THE resources boom has soured for Queensland’s rural and regional councils facing higher infrastructure costs, less economic benefits than in previous booms and widespread community disruption, delegates to the Local Government Association of Queensland’s 111th annual conferences at the Gold Coast heard recently.
Mayors and councillors from several towns in mining areas warned that high expectations of economic boom times had been replaced by disquiet and disapproval as 12-hour shifts worked over four consecutive days, fly-in, fly-out employment or variations such as drive in or bus in and out meant that communities were left with costs but no benefits.
Road safety impacts were becoming horrific as miners who worked long shifts got into their cars to race back to families living elsewhere because there was no family accommodation available in towns near the mines.
Despite the lack of housing, people should be cautious about investing in accommodation in expectation of high returns.
“They need to realise how unsustainable mining towns are when there is a downturn,” Gladstone City Council’s director of commerical and community services Cale Dendle said.
He urged councils to engage early with mining companies: “In small communities, people know when strangers are in town punching holes in the ground and then the rumour mill starts.”
He said companies were not obliged to talk to councils or the community and often did not want to. It was up to councils to monitor licenses to prospect and mining approvals issued by the state and to let their communities know what was happening and get involved as soon as possible so that issues like housing, education, and economic imposts were built into the terms of reference for the EIS process.
Several mayors also voiced concerns that mines producing under $2 million tonnes are not required to lodge an EIS.
“We’ve been told in these cases local people can tell from the beginning, just by looking at the equipment coming in, that companies intend to ramp up production once approvals are in place,” Dendle said.
However, he said while councils had little power in regard to the terms of impact statements and none on mine approval processes, they could use rates as a resource to pay for additional infrastructure costs for water, roads, sewerage and other services.
A study on behalf of Bowen Basin mayors has proposed differential rating systems based on the numbers of people working on the mine site and rates paid on other commercial and industrial properties with similar numbers of employees. They could also consider special rates for use of council roads.
Councillor Paul Bell
President, Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ)