Of the 15 Queensland projects and initiatives included in today's Infrastructure Priority List released by the Federal Government, the one project concerning the Townsville North Queensland region is identified with particularly low importance.
While it is welcomed to see the Mount Isa to Townsville Rail Corridor Upgrade identified in the list, it rates as a 'Proposed Priority Initiative', compared to the 36 other projects identified by the Commonwealth as 'High Priority Projects'. It is also worth noting that 33 projects and initiatives in the list have been prioritised in New South Wales, with only seven in regional centres of the state, with the remaining 28 projects and initiatives centralised in the state's capital city, Sydney.
According to the Federal Government, the Infrastructure Priority List is a prioritised list of nationally significant investments, providing decision makers with advice and guidance on specific infrastructure investments that will underpin Australia's continued prosperity.
The Federal Government’s Northern Australia Agenda identifies that Townsville will not only remain the largest urban centre over the next 15 years, but that it will grow at a faster rate than any other northern city. This development is predicted to be driven by three key growth areas in Queensland – the Burdekin (irrigated agriculture), the Galilee and Bowen Basins (coal) and the North West Minerals Province (base metals and other minerals) – all of which flow into the Townsville North Queensland economy.
The North West Minerals Province, encompassing Mount Isa and Cloncurry, is one of the most prosperous mineral producing areas worldwide producing billions of dollars’ worth of throughputs each year with the region holding approximately 75% of Queensland’s base metals supply. However, a lack of reinvestment into the rail line that transports this product to the Port of Townsville has led to a modal shift of product to road transport. This shift from the Mount Isa to Townsville rail line has placed greater pressure and cost onto the road network and has resulted in inefficiencies in the logistical supply chain.
The fact that mining companies are now seeking to send product by road, rather than by rail between Mount Isa and Townsville is testament to the inefficiencies now experienced by the rail connection and failures in the existing regulatory and pricing models. We desperately need a long-term approach adopted to financially support the operating and funding model for this critical freight corridor to efficiently support some of Australia's largest industries, including mining, agriculture and manufacturing.
According to a report into the Mount Isa to Townsville rail corridor (commissioned by Townsville Enterprise in 2017), any future reduction in activity along the line is likely to result in further increases in unemployment in the Townsville North Queensland region (and thereby reduced incomes). This would result in reduced business and consumer confidence, reduced investment and spending, increased dependence on government assistance and a decline in population growth.
While the inclusion of the Mount Isa to Townsville Rail Line Upgrade is a step in the right direction, a project of such critical national importance must be higher prioritised by the Federal Government. Targeted Government investment into vital infrastructure upgrades, including this corridor, forms large parts of Townsville Enterprise’s recently released 2018 State and Federal Government Budget Submissions, which aim to support the growth of North Queensland industries.
Townsville Enterprise is firmly focused on ensuring the growth of Townsville North Queensland and will continue lobbying the Federal Government for priority projects not just concerning key enabling infrastructure but also urban renewal, water, energy and tourism.