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Gulf Community Pleads for Port Dredging

Posted on May 2, 2016

By John Andersen, Townsville Bulletin

The closure of the Century Mine last year has delivered a two-fisted punch to the Karumba economy.

The Gulf of Carpentaria fishing community not only lost the workers from the MMG zinc plant in the town when the mine near Lawn Hill closed, but also its lucrative live export trade in cattle.

The mine’s closure means the channel leading out into the Gulf of Carpentaria from the mouth of the Norman River is no longer being dredged.

When the mine near Lawn Hill and its plant in Karumba were operating, the channel was dredged to accommodate the barges which carried ore out to mother ships anchored in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Member for Mount Isa Rob Katter that with the dredging program stopped, cattle boats can no longer access the river to load livestock. He said the State Government had made more than $30 million from MMG and that Karumba deserved a “fair go”.

“The boats that moved cattle out of Karumba to Indonesia and Vietnam can no longer access the loading wharf located one kilometre upstream from the mouth of the river,” he said.

Mr Katter said boosting capacity at the Port of Karumba was in keeping with Federal Government aspirations to develop the North.

“The Port of Karumba is the lifeblood of the Gulf and its potential shouldn’t be underestimated,” he said.

“The issue of dredging the channel is holding back access for cattle exporters and is stifling growth and development.”

Manager of Karumba Livestock Export Dean Bradford said that when the mine was operating the ocean channel was dredged every 12 months to a depth of 3.6m.

“We were turning cattle boats around every 10 days. The yards here at the wharf are registered to hold 2235 head,” he said. We would like to expand the number of cattle we can hold so that we can supply more ships, but unless we can get the dredging done our hands are tied.”

Karumba Progress Association chairman Bill Rutherford said Karumba was “getting the burnt end of the stick”. He said governments at the state and federal level had benefited financially from the town, but had little inkling of the impact the Century closure last year had on Karumba.

“There were people employed here as well as the mine and of course our live export trade depended on the ocean floor being dredged for the ore barges,” Mr Bradford said.

He said Karumba was surrounded on three sides by cattle stations that turned off hundreds of thousands of cattle a year.

“This is where the cattle are. We should be going full steam ahead, but instead we are watching cattle from here go to Townsville and Darwin,” Mr Bradford said.

Mr Katter urged the Government to show a commitment to developing the north and stimulating jobs and growth in the Gulf by dredging the channel.

“During the 16 years Century Mine was in operation and shipping ore through the Port of Karumba, conservative calculations show it’s reasonable to assume up to half a billion dollars would’ve been contributed to the Queensland Treasury,” Mr Katter said.

“On average, it’s likely that about $30 million would’ve been paid to the State Government through royalties and payroll tax every year for the 16-year life of Century Mine. Then there are also other financial contributors such as land tax, tenure rents and other costs.”

“The cost of dredging the port is significant, and would be up to $5 million, but given the contribution the mine has made to the state, the Queensland Government should be reinvesting that money to pay for the dredging of the channel.”

Normanton and Karumba businessman Calvin Gallagher said the Queensland Government through its port operations had made “millions out of” MMG. He said it was time the Government put some of the money back into Karumba.

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