Iceland is an interesting country. It has a population of 340,000 people, about the same as the population of Mackay and Townsville combined. Its land area is just more than the Mackay-Isaac-Whitsunday Region.
The Global Financial Crisis saw Iceland’s banking system collapse and the Icelandic economy went into free fall. Economic output slowed rapidly and the unemployment rate doubled. Ten years later Iceland has the world’s highest average income. While Australia’s GDP has stagnated, Iceland’s has been on a rapid growth trajectory.
According to the CIA’s World Factbook, Iceland’s abundant renewable energy has led to a boom in investment by power hungry industries such as aluminium smelting and information technology. In addition to industry, Iceland has built a thriving tourism economy. All that has happened in a sparsely populated place, isolated from other countries by hostile oceans and on the edge of the arctic circle.
Our region has fantastic resources that we can turn to our advantage. We have more sunny days than most parts of the world. The wind blows consistently and we produce renewable power from sugar cane waste.
The Great Barrier Reef is a huge drawcard, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors to our region each year. Yet we haven’t really developed a regional tourism focus, integrating the Whitsunday Islands and reefs with the rainforests or an outback experience that showcases the landscapes and cultural life of the hinterland.
The mines of our region require rehabilitation and, according to mining company calculations, at least $12 billion will be required to do that work. Our rivers and streams also require restoration work to prevent pollution and restore habitat, again amounting to billions. There are many opportunities in transitioning our economy.
Like many regional cities and towns, Mackay has a problem with illicit drug use. If we face another economic downturn like we did in 2014 then there will be people who seek an escape from their problems through drugs. That’s an outcome we should be avoiding at all costs.
Mackay has a serious choice to make. We could try to emulate Iceland and develop a thriving modern economy based on renewable energy, tourism and rehabilitation of the landscape. Alternatively we can watch the coal industry decline with no plan for the future.
One choice offers a sustainable prosperous economy, the other a future of increased unemployment and despair. Iceland or Ice Land, which would you prefer?