10 May 2023

Rio Tinto drags its heels on normalising Weipa

| Matt Nicholls
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WEIPA’S future continues to be in limbo as Rio Tinto refuses to make a commitment to hand over the keys to the town.

Twelve months ago, a clear path was emerging between Rio Tinto and the state government to forge a way to normalise Weipa.

Those discussions have stalled.

Meanwhile, Weipa faces a child care shortage, a lack of available housing, huge infrastructure issues and no long-term plan to address any of these problems.

The town’s normalisation issue was thrust into the national spotlight on Wednesday when an ABC report aired on breakfast TV that highlighted the situation.

Based on the comments posted online, the news shocked most Australians.

“Fancy having a mining company run a town. Weipa is much bigger than a mining camp,” one person wrote.

Rio Tinto says it is open to the idea of normalisation, but refuses to make any kind of commitment.

Deputy Premier Steven Miles is also the state’s Local Government Minister and hasn’t even visited Weipa to discuss the issue.

Member for Cook Cythia Lui has also remained silent, despite hearing the concerns from the community during her last visit.

Normalisation is crucial to the long-term future of Weipa as Rio Tinto’s interest in the town is based on the availability of bauxite in the nearby area.

In a decade’s time, there will be hardly any mining conducted within an hour’s drive of Weipa as the Andoom site begins to wind down.

Weipa Town Authority chair Michael Rowland ran for office based on the promise from Rio Tinto that normalisation was an achievable outcome in what would be his final term.

Re-elected in a landslide in March last year, Mr Rowland has been hitting his head against a brick wall ever since when it comes to making progress on securing the town’s future.

“We need to diversify our economy away from mining,” he said.

“Once more land is made available, the opportunity (would be) to attract other industries to come here, diversify the economy so we’re not all fishing in the same pond.

“That would give us more security going forward so we aren’t just reliant on mining and the fluctuations of a commodity.”

Mr Rowland said although the Weipa Town Authority would be unable to stand on its own two feet if it became a council overnight, he said there was government funding out there that is currently unavailable.

“It’s restricted in that we don’t get any of the funding that normal councils do from the federal government,” he said.

“We don’t get many state government funding opportunities, simply because they see it as money going to a company, Rio Tinto.

“It is their ABN number on our finances.”

Rio Tinto’s bauxite general manager Michelle Elvy has been reluctant to give any kind of firm commitment on normalisation.

In her first week in Weipa, she told Cape York Weekly that it “wasn’t a priority”.

This is what she told the ABC: “Rio Tinto is heavily invested in this community and is committed to work with all parties to ensure the sustainability of Weipa.”

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