LISTEN: 6 lessons for CQ councils ahead of Adani mine

Central Queensland councils are about to embark on a long journey of trying to negotiate with state and federal governments and Adani for Queensland's biggest coal mine and the Gladstone Mayor has some words of advice.

LAST week, Rockhampton, Mackay and Townsville were identified as the three employment hubs for the $16 billion coal mine near Clermont.

The project would mean an increased demand for accommodation at Clermont, whether during construction or a FIFO camp for the permanent coal miners, along with other infrastructure and services for Central Highlands, Isaac Regional Council, Rockhampton Regional Council and Mackay Regional Council.

Gladstone is coming out of a boom period after the construction of three LNG projects on Curtis Island. The region's newly elected Mayor, Matt Burnett, who has been a council member for over 15 years, has shared the lessons Gladstone Regional Council learned from the experience.

Make them listen

THE first piece of advice he has for the four councils involved is to make sure the State and Federal Governments listen to what your council recommends for infrastructure and services needed in your region to accommodate the growth in population due to construction of the mine and rail corridor and once it is up and operational.

"We had situations where we had the State Government were conditioning proponents to upgrade state roads on one section but then not conditioning them to upgrade the council road in the middle so there were a lot of outrageous things like that going on," he said.

"The councils have to be brought along the journey and I've always said and I still maintain that we need to be a concurrence agency in these approvals.

And we were never given that opportunity


"If the State and Federal Governments want to make approvals in a local government area, you should make the council a concurrence agency.

"Not a referral agency where you get to make suggestions or have an opinion on what should be done in your community, you should be able to condition what is being done in your community.

"And we were never given that opportunity."

Housing, housing, housing

THE biggest issue for Gladstone has been accommodation - not enough of it during construction, too much after the boom.

From a steady housing market to 'no room at the inn' and back down to an average of 25% occupancy rates in the Gladstone region over a period of six years, there are certainly lessons to be learnt.

Gladstone Regional Council identified housing as being a number one issue as the draft EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) started rolling out.

How did they know?

The boom in the 1980s which saw families living out of cars due to the lack of housing or accommodation infrastructure in place ahead of the expansion by Rio Tinto at Boyne Island Smelters.

This is why the Gladstone Mayor has urged other councils to push State and Federal Governments to listen to the recommendations councils put forward.

During the recent boom, rents increased by 200-300% and the price of houses doubled.

"Obviously, the LNG realised at some point along the way that they needed to help with the housing crisis and they did," Mayor Burnett said.

"They provided funding for our community advisory service, in which case, we were then offering young apprentices and key services like nurses and doctors and firies and school teachers supplement to their rents because their rents went up 200-300%."

He said there was a period where council staff would try to help keep families in accommodation by going over their budgets with them to cut out as many costs as possible and then council would subsidise the increase in rent - 80% for six months, then 50%, then 30%, until the families could afford to pay it for themselves.

Mayor Burnett explained that even by cutting their budgets, and subsidising the rent increases, there were occasions where they still did not have enough money to pay their rent.

"We were paying people to leave our city and that breaks my heart," he said.

"Every day of the week we had to do that, but these people couldn't afford to stay here anymore because they (State, Federal and LNG companies) didn't listen to us in the first place that there was going to be a housing crisis."

"People are moving back. People are moving back now. And some people did quite well out of it and congratulations to them. Some of the seniors who did leave our town sold their homes for $500,000 or $750,000. Moved to Bargara and bought themselves something probably even a little bit better than what they were in for half the price and had plenty of money to retire on. Now they could sell those houses (in Bargara) probably for a little bit more than what they bought them for and move back to Gladstone and buy their own home back for a couple of hundred thousand less if it is on the market."

Now we have a system that allows planes to automatically land at lower levels of cloud cover


Roads upgrades

Mayor Burnett said the only time the council was successful in getting road infrastructure upgraded was for Targinnie Rd.

"They were running major trucks with pipeline along our road, on Targinnie Rd, to get pipeline across the harbour to get to facilities on the island."

"They were meant to upgrade that road because it is a bus route and families live along there."

He said the LNG companies thought it was a rural bus route and hesitated on upgrading it.

Mayor Burnett said after repeatedly asking them for months, possible a year to get them to upgrade it, the council then put a load limit on the road so that drivers ended up breaking the law carting pipes along the road because their load was over the limit.

He said council never pointed the fingers at the truck drivers over the issue as they were only doing what they were instructed to do.

"It wasn't until we started fining truck drivers that action happened. And it was within days."

And then within weeks when works started and months it was completed. Sometimes, you have got to put your foot down.

Airport Infrastructure

INCREASED traffic at regional airports during construction and once the Adani Carmichael mine is operational is something individual councils will need to look in terms of infrastructure needs, Gladstone Mayor Matt Burnett advises.

"Whether it is upgrading Emerald's facility, and this should be at their (Adani's) cost, not the council's cost, because LNG did pay for the ILS at the Gladstone Airport (Instrument landing system)," he said.

"Now we have a system that allows planes to automatically land at lower levels of cloud cover.

"In the past where they couldn't land because they might have been cloud cover or the fog was so low, they couldn't land. Now they can because they have the ILS, a multi-million dollar facility."

In the past, when those issues arose, Mayor Burnett said planes would land at Rockhampton or turn back to Brisbane.

"We didn't have a lot of cases where that happened."

However, with the increase of air traffic due to the LNG construction activity and the flares on Curtis Island were taking away certain flight paths available to pilots.

Community services

WANT to see a doctor but haven't lived in your town your whole life? Too bad.

That was the biggest issue for new Gladstone residents during the boom. There were too many new people to town and the existing general practitioners just couldn't take them on.

"Doctors became a major problem because you couldn't get into a doctor because you had so many people moving to town, if you weren't a local, and this is more so for the newcomers to town, if you weren't a local, you couldn't get in to see a doctor because they just weren't taken any new patients," Gladstone Mayor Matt Burnett said.

"There were many cases were long-term local doctors weren't taking any new patients.

"Even probably some locals who hadn't been to the doctor many times in their life, maybe didn't have children because that's what usually takes you to the doctors, they were in a situation where if they didn't have a regular doctor they visited, they couldn't get into one either. And the hospital… well, don't get me started…"

"...if it is Rocky or Central Highlands, whatever council is impacted, and there will probably be neighbouring councils to the north impacted as well, I urge them to speak to our community advisory service and they can give them a whole wealth of information about all the issues that we faced, not just housing and road infrastructure."


A final word of advice

THESE five main issues may make it sound all boom and doom for the Gladstone region, but many businesses reported to The Observer in the past week that they do see the light at the end of the tunnel and markets balancing out.

Mayor Burnett said there was some things that were listened to.

"Absolutely. Some of the things that we put through, they listened, but a lot of the times the response from the proponent would have been 'yes, we will work with the council to resolve that'.

"Well, it should have been a bit more in black and white of how they were going to resolve that."

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