Thursday, 25 March 2021
Kuranda is a small community of around 4½ thousand people located about 30 kilometres directly west of Cairns via the Kuranda Range. The Kuranda economy is heavily reliant on domestic and international tourism and the self-drive market that feeds into that tourism. It has been absolutely decimated by the ongoing effects of the pandemic. I think I could mount a very strong argument that it is the hardest-hit tourism destination in our nation.
The Kuranda economy is made up of very small, family owned and operated businesses and several market-stall type businesses. Kuranda businesses are not major conglomerates that could possibly absorb the economic effects of this pandemic. I recently visited Kuranda to meet with members of the Kuranda Traders Association, very capably chaired by Dei Gould, an artist and business owner in the community, and during my visit I had the opportunity of talking to various businesses. One cafe owner that I spoke to said that putting $25 through the cash register in a day was a good day. I met with William Sonnet, a small, long-time garment trader, who said three people had walked through his shop that day and purchased absolutely nothing. You can understand how difficult it is. Talking to them almost brought me to tears, seeing firsthand the utter devastation of this once very vibrant community. It was, in effect, a ghost town.
Prior to COVID, Kuranda township, which, as I said earlier, is highly dependent on international tourism, would welcome an average of 3,000 visitors per day, primarily arriving from Cairns. These visitors provide economic stimulus and employment in a very vibrant town community. The devastating impacts of COVID on the Cairns tourism sector, which supported one in five jobs from direct visitor spend, have seen $3.5 billion ripped out of our local economy. Sadly, the flow-on effect of these sobering figures has decimated the Kuranda tourism market. A further 60 per cent drop-off in visitor spend, or $2 billion, is forecast for June 2021, and that alone has triggered the closure of more than 250 Kuranda businesses. Of the remaining 38 per cent in hibernation, 32 per cent are on reduced hours, leaving less than 15 per cent of products available daily. With reduced visitor numbers and daily product services, Kuranda is a ghost of its former self, with more businesses closed than open, no tour buses in the street, next to no people and very few self-drive visitors. What has been a double whammy for the community is that two major attractions and major sources of visitation, the Skyrail and the Kuranda Scenic Railway, have made recent decisions to operate at a very heavily reduced capacity. This decision has again severely impacted visitation, just when there was a glimmer of hope for the township.
Unemployment numbers and economic and community stress are on the increase and there's an expectation that these will continue to increase. As you can see, the situation in Kuranda is certainly beyond bad. It's around this time of the year that we move towards the cooler months. There are many in the House here who decide to escape the southern winter and head up to my neck of the woods with families and loved ones. It's a good opportunity to make sure you put Kuranda on the must-visit list. I have a proposal where the community, rather than just giving up, are looking at changing their business practices. They're looking at a series of about four festivals over the next 12 months where, for a week at a time, they're bringing local people in to start trying to re-engage. I'm certainly very strongly supporting that initiative. We hope that will happen. Also, some of the businesses up there have started to change their business model. There was a small business up there called Bubble Tea that now focuses just on the local Kuranda market, and it is doing quite well. It has been open for only a few weeks. Good luck to them and the business. I would urge all of you here in this place to take the time to head up the range to Kuranda if you're going to Cairns and support local Australian small-business owners and traders and their families. They really will appreciate it. They'll give you a fascinating time. It's a beautiful little village in the rainforest. It will recover. It will come back on steroids, but it's going to take a little bit of time, as we know, as the vaccine rolls out. There's a little bit more time to go, but I'd like to start to see these guys emerging out of this sooner rather than later.