Member for Mulgrave Curtis Pitt is concerned that Yarrabah residents are now without a suitably scheduled bus service to transport workers and TAFE students to and from Cairns following the removal of a federal government subsidy.
Mr Pitt said when the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP) ended in July 2009, the federal department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) provided a subsidy to Paradise Bus Service to provide a service based around work hours.
“There’s no industry base in Yarrabah which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state and the community is still reeling from the withdrawal of CDEP last year,” Mr Pitt said.
“While it was always an interim trial, this is a basic essential service but to remain viable it must be subsidised.
“People working outside Yarrabah and those undertaking training to travel to and from Cairns now have no option but private transport. For many, this is not an option either.”
Mr Pitt said the removal of CDEP left much of the workforce without employment and through the good work of the Yarrabah Transition to Employment Taskforce (Y-TEST) almost all existing local opportunities have been taken up.
“We have an education system and training programs getting people ready for the workforce but will have no service to transport workers to the job market,” Mr Pitt said.
“Yarrabah has a strong pool of skilled workers who only need to be matched with suitable employers. The jobs are in Cairns, not Yarrabah.
“If we want to combat high unemployment we have to provide this basic service to get people to the jobs. The alternative is that they have to move away from the community to be closer to work.”
Mr Pitt said passenger numbers have continued to grow since the timetable was increased to five days per week to provide a regular and reliable service for Yarrabah residents in training and in work.
“The bus operator has advance bookings from employment providers for jobseekers that have found work in Edmonton and they will rely on the bus to get to work and home again,” Mr Pitt said.
“The withdrawal of the subsidy will see the service return to a three days a week shopping service and will also make the cost of travel for individuals for work purposes prohibitive.”
Mr Pitt said Yarrabah was the only discrete Aboriginal community in Queensland that lost its CDEP as it was not designated a remote area for the purposes of the program.
“I acknowledge that the federal government provided funding to subsidise this service during the CDEP transition,” Mr Pitt said.
“However, it would appear that the federal government does not consider Yarrabah remote in terms of its long-term transport options either.
“I’m not sure what other community of 4,500 people would put up with limited transport options like this.”
Mr Pitt said he was investigating options for the continuation of the current service to allow time for longer term options in the transport study to be progressed in detail.
“I’ve been in touch with Minister Boyle’s office and the Department of Transport and Main Roads who have scheduled a meeting this week to discuss the issue,” Mr Pitt said.
“Workers need a reliable public transport system that will enable them to take up job opportunities outside the community.
“It’s inevitable that future training and employment opportunities must be sought outside the community in order for us to make inroads into unemployment and for this reason passenger transport is a priority for Yarrabah.
“A public transport feasibility study has been prepared to address the long term needs for Yarrabah but in the short term we need to continue to subsidise a service for workers until the long term strategy is progressed.
Mr Pitt said while the existing bus service is the only realistic short-term option to connect the community with the southern suburbs of Cairns and the CBD, the most logical long-term step would be for a ferry similar to the one that services Palm Island near Townsville.
“Of course any talk of a ferry service would first require the necessary infrastructure,” Mr Pitt said.
“A jetty would be a multi-million dollar proposition but it’s an option that governments of all levels will need to consider.
“A ferry service would reduce transit time from 90 minutes to about 30 minutes and would have the added advantage of opening up economic development opportunities for the community
“It could allow tourist access to Yarrabah opening up options for cultural tourism with subsequent jobs growth within the community.”