BUSINESS: Homeground Villages Gladstone has an exclusive accommodation agreement in place with ConocoPhilips.
BUSINESS: Homeground Villages Gladstone has an exclusive accommodation agreement in place with ConocoPhilips.

LISTEN: Work camp agreement has got locals offside

AN AGREEMENT to house all shutdown workers for Australia Pacific LNG in a work camp outside of Gladstone has motel owners and union organisers challenging the company to get serious about supporting the city.

On Monday The Observer revealed an exclusive new arrangement between ConocoPhilips and Homeground Villages Gladstone that will see the entire shutdown workforce housed at the West Stowe workers camp.

It's a good boost for Homeground, with a former employee saying numbers were as low as 13 in December inside a camp that can host more than 1300 people.

But Harbour Sails Motor Inn owner Lawrie Maurer says "it sucks".

"Nobody in town is picking up a dollar from them. It's a pity because the whole town really needs it," he said.

Reporter Campbell Gellie explains concerns within the community over a deal between Homeground Villages and ConocoPhilips to house workers on major shutdowns.

His 32-room motel has been running at 20-25% occupancy rate over the last six months and it is the same all across Gladstone, he says.

"What little business there is coming into town, we as a group in accommodation would like to get but it's going out there (to Homeground)," he said.

"I understand (ConocoPhilips) is going for the cheaper option but if they were serious about doing something for Gladstone they would pay for them to stay in town."

Electrical Trade Union organiser Craig Giddins said the agreement to have workers housed out of town would also be saving ConocoPhilips money come tax time.

"It is conveniently just outside the area to pay fringe benefit tax," he said.

Employers pay fringe benefit tax on accommodation and food for their employees at a rate of 49%.

Under the legislation, an employer has to pay the tax if the location of the accommodation is within 40km of a city the size of Gladstone.

Homeground is about 28km away. But The Observer understands Homeground is classed as a remote area despite it being within the 40km because the road network used to calculate the distance is based on data from July 1986.

"It is possible that accommodation provided in a location currently less than 40 kilometres from Gladstone may still be exempt from FBT," an Australian Taxation Office spokesperson said.

Homeground business development manager Matt Jones did not comment on that or on the tax affairs of ConocoPhilips but did say times were tough for his business as well.

"Like many other businesses we are all affected by the decline in activity and are committed to the region," he said.

He highlighted the company's 80% local employment policy and the amount of support it had given the Gladstone community.

"You don't have to go far in Gladstone to see our logo on a jersey or shirt or even on the sign of local organisations such as Calliope Kindergarten," he said.

"We have recently agreed to sponsor the 2016 Combined Schools Musical to be held in March at the GECC."

Mr Jones said workers were not stuck in the camp and the company had run buses around.

"Where possible by way of the provision of transport to and from local events such as the rugby league for grand final day, the Capras games, the Gladstone Turf Club ... other outings like Gladstone Cinema, Stockland and Awonga Dam," he said.

But for Mr Maurer that just means one thing for Gladstone.

"The only business that will benefit from these workers will be the night club at the bottom of the street," he said. "They won't be spending any money after work in town."

An Australia Pacific LNG spokesperson didn't respond to questions on the fringe tax benefit either but did say the contract award by ConocoPhillips to Homeground Gladstone was "for the provision of accommodation for all non-local shutdown workforce requirements".

Proximity to the project's embarkation point, Fisherman's Landing, was a consideration, too.

"ConocoPhillips will undertake planned maintenance shutdowns at regular intervals during the life of plant. Homeground is located in proximity to both Gladstone and Calliope making both towns accessible to those accommodated there," the rest of the statement read.

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