Article by Dan Webster courtesy of the Chronicle

HIGH-PROFILE Toowoomba businessman Denis Wagner says the COVID-19 economic crisis has created an opportunity for Queensland to attract international investment, reset its manufacturing sector and cut red tape.

Mr Wagner, part of the family behind some of Queensland’s most successful major projects, said the pandemic should focus governments of all levels on making approval processes more efficient and seamless.

He said approvals needed to consider all voices and stakeholders but needed to be transparent to give business confidence to invest.

“The private sector is prepared to invest in infrastructure but it would be nice to see the hurdles that can be created within approvals and red tape removed,” Mr Wagner said.

“We need to try and make the process seamless so the private sector can invest with confidence. There’s an enormous amount of money out there.

“The world is awash with cash at the moment, no one knows what to do with it.

“It is about having a business case or project that generates a reasonable return on equity and de-risking .

“One way to de-risk a project is to make the approvals as seamless as possible.”

A homegrown success story, the Wagners have grown their grandfather’s Toowoomba stonemasonry business into a major infrastructure contractor , airport builder and international operator.

They built Toowoomba’s Wellcamp Airport, the first privately-built airport in generations , created a massive cement and concrete business as well as a port facility handling live export cattle and grain on the Brisbane River.

He said Queensland decision makers needed to focus on getting things moving immediately but also lay a platform for work in the next nine months to a year.

He said projects like the fast rail for the southeast and the Olympics bid were essential.

“The post-COVID recovery is the immediate future,” Mr Wagner said.

“Housing construction is going to boom for the next seven or eight months and it’s really important that our infrastructure spend is beginning to roll out as our housing mareket is beginning to retract.

“We can be ready to service it. We can work with govenment for the most appropriate projects to create local employment , employment for Queenslanders, so employment in regional areas is considered as well as the southeast corner.”

Mr Wagner said governments needed to
consider the value they placed on buying Queensland and Australian made . “We see it as a really good opportunity for governments of all levels to have a bit of a reset on the way they view their purchasing arrangement and to reconsider the value of having Queensland-made and Australian-made products used opposed to imported products.

“It’s a real opportunity to try and develop a true manufacturing industry in this country . Our manufacturing industry has died. It’s time to reset there so we are at least partially self-sufficient to have the ability to ramp up really quickly if we face a disruption like COVID-19 .”

He said manufacturing relied on energy and was being hampered by high power costs compared to the rest of the world.

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