went flying up there after a white tailed rat!' I later googled the said rat - it is a rodent native to north Queensland and can weigh up to two kilograms!

My new best friend then gave me a 10 minute overview of fish he'd caught with his two sons in their 20 foot runabout, and some jibes about the 'grey shoe shufflers' wandering off the ferry.

Then he launched into a stinging critique of the crocodile conservation policy. I'd gotten the drift the previous night from a photo of a croc launching itself at a youth in a tinny. A priceless photo - you can see it for yourself in the local pizza restaurant.

The point of this article is that Cooktown is just the beginning of Cape York, a vastly different region waiting for jaded domestic and international tourists. The southern nodes of Mareeba and Cooktown give way to Coen, Lockhart River, Weipa and the communities of Seisa, Bamaga and Thursday Island.

Travel north of Cooktown has its challenges - unsealed roads, expensive airfares (unless you book ahead), insufficient accommodation and variable food. Cape York Sustainable Futures (Cockatoo member) is addressing these issues.

If you want conventional tourism, it's best to stick to Port Douglas, Cairns, Noosa and the like. But if you want sweeping scenery, abundant wildlife, friendly people in a remote setting, then put this place on your Bucket List (10 things to do before you die).

Promises with timelines

While in Cooktown I bumped into a character who was working at the Hope Vale community (just north of there) when Cyclone Larry ripped through in 2006.

He said that among the helpers post Larry was a government official who promised a refrigerated storeroom to enable regular supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables to the 750 residents.

Well after three to four months of no word, the Hope Vale chap telephoned the number on the business card. No answer. A few weeks later, he got the same result. He tried a third time, but then gave up.

He has now forgotten the department the official was from, and shrugs it off as another example of the tyranny of distance.

Unfulfilled promises and inordinate delays from government agencies are the norm in regional Australia. The problem arises from the over selling of programs, compounded by administrative processes that are way too process driven and too slow.

In my Brave New World, I'd close half the 'do gooder' Federal programs, shift the savings into regional budgets, and move 10 per cent of Canberra bureaucrats into regional centres where they'd have Key Performance Indicators based around getting funding out promptly to the right areas.

If the Cooktown region's priorities are refrigerated storerooms, cyclone relief, teachers or harbour dredging, then that's what they'd get - and within an agreed timeline.

As I've said before, next time a Minister or Shadow Minister lobs in to discuss your needs, impress on them the need for 'real delivery'.

Some day I will write a paper explaining exactly how this could work.

Bloated bureaucracy needs KISS treatment

Joe Hockey is talking about making 12,000 Canberra public servants redundant when the Coalition returns to power. He has a point.

Did you know DEEWR has 78 senior executives? Similarly, FAHCSIA has 105 SES officers and the new Environment portfolio has almost as many. One shudders to think about Defence, Treasury, Finance and so forth. And then there's the army of minions. In the ebb and flow of politics, the Canberra economy is in for a big hit.

On a related matter, I'd been musing about my colleagues' difficulties in keeping abreast of Federal agencies. So I suggested to the PM's Department that future governments adopt the KISS principle when naming departments.

I instanced the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs; the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (what a doozy!); the Department of Industry, Science and Research (aka disarray) and the Department of Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy (aka BCDE or the alphabet department). My suggestion was imperiously swept aside. In fact I don't think she remotely understood my point.

Join the dots

Regional Development Minister Crean has asked you to look beyond your Shire or Municipal borders and to join the dots with regard to the RDA Fund. He says you shouldn't make it a wish list, but identify programs that fit with strategic issues and look for partners.

Take note of this, some councils lodged as many as 15 submissions. Close to 400 submissions were received in the first round. Quality not quantity is the key! Contact us.

Sell your community to the world

A new website - www.discover-interesting-places.com - has been launched by Paquita Lamacraft in Germany. As well as classy photos, her website captures historical facts, inventions and things of interest in various cities. It already has readership from 62 countries. It's a sort of "pictorial Bill Bryson" that urges you to jump on a plane.

Paquita knows Australia backwards - she's from the western district, and has held senior economic/tourism positions in Camperdown, the Greater Green Triangle, Daylesford and Mackay.

Lately, she has also drafted the Film and Music Strategy for New Orleans and the cultural planning outlines for Milton Keynes in the UK.

So I suggested she feature towns and regions in Australia, New Zealand or anywhere for that matter.

The opportunity is real because of her skill sets, and it would provide a great way for cash strapped councils to sell themselves to world travellers and investors.

If you'd like to be featured, please view her site, and ring us to discuss rates and time schedules.

*Rod Brown is a Canberra-based consultant specialising in industry/regional development, investment attraction, clusters and accessing Federal grants. He also runs the Cockatoo Network. He can be contacted at apdcockatoo@iprimus.com.au or phone (02) 6231 7261. Go to the blog at www.investmentinnovation.wordpress.com for 550+ articles on issues relevant to Local Government.