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Outback jobs bonanza put on hold

MEGAPROJECTS worth almost $3 billion sit on the drawing board across outback Queensland that could create jobs and transform the fortunes of hard-hit country regions and towns, a major pipeline report has revealed.

Outback Queensland covers two-thirds of the area of the state but has just a few hundred million dollars worth of funded infrastructure projects, the annual report card put out by the Queensland Major Contractors Association and the Infrastructure Association of Queensland says.

But with the global heat on to move to renewables, outback Queensland and its 82,513 residents could be sitting on a new-age gold mine with “significant mineral resources and value-added processing which would support global efforts to move to a clean energy economy including bauxite/alumina/aluminium, nickel, copper, cobalt, silver, lead, zinc and rare earths metals, particularly in the North West Minerals Province centred around Mt Isa and Cloncurry,” the report says.

It is also the site of some of the state’s biggest planned renewable energy projects, including the Aldoga Solar Farm worth $120 million. While the solar farm is funded, a long list of big projects still sit on the drawing board.

Among them are the Kidston Solar Project – Stage 2 ($140m), Kidston Transmission Project ($100m) and the Kidston Pumped Hydro Storage Project ($200m) along with the massive Copperstring Transmission Line worth $1.5 billion, a megaproject its supporters say could transform the north west.

Queensland Major Contractors Association chief executive Jon Davies said one major impediment to developing the North West Minerals Province was the government-owned rail line which was damaged when it floods.

“There’s big opportunities for developing the North West Minerals Province,” Mr Davies said.

“There are plans to upgrade (the rail line).

“That is an area that the government could look at expediting.”

Without government support, the huge swath of Queensland remains captive to the mining and commodities market, with 94 per cent of the projects unfunded.

“In 2019/20 there is only $70m in funded activity, while $225m remains unfunded,” the report says.

“Funded activity only peaks at $82m in 2022/23, supported by a section of the $238m Mt Isa to Rockhampton Corridor Upgrade and the $120m Aldoga Solar Farm.

“The outback region has the lowest ratio of funded to unfunded major project work (in Queensland).

“Ninety-four per cent of activity in the pipeline is currently unfunded, comprising a host of resource projects spread across minerals, coal and gas.

“This includes $1.7 billion in unfunded major coal projects, the largest being the Minyango Coal Project worth $600m.

“The negative outlook for this region is further highlighted by the proportion of unfunded project activity which is considered ‘unlikely’ – more than 50 per cent of the $3bn unfunded total.”

Dan Knowles, Future SEQ editor, Courier Mail