Friday 1 February 2008

Developer Wanted. Apply Within

As CairnsBlog spreads it's wings and gains readers in the neighbouring Douglas Shire, today we welcome Port's 'frustrated musician' Brendan Fitzgerald to our stable.
He presents some views about what this new appendage of Cairns needs.

One of the more costly and compounding problems facing the Douglas commercial sector at present is how to attract and maintain a seasonal workforce, whilst still being able to equip these workers with all of the necessary skills needed to be of value to local industry.

I am not just referring to the Hospitality Industry workforce either, the possible phoenix like re-incarnation of the Agricultural Industry could too benefit from such an arrangement whereby casual transient staff could be housed, fed and in some cases even trained for a pre-agreed dollar value per week.

Let's face it, we could really use a fully catered multi-purpose residential campus in Division 10, especially if it had access to equitable Public Transport.

A multi-purpose residential campus would take the pressure off Port Douglas's overpriced and over-extended rental market which has a direct impact on the size of the transient workforce, this in turn has a compounding effect on the size of the localised permanent work force as it is often these seasonal transients who statistically settle and become long-term residents and eventually rate payers.

A residential campus, built in stages, that could house one hundred or so workers or students near to Port Douglas or Mossman would not only be a viable investment for a developer to embark on, it would also be a worthwhile business for any successful tenderer to operate. The social, commercial and economic synergies derived from a project like this present themselves everywhere.

A residential campus would be a positive way of housing a transient workforce. Employers could sponsor beds at the facility and as they found staff could offer subsidised short-term housing until staff found a longer term solution or moved on.

A fully catered version of a residential campus could serve to further enhance the Douglas TAFE college or even James Cook University by way of courses on offer locally. There is also both State and Federal Tax Incentives for industry to invest in training making this proposition even more domestically palatable in the long term. It could also become a core stop destination for any possible future tourism subsidised public transport enterprise.

A residential 'English College' for overseas students would further enhance the local economy and add depth to the linguistic skills currently available to many local employers engaged in international tourism marketing. I strongly encourage local Government and business to look at this idea seriously.


Anonymous said...

Well good luck with getting anything from the State Government (Hey Jas) But seriously folks the hospitality industry in FNQ has been paying well below average wages for years. It’s the old addage “If you pay peanuts you’ll get monkeys” The locals of Port are good and decent people but have been turned away from working within industry purly and simply because of the treatment and wages payed by southern owners or the occasional greedy local owner.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you anonymous. I am a qualified chef, and have been for nearly 20 years. I wont work in hospitality in Cairns because of the wages paid. I know of one adult male who decided to do the good thing, and become an apprentice chef. 6 months later, he resigned from his apprenticeship because at 30 years old, he was getting paid $5 an hour. His boss, used to pay him $5 an hour out of her own wage, just so she could keep him. The attitude of the hospitality industry here in Cairns is , "You work for this amount. If you dont like it, there are others who will do it instead." Hence, when you go out for dinner, most of the time, NOT ALL, you get poor service.
But, unfortunately, in Cairns, hospitality isnt the only industry that pays poor wages. Nearly every industry does the same thing. I currently run a small motel here in Cairns, which I am renovating at the same time. I have found that getting any service in Cairns is nearly impossible. Most of the service industies in Cairns are pathetic. When I am buying furniture and building materials, I usually end up buying from down south as I get far better service from people 2000km away than I do from people around the corner. Which is a shame, because I would prefer to buy all my goods locally and support local business. But as anonymous said, if you pay peanuts you only get monkeys.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous and Brendan its good to get a sharp and focused blog out of Port. The issue you raise is the most strategically important one for Division 10 - how do we provide affordable housing for low income workers with out closing the mill by using agricultural land or by using rainforests.

The answer is of course, you don't! This means the low cost, high density development you describe goes in places like Smithfield and Edmonton and the transport infrastructure goes into supporting that outcome. Otherwise you get the thing on the highway the've now got at Clifton Beach at Craiglee.

The consequence of a low population growth strategy in Division 10 by locking in the urban footprint is higher property prices which in turn undermines the toursim industry's ability to provide service.

These are the issues we are dealing with with the iconic legislation and the regional plan and I hope to blog in more detail on them in the next few days.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jason, Allow me a moment to walk you around the backyard. Just about every local major issue in this area could be dissolved through transport infrastructure and development innovation, including agriculture.

The Queensland Governments Icon legislation should really just focus on the systemic social, economic and environmental values and protocols of the current area.

The Icon legislation should not be used to sell our economic future up the 'South Arm' without a paddle so-to-speak. More pointedly, the legislation should not include parcels of land along the lines of… “here you can’t do anything, and here you can’t either,” …apart from what is environmentally best practice now anyway.

I will today, on this blog, share my ideas on a tourism subsidised local transport network that requires no funding from State or Regional Council and can be achieved with the efforts of current and existing operators.

This alone will help to free up the local economy and even out the feast and famine or tidal inconsistencies of a seasonal workforce rental market by way of opening up the rental choices towards Mossman and Cooya.

On agriculture, even our farmers will tell you the cane is all but over, innovation or not, the industry in its current form is not exactly the most financially viable. So, do we sit back and wait for it all to go to mill mud or do we actively engage the farmers into a market garden niche, using the Mill perhaps as a tool, as with cocoa.

This would help to feed a growing Cairns population, help reduce toxic run-off trough our waterways, maintain our scenic rural landscape and by reducing larger farm sizes on good quality agricultural soils you will reduce the cost of production per hectare to the environment and increase the income per hectare to the community.

