What will boom workers do when stream of money ends?

An aerial view of Curtis Island LNG sites being built. Bob Lamont says in about six months the 10,500-odd people employed on these projects will shrink to perhaps 1500 with the end of the construction phase.
An aerial view of Curtis Island LNG sites being built. Bob Lamont says in about six months the 10,500-odd people employed on these projects will shrink to perhaps 1500 with the end of the construction phase. Brenda Strong

THERE'S an old homily that people shouldn't confuse the cost of living with the cost of lifestyle.

Unfortunately it looks increasingly apparent many readers will confront it head-on in 2014.

They will have tasted the fruits of high disposable incomes during the construction phase of the LNG projects on Curtis and the coal terminal on Wiggins, but not the discipline required simply to survive.

The fact is in about six months the 10,500-odd people currently employed on these projects will shrink to perhaps 1500, with the end of the construction phase.

And, as I warned in my column a couple of months back, it is pretty much a sure bet Arrow's proposed four-train LNG facility will not go ahead on Curtis.

Major shareholder Royal Dutch Shell back then made an announcement to the British Stock Exchange it was winding back expenditure on high-cost future development projects in favour of better managing established projects which offered immediate promise of profit ability.

I noted in Christmas Eve's edition of The Observer, former print editor Mary Bolling gave more traction to my earlier warning, citing evidence of significant staff cuts by Arrow in its Brisbane office and quoting comments by management the company is not "schedule driven".

That's 4000 jobs which are probably not going to happen in Gladstone.

My fear is for workers who have become accustomed to earning ridiculous amounts of money for doing largely semi-skilled jobs. Those types of jobs will be gone from Gladstone, as will the unsustainable pay levels.

Reality will bite as workers get their pink slips this year. The place will be awash with V8 utes and top-drawer 4WDs offered at fire-sale prices.

The reported 1300 homes and units currently for rent bought in the belief that good times will last forever (often encouraged by unlicensed and unscrupulous property spruikers) will at least double.

It will see rental yields diving well below 4% as a "get out" option for desperate borrowers unable to sell even at a considerable loss.

Some will rollover, wrongly believing that the loan mortgage insurance they paid through the nose for will satisfy mortgagees in possession - only to learn they will be saddled with a debt for life.

Yes, I'm describing tough times ahead for Gladstonites in 2014. Those who get through will be those who plan, those who drag back their sense of entitlement from an unsustainable lifestyle and concentrate on budgeting to meet the costs of living; that goes for individuals and businesses alike.

Bob Lamont is director of Corporate Accountants at the Night Owl centre, Gladstone. He can be contacted on

Topics:  bob lamont cost of living curtis island gladstone business opinion

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