Bowen Basin infrastructure woes continue

WHILE the coal fields littering the Bowen Basin continue to provide the Queensland Government with more than $1 billion in coal royalties, concerns are still being raised by mayors of coal mining shires that the current infrastructure does not support the growing needs of their constituents.
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Staff Reporter

According to ABC news reports earlier this month, Central Queensland University regional economic development expert Professor John Rolfe believes that despite the unprecedented boom conditions, infrastructure investment is down.

"This mining boom is very different to the previous ones," he said at the time.

"The development is far below what we would expect on average, most of the expenditure benefits are going straight past smaller communities to the larger coastal cities."

This is a view echoed by Belyando Shire Mayor Peter Freeleagus, who told MiningNews.net that infrastructure issues in Bowen Basin communities would persist until the wealth generated by the mining boom was placed back into these communities, which were crying out for development.

"My question to the Queensland Government is you are doing quite nice out of the GST, you are doing quite nice out of the coal royalties … what is it that you are bringing back to these communities?" he said.

"The goose is laying the golden egg … so what have they been feeding it with?

"We feel we are creating a lot of wealth for the state of Queensland … but we are not seeing the wealth distributed fairly back to where it is actually being produced from.

"Our disappointment is that it is all about Brisbane and the southeast corner … what we are saying is the southeast corner is having unprecedented economic growth … but so is the rest of the state."

In August last year, the mayors of six coal field shires petitioned Queensland Premier Peter Beattie to bring senior bureaucrats to the region to solve infrastructure problems associated with roads, housing and water.

In October, director-generals from various state government departments visited the Bowen Basin to discuss infrastructure concerns with the mayors in the region.

"I'm not going to talk for the other shires but the issue we raised was over water concerns," Freeleagus said.

"The mining industry was expanding at great knots and there was little respect shown towards the community in respect of where it was going to get its water supply from and how it was supposed to expand."

Last year, the Queensland Government looked to address water infrastructure concerns in the mining industry with a $270 million project to draw water from Burdekin Falls Dam and transport it to Moranbah, 220km away.

By July this year, it was envisaged that the project would pump 16,600 megalitres to Moranbah.

However, Freeleagus said the cost per megalitre was rumoured to be in the vicinity of $2800.

"The people of Moranbah couldn't afford that so we have asked the Queensland Government to assist the council in how we are supposed to expand a community and they have been working on that project for a couple of months now," he said.

Another infrastructure issue surrounds the proposed upgrade of the Peak Downs Highway that connects beef-producing and coal-mining areas of Nebo, Dysart and Moranbah with Mackay.

Earlier this month, ABC Radio reported that Nebo Shire Mayor and Mackay Whitsunday Regional Roads group chair Bob Oakes sought $6.5 million in funding from the Federal Government in regards to an upgrade on a 15km stretch of the highway.

"Yesterday's meeting was an absolute disaster," he said at the time.

"We won't be getting a razoo from the Federal Government for the rehabilitation and upgrade of the Peak Downs Highway.

"That's the message I got loud and clear yesterday."

The funding would have been part of the proposed $13 million to rehabilitate a section of the highway of which $6.6 million had already been committed to by the Queensland Department of Main Roads.

Speaking to MiningNews.net today, Oakes said the 259km-long stretch of road transported miners to minesites and was reported to have 3000 vehicles drive on it every day.

"We have got a situation here where the highway services a 110 million tonne coal industry, which is growing at a rate of 20% each year and [Peak Downs Highway] is the primary service road," he said.

"My main concern is we have got a highway that is not sufficient for the status of the mining industry in the Bowen Basin."

Oaks said of the 30 coal mines being developed in Queensland at present, 12 were being developed in Nebo Shire, which placed more emphasis on the upgrade of the highway.

"We have got bigger shires that are two to three times bigger than us but they're not going to have 20 coal mines in their shire in the short-to-medium term like we are," he said.

According to Freelegus, mining companies should also foot part of the cost in any upgrades on the highway going forward.

"If [mining companies] want to bring those large loads down to Mackay or Rockhampton or wherever they want to take it, I think there should be a tax put on them," he said.

"I think they should also be made to contribute also to the roads above what they are paying now because in all honesty, it's their workforce and their business that is having the most impact on the highway."

Freeleagus was also concerned that the state government, by sending director-generals to the Bowen Basin to discuss infrastructure issues rather than ministers, was not fully committed to addressing the concerns of the coal field shires.

Director-generals from various state government departments are expected to meet once again with Bowen Basin shires on April 12 to report on key infrastructure priorities.

"So we may find out what the government has to unleash upon us," said Freeleagus.

"Is it going to be all talk or will we actually get something come back our way?"

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