The stalled $8bn Aquis Great Barrier Reef Resort project earmarked for Queensland is back on track following renewed efforts by the newly elected government to encourage its progress.
Tony Fung had withdrawn from the process in February following failed discussion with the previous Liberal National Party government.
Now Treasurer Curtis Pitt has said the team behind the Aquis Great Barrier Reef Resort project has signed an agreement to re-enter the government’s integrated resort development (IRD) process.
Treasurer Pitt said: “Following the election, the Palaszczuk government sought to engage in positive discussions with Mr Fung and we welcome his company’s commitment to re-entering the IRD process. The IRD process is a rigorous way to protect the community’s interests and also evaluate Aquis’ credentials and financial capacity to deliver this project.”
The proposal, to be located 13km north of Cairns and to be called Aquis Resort, would market itself to Chinese tourists and has pitched itself as being bigger than James Packer’s Crown casino in Melbourne. It wants to operate 750 tables and 1,500 slots at a resort that, if approved, would include nine hotels with 3,750 rooms, one of the world’s largest aquariums, a 25,000-seat sports stadium, 1,200 apartments and 135 villas, high-end retail shopping, theatres, a 13-hectare reef lagoon, 18-hole golf course, a convention and exhibition.
Mr. Fung said of the development: “We remain committed to the Aquis Yorkeys Knob project as part of our overall strategic investment plans for Australia.”
The government will now analyse a detailed proposal from Aquis when the government will execute an acceptance deed, which will commence the probity process.
Mayor Bob Manning said: “Things seem to be heading in the right direction. But that’s today. Tomorrow and the day after, it must be kept on track. Time eventually kills everything, and time will kill a deal. The people have the capability, they have the desire, they have the will to invest, spread around Australia. The great pity is that now we have the Gold Coast and Canberra running ahead of Cairns when Cairns should have been ahead of both of those cities. It is clear to me that Aquis do have a broad-based plan for Australia. We are missing out on the start but we are going to be the flagship. But we need to get moving or it could slip away.”
Advance Cairns chief executive Mark Matthews added: “We urge Aquis to accelerate work to see this project start as early as possible. We hear that the Queensland Government is committed to the Cairns project at Yorkeys Knob, and we call on the Queensland Government to finalise arrangements to see the project move ahead without further delay.”
Aquis Aware Coalition of Concerned Citizens spokesman Denis Walls said: “We are back to where we were a year ago, only with an additional procedure for him to comply with. There are now going to be two probity processes running in tandem: one through the IRD and another still going on through the Department of State Development and the Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation.”
Mr. Fung, a billionaire son of one of the founders of Hong Kong conglomerate Sun Hung Kai & Co., said it would ‘give Queensland an opportunity to fend off its southern and regional competitors for the increasingly important Chinese tourism market.”
He said: “Based upon my business exposure to Asian markets via my family’s involvement in the Hong Kong/China finance and property markets, I have seen and observed, with great interest, the rapid and exponential growth of Macau. It cannot be disputed that Macau’s growth has been driven by a new breed of substantial integrated resort. The model is being rapidly adopted and accepted by Queensland’s tourism competitors in the Asia Pacific region.”
“With over 15 years’ experience investing in North Queensland, I have recognised the unique suitability of the Cairns region to develop an integrated resort, based upon the Macau model, but presented differently via a design and marketing linkage to North Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef,” he added. “Queensland has an opportunity with this proposal to join other countries in our region that are developing large-scale integrated resorts which drive local tourism, employment and associated economic growth. The Aquis proposal is unique, in Asian integrated resort terms, by associating its appeal to the unique natural environment and region it is located in. Aquis will be, by its very design and market position, a high profile project to drive Asian tourism awareness of North Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef. Aquis, the man-made wonder, and the Great Barrier Reef, your incredibly beautiful wonder of the world, will ensure, in perpetuity, Queensland receives more than its fair share of inbound tourism from China. Aquis gives Queensland an opportunity to fend off its southern and regional competitors for the increasingly important Chinese tourism market.”