With that all said, A residential training campus would certainly be a bonus to the area in many ways, I don't think wages are as much to blame as the cost of just living here is and that is driven by the market. If we reduce the burden on the cost of the wages, the wages will eventually catch up with the cost of the market. ;-)

Anonymous said...

The affordable housing debate is one where I can maybe throw some light, given my experience on both sides of the fence in this area, and having done some considerable research as a consultant to try and figure out why its is failing to manifest.

No one, governments included, are just going to build, then give away cheap rental accom in a resort town, so waiters and deckhands can party on rent free.

It's hard enough getting the poor indigenous needs met, before creating itinerant enclaves.

If you are practical about it, affordable housing means somewhere you can rent where rent is maybe $100-150 pw week.

From a landlord's viewpoint, this means he can afford to build and rent a simple unit/townhouse/boarding pad, for say $125 per week, or say $6500 per annum. But what then transpires, is two factors weigh in, one rates, the other body corp, to slice $1200Pa out in rates, and about the same in body corp fees. That slices $2400 out of $6500 income, before breakages and vacancy factors are weighed in.

It is this reason why, it's more logical for developers to not build properties much by way of property that rents much under $200-$250 per week for 2's a simple relationship between income and expenses, where at the bottom end of the rental market, council rates and body corp fees are the killer.

In the older days, you could build a boarding house and house many, but pay bugger all in rates.
Now with strata title obsession, the rates are per domicile, as are the body corp fees.

New town plans for Cairns and Douglas offer no real method or incentive to avoid rates as per the cheap old boarding houses.These days, people want their own kitchen, even if just a galley, and their own bathroom.
But developers won't build housing that is a half way zone between a boarding house and a strata apartment , because the yield is slaughtered by multi rates grabbing, and body corp fees.

We have become too smart by half.
To my mind, to encourage affordable housing, we need a new rating category that allows groups of affordable flats, some rate dispensation, and with it, some better body corp deal.

If a land lord could actually pocket most of say a $125/week rental, instead of having a third of it vaporised in rates and fees, then we would see more affordable housing all over. Don't forget, after debt repayment, landlords are working margins of just a few percent per annum.

Currently, old disused resort stock at places like Nimrod, and John Morris's residues, houses our itinerants, until, like at Reef Terraces, they start to refurb the place. But there is always some sort of supply of older resort properties where rent is cheap. But not enough.

The idea of adding staff accom to resorts on expensive CBD land defies financial logic, and defies the patterns by which staff often hold down more than one job, and is quite feudal in form.

There is no question that all employers in town like Port Douglas complain about lack of staff. Cynics may be right when they say employers, who expect to pay minimal wages, then dump employees in the low season, do nothing to help solve their own problems. There is boom out there in mining and construction, and any strapping 20 something-year-old knows that a tourism job, whilst often fun, pays crook rates, compared with competing industries, so there is a degree of employer's self induced difficulty, when tourism pays so baldy.

Sure, tourism employs mass hoards, but are we becoming impoverished Greek fishermen, carting tourists, working slave hours for the Yankee Dollar? Yes, yes, I know we are competing with Asia, and yes, I will have another Bintang, for under a dollar for long neck, thankyou.

You need rating, zoning, headworks and body corp fee incentive to make affordable housing work in tourism centres. We don't need handouts, subsidies, or enclaves. If you want to do to Melbourne's Fitzroy gig by way of housing commission blocks, provided by well meaning socialists, then count me out of interest.

But if you were to say, hey, build rent-limited housing with rate exemptions, headwork's sympathy, and more shared duties by resident's body corp work, then you will be creating an environment where developers will do the rest.

But we face another ridiculous problem. Our addiction to debt that has seen the Western world pumped up on cheap debt, which has made your typical suburban home, no longer priced at the equivalent of 3 years wages, to a point where now, the typical home costs 10 times you typical annual wage. This favours the 'haves' and decimates the rest. But it will come unstuck, and will come unstuck big-time.

The stupidity of, and short term insanity of keeping Americans addicted to debt by slicing Federal Reserve ( read Rothschild Reserve ) rates by slicing 1.25% off interest rates in just one week is total madness, hollowing out the Hollywood façade that is living in the West. Both shares and housing values are way too high, as the markets are demonstrating in the passing panics, and the pack of cards that is the debt fuelled West, is in for some rude awakenings, where Asia will come out on top, and maybe in 40 years, US kids will be working in sweat shops making Nike's for Chinese wrappers.

Australia thinks it is immune from the debt madness, because Asia keeps buying our rocks. The fact that the Chinese Stock market fell 20% this month seems a side detail to the rock exporting Oz. It's not a side detail. Sure, our rip-off, over-taxing Federal Government has no debt, but it is at our expense, as the private debt per head, is up threefold among us Australians in just the last 5-6's now approaching $1.2 trillion dollars of mum an dad debt. We are in deep shit, but the sails are still full. Rock sales wont save the debt bubble existence.

We have out bid each other on every investment avenue, and the only winner is the bankers. And the bankers, those lovely guys, are about to pull hard on our choker chains. And that, dear reader, could in one simple move, provide all the affordable housing the population needs. Whether then there will be need for thousands of twenty-something's, to pour beers for overweight tourists is another question. We build bigger houses to contain less people. Its nothing for one person to own many homes. Tax laws say buy as many homes as you can, and avoid tax.
So affordable housing is one of those subjects, where the woftan ideals of most in government never get traction.

But there are ways it will sort itself. One is world recession, not so fun. The other is innovative review of not just the architecture, but the financial structures behind the affordable buildings in terms of better spreading council rates and body corp costs.

So that's Rod's views. Who agrees, and who disagrees?

Cr Rod Davis, Port Douglas