10 May 2023

WTA chair's letter shows bureaucracy bungle

| Cape York Weekly
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This letter written by WTA chair Michael Rowland seven years ago still rings true today. It was published in the Western Cape Bulletin on March 12, 2014 and highlights the lack of progress made on normalisation, despite years of conversations …

AT the Weipa Governance Summit about five years ago (July 2009), then Minister for Local Government Desley Boyle made the comment that “The state government was committed to the Normalisation of Weipa”, also Jo-Anne Scarini, general manager of Rio Tinto Alcan Weipa at the time agreed, “That the current model of governance is problematic and Weipa would be better with its own independent governance”.

Both of these people expressed the view that something had to change – Weipa needed to join the real world.

Out of this a committee was formed in 2010 with representatives from Rio Tinto, Weipa Town Authority and the Local Government Department.

Over the last four to five years they have met on a reasonably regular basis to look into the whole “normalisation thing”.

They looked closely into the cost of running this town, the age of assets etc.

It is my understanding that an enormous amount of work was done by this committee to form a clearer picture of the true cost of operating our town.

Once this first stage was finished they would then move onto the implementation stage.

Normalisation has always been something of a mystery to a lot of the people in this town and there is a lot of misinformation about normalisation, its impact and the costs to the ratepayers.

That is why the committee that was formed must be supported by all three parties to run its full course and present to the people of Weipa a clear, accurate picture of what Weipa would look like once normalised.

The future of Weipa cannot be left solely in the hands of a mining company to decide.

Yes, the mine was responsible for the town starting, and yes they have given us security of income over the years, but I don’t understand why normalising the town would be in any way threatening the security of the mine, as some seem to believe.

Normalisation is not just about the governance of our community; normalisation is also about the right of this community to have a hands-on say in our future and in the direction that we want to go.

It is about the right of our community leaders to openly court other business and industry to come and set up in our community, thereby diversifying and broadening the economy and the rate base.

Any business knows that it is not good to have all your eggs in one basket, and with the fluctuations in the mining industry, to have other business supporting Weipa’s economy, any hard times are hopefully evened out.

I believe that the mine will be a part of Weipa’s future for a long time to come, but why is the decision about carrying this community into the future theirs alone to make?

Rio Tinto is a publicly listed company and it has a responsibility to its shareholders to make sound business decisions to maintain the profitability and future of its operations.

Sometimes those decisions may mean that part of the business is shut down. While that decision may have good business rationale to back it up, what about the human cost?

I am sure the people of Gove who have bought homes and invested in property, and now have mortgages hanging over their heads are wondering about their future with no small amount of trepidation.

It is time Rio Tinto let go of the reins and focus on mining, which is their core business.

And as they are a long-term member of this community, support the move to see Weipa as a community standing on its own feet in charge of its own destiny.

It is also time that the people of Weipa took ownership of their town.

To quote Desley Boyle again: “The push for normalisation needs to come from the people in the community”.

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