MILITARY: AAV's (amphibious armered vehicle) land on a beach at Shoalwater Bay.
MILITARY: AAV's (amphibious armered vehicle) land on a beach at Shoalwater Bay. Allan Reinikka

REVEALED: Plan to transform CQ into a permanent defence hub

A NAVAL base in Gladstone, a permanent base in Rockhampton and defence force hangers at the Rockhampton Airport were flagged as potential Australian Defence Force infrastructure projects that could be needed with the increase activity at Shoalwater Bay.

The ideas were raised as a result of a Senate inquiry in Rockhampton yesterday into the impact of ADF training activities and facilities on rural and regional communities. The inquiry moves to Townsville tomorrow and was ordered in February.

Senate inquiry committee chair Alex Gallacher said the aim of the committee was to find out what was being spent by ADF in regional communities where they held training activities.

"It's not visible at the moment," he said.

Mr Gallacher has requested the ADF provide a break down of how much has been spent in the Rockhampton/Livingstone council areas in recent years in terms of contracts.

Commodore Allison Norris, who is in charge of Talisman Saber 2017, said the budget for the exercise in 2015 was $22 million.

However, the inquiry heard, most of that was awarded to the main national contractors the ADF uses who then sub contract work out to local companies.

Commodore Norris was unable to give the inquiry a break down of what CQ businesses were subcontracted and for how much.

Senator Gallacher, along with Senator Claire Moore and Senator Chris Back listened to council representatives, community leaders, business owners, landowners and Australian Defence Force representatives.

Issues raised included land management, the relocation of two ADF rangers from Shoalwater Bay to Townsville, the lack of local businesses being awarded contracts, the lack of consultation with farmers prior to exercises, minimal funding contribution to the maintenance and upgrade of roads used by ADF to access Shoalwater, the handling of the land acquisition for the expansion of the military training facility, and the ADF's relationship with the community.

Senator Gallacher said he wanted to know, given the community's relationship with ADF goes back 50 years with the forming of Shoalwater Bay, what went 'catastrophically' wrong.

He said with the activities at Shoalwater Bay increasing, there would be a need for a permanent ADF presence in Rockhampton - not seven hours away in Townsville.

"Shoalwater Bay is a monstrous large piece of ground," Capricornia Chamber of Commerce president Peter Fraser said.

"It's twice as big as the (Australian Capital Territory).

"In terms of its potential, its underutilised at the moment."

Gladstone Regional Council's representative Michael Colen - who looks after economic development - said Gladstone was in a unique position to become a naval base with its harbour, established support businesses and low cost of living.

At the moment, Australian and other countries' defence force ships offload machinery and other equipment at Gladstone Harbour.

And aircraft land at Rockhampton Airport.

Rockhampton Mayor Margaret Strelow told the inquest there was a parcel of land adjacent to the tarmac where hangers could be built that could be locked up and used by defence permanently.

"We believe we can have a more permanent presence," she said.

Mayor Strelow raised how businesses in the region already supply for the Singapore Defence Force including Rocky's Own and Flexi Hire.

However, all parties agreed while the region has started see the Singaporeans in the community during their RnR days in recent years, there was very little presence from the Australian and Americans personnel involved in Talisman Saber.

It was also raised at the meeting how very little local businesses the Australian and Amercian defence forces use when at Shoalwater - bringing in supplies and contracting businesses from Townsville and Brisbane instead.

"We wear some of the disadvantages of the exercise and just get 'love and a cuddle' in exchange," Mayor Strelow said.

Livingstone Mayor Bill Ludwig raised how parts of Stanage Bay Road had become "a goat track" due to too many military heavy vehicles using it, creating dangerous driving conditions for military personnel who have never driven on such roads.

He also raised the possibility of changing the Defence land boundaries to unlock Three Rivers at the northern end of Five Rocks Beach and creating an ecotourism facility.

The inquiry also discussed the ADF's handling of the proposed Shoalwater Bay Expansion in late 2016 and early 2017, along with submissions from the councils and chamber of commerce about how that expansion could benefit the region.

"This could have enormous ramifications for our economy," Mr Fraser said.

"We just don't know what that will be."

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