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Collaborative nation building: Port of Townsville case study

By Gill Savage and John Coyne

The theme for this report is nation building, not the kinds of one-off investment ‘announceables’ we’re familiar with that connect cities with roads. Instead, this is the kind of nation building that’s big picture and courageous, and reminiscent of the past—the kinds of initiatives that build the infrastructure from which economic, social and national security opportunities grow.

The Port of Townsville has embarked on a forward-leaning journey that started a decade ago with a vision, planning and initial environmental approvals, and that’s now being pursued through collaborative engagement of a type not common in the ports sector. While the sector does take a long-term view on management and expansion, it’s still very unusual for individual ports to actively engage with trading partners in a strategic way and beyond the boundaries of specific projects.

This special report looks at what’s happening today in the Townsville region, using the Port of Townsville as an example of what’s possible, and looks at what others at the regional, state and national levels can pursue beyond one-off investments to drive nation building that fosters economic, social and environmental prosperity.

A collaborative approach to nation building isn’t new. It’s more that we haven’t engaged in this way for several decades now and as a nation, and we’re out of practice.

Nation building in Australia must move beyond investment in major highways between large cities and investment in inner urban infrastructure. It must be underpinned by a framework that drives economic, social and environmental prosperity and that’s pursued collaboratively with persistence and courage. It must also move beyond a focus on short-term energetic infrastructure construction and economic ‘sugar hits’.

The Port of Townsville provides a case example of how that’s being done today.