The State’s new blueprint has failed to tackle the burning issues that will define the future of the North West Minerals Province in the short to medium term, says Member for Mount Isa Robbie Katter.
Mr Katter has welcomed the commitments to foster regional mineral exploration in the strategy released this week.
But he said there was a strong level of disappointment that the issue of rail and energy had not been addressed in any material way.
“To that end we’ve decided to hold a rail and energy forum with the major stakeholders, who have all agreed to turn up in Brisbane here on Wednesday next week (July 26), he said.
Mr Katter said the big players in north-west Queensland mining including Incitec Pivot, Glencore, MMG and South32 would be represented, as well as Townsville Enterprise, MITEZ and the Cloncurry and Mount Isa councils.
“Most of those people put a lot of time and effort into the North West Minerals Province Taskforce expecting that what came out would address these issues – but they have fallen hopelessly short of doing that, so we need to take matters into our own hands now to carry these issues forward, to keep them front and centre for the government and to try to raise public awareness over this, because there’s some pretty dire consequences to the mining industry in the North West if they are not addressed,” he said.
Funding to assess infrastructure use
Regional development group MITEZ said it welcomed the release of the North West Minerals Province Blueprint and the commitment for $39 million for new measures to stimulate future mining and other job-creating activities, including more than $27 million to fund a range of geoscience initiatives over four years and reduce red tape in a bid to increase exploration activity.
President David Glasson said MITEZ understood more than $5 million would be invested by the Queensland Government to implement other programs in the strategic blueprint such as assessing the current use of infrastructure including rail, water and energy with particular focus on common-user facilities to reduce the need for small mines to fund costly capital projects and instead contribute towards shared infrastructure.
Mr Glasson said MITEZ was included on the North West Minerals Province Taskforce and looked forward to continuing to work closely with the various Queensland Government agencies and industry stakeholders in the implementation of the plan.
“We will continue to push the key enablers, energy, water and transport, as the top priorities whilst the blueprint is being actioned,” Mr Glasson said.
Efficient east-west link ‘critical’
Townsville Enterprise chief executive officer Patricia O’Callaghan raised the issues of rail and energy in her response to the public release of the blueprint this week.
“The strategic blueprint for Queensland’s North West Minerals Province has been informed by the work of the NWMP Taskforce. As a member of the taskforce, Townsville Enterprise acknowledges the significant commitment demonstrated by the Queensland Government toward the sustainability of the North West Minerals Province, ensuring the region remains a key contributor and focus of the State moving forward,” she said.
“Further to this agenda, an efficient east-west connection between the North West Minerals Province and the Port of Townsville is critical to the North’s ongoing contribution to State prosperity.
“Thus, Townsville Enterprise encourages the Queensland Government to seriously consider further support for an upgrade to one of the State’s key enabling infrastructure assets, the Townsville to Mount Isa rail line. The upgrade of the Townsville to Mount Isa rail line would vastly improve current east-west freight cost and time efficiencies, long-term industry viability and reduce heavy vehicle road usage.
“Integral to the growth of the resources sector, a significant energy user, Townsville Enterprise also encourages the Queensland Government to consider solutions that will provide short-term relief in energy costs and infrastructure that will enable long term energy cost viability.”
State Government responds
In a statement to iQ, the Department of State Development stressed that the Economic Diversification Strategy identified in the strategic blueprint would investigate enabling infrastructure for the region.
“A key action within the Economic Diversification Strategy is to complete an infrastructure audit building on the existing studies which will inform the government’s future approach to the development and more efficient use of key infrastructure,” a department spokesman said.
The department also highlighted the State Government’s Powering North Queensland Plan, investing $386 million to strengthen and diversify North Queensland’s energy supply, and said it was committed to supporting feasibility work for a more stable and reliable track structure for freight services along the Townsville Eastern Access Rail Corridor.
“A critical determinant of regional development into the future will be the provision and optimal use of key regional infrastructure to enable and unlock significant development potential,” the spokesman said.
“This potential project involves construction of an 8km rail freight line that will connect the North Coast Rail Line to the Port of Townsville.
“This project is expected to create greater capacity on this section of the Mount Isa rail system, which is a critical link between the Province and the Port of Townsville that is used to export goods.”
Mr Katter argues that the north-western region deserves consideration as a special energy zone given it is totally reliant on gas for its base load power and therefore vulnerable to ‘threatening’ price increases.
“And then there’s the rail. We’ve got massive rail problems at the moment,” he said.
“I don’t think you’d ever have such a pronounced or acute signal that your policy for management of that rail has failed miserably than having bigger mines in the region putting their bulk ore on the road instead of the rail.”
Mineral explorers welcome boost
Mineral explorers in Queensland welcomed the release of the blueprint as a vote of confidence in the industry and the region, according to the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies (AMEC).
“Queensland needs investment in greenfields exploration and it is heartening to see Minister Lynham backing the industry with this initiative,” AMEC chief executive officer Simon Bennison said.
“The mineral potential for the North West is already well recognised and now explorers will have an even greater chance to discover what further riches the region contains.”