THE Whitsundays will get its own world class reef aquarium in the ‘Heart of the Reef’, if North Queensland’s newest political party secures the balance of power at the State Election.

NQ First Leader Jason Costigan said today that Airlie Beach was “the perfect location” for the multimillion-dollar, land-based attraction and he wanted to work with the private sector to make it a reality to drive local jobs and the tourism industry after the impact of COVID-19.

Mr Costigan said he had set aside $40m from his $1b Building the North program, funded by mining royalties, to build the proposed aquarium, which would be similar to existing facilities in Cairns and Townsville but also incorporate the South West Pacific Reef Research Centre.

“This tourist attraction could be a game changer for Airlie and the Whitsundays but in a recession, it won’t happen without government support and that is where NQ First comes in, on the basis that I’m re-elected and we win the balance of power at the State Election on October 31,” he said.

The Member for Whitsunday said locals had lamented a shortage of land-based tourist attractions for years but this project had the capacity to address that, drawing even more people into Airlie Beach – from the drive market to backpackers and big spenders from the capital cities.

“Border closures will not last forever, regardless of who wins government, so we need to get cracking now to take advantage of a difficult situation by planning for the eventual return of international travellers whilst still going after that lucrative domestic market,” he said.

“It’s no secret that the Whitsundays goes head-to-head with Cairns for visitor numbers to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Given those statistics, it stands to reason that we need a landmark attraction on the mainland to keep those visitors here for a day or two longer.

“That would mean the injection of millions of extra dollars into the local economy and more jobs for locals as we work together to fire up the economy after the pandemic, instead of watching other places cut our grass as a major tourist destination. Airlie is the perfect location,” he said.

NQ First’s $40m commitment to build a world class aquarium in the Whitsundays follows an earlier pledge by Mr Costigan to provide $6.5m to establish the North Australian Maritime College in the tourist town, known as the Heart of the Reef, plus $8.5m for a cultural centre.

“These commitments are subject to NQ First securing the balance of power. We all want economic recovery but we cannot afford for that recovery to start in the South-East corner,” he said.