9 May 2024

Letter from the Editor: Potholes, toilet rolls and royalties ransom

| Lyndon Keane
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While there’s clearly no genuine appetite for either major party in Queensland to prioritise Cape York, they are quite happy to commit the bauxite royalties derived from our backyard on infrastructure projects in more electorate-dense parts of the state while pretending they can’t hear our frustrated cries for attention. Photo: Lyndon Keane.

I have an unconventional proposition for the Queensland Government: let us utilise the royalties derived from mining our bauxite backyard on projects of importance to Cape York, and we’ll stop pointing out you don’t really care what we think about anything.

It may be a ridiculous notion, but it seems fitting, given we are now using the cost of a toilet roll landed in Weipa to gauge just how much of an infrastructure failure the Peninsula Developmental Road is.

While $62 toilet paper represents another unique element of Cape York life, it’s unlikely tourists will be clearing their schedules to make a special trip just to say they’ve used the world’s most expensive bathroom kit. All it means is that local business operators must absorb another effect of the disinterest of successive governments and a sea freight monopoly that is the only option to bring goods this far north four or five months of the year.

In short, the PDR is a joke, but the impact it continues to have on the social and economic wellbeing of Cape York is as serious as, well, paying a ludicrous sum for an everyday necessity, rather than handing tourists a handful of leaves or pointing them in the direction of a communal pressure cleaner.

READ ALSO $952 toilet paper freight bill highlights ongoing PDR failure

In hindsight, it was the journalism equivalent of a fool’s errand, but this publication put a simple question to both Minister for Transport and Main Roads Bart Mellish and opposition leader David Crisafulli to gauge their interest in taking the repetitive, frustrated cries of Cape York residents and business operators seriously when it comes to the road linking us with the rest of the state. The question was: If their party was in power following the October election, would they prioritise the funding and delivery of the final stages of the Cape York Region Package, in order to finally seal the PDR to Weipa?

Neither leader responded directly, with a Transport and Main Roads spokesperson offering dot points about the PDR, including that it was now being graded after the wet season. Truly informative stuff. An LNP spokesperson simply ranted about Labor’s failings and misspending, and how it probably wouldn’t happen on their watch.

For those playing along at home, when you see a comment attributed to a spokesperson, it’s the political equivalent of stating you have absolutely no interest in getting your fingerprints – and, by doing so, accountability – over whatever contentious issue the response pertains to. By playing the old spokesperson card, both major parties have signalled they have no interest in up here, other than the money our extracted resources generate for the state’s coffers. They may as well have come back with “Cape Where?” and “PDWhat?” as their official positions on the matter.

READ ALSO Letter from the Editor: It’s time to seal the Cape’s success with PDR completion

That brings us to my outside-the-box offer to the government. Rio Tinto paid $3.3 billion in royalties from its Australian mining operations in 2023, with a substantial part of that going to Brisbane from western Cape York bauxite projects. What we get in return is one of life’s truly perplexing questions, so I want to make a deal with whichever party assumes power in October.

Let us keep the royalties payable from local mining operations on Cape York to invest in infrastructure and projects we deem critical to bettering our communities. That will allow us to seal the PDR and improve bridge infrastructure in a matter of years, not decades. The alternatives are the royalties get spent on the chest-puffing exercise that is the 2032 Brisbane Olympic Games, or building the umpteenth tunnel under a capital city that’s got to be one engineer’s sideways glance away from collapsing on itself. In return, we’ll stop guilting you that you don’t love us, and mentioning each election cycle you only keep inviting us to family Christmas dinners because we have something you don’t, but so desperately need.

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