Thursday, 30 October 2014
Maranoa Electorate: Coal Seam Gas
I rise to speak about the future livability of regional towns in my electorate in coal seam gas country—that is, in the Surat Basin. That is the Dalby, Chinchilla, Miles, Roma corridor, including Wandoan and Tara. During the peak of the construction phase, which is rapidly coming to an end, there was a significant investment from companies like Santos, Origin, QGC and Arrow to provide affordable housing and other infrastructure to cater for the shortfall in available resources due to the exponential growth in demand that we were witnessing, which was driven by the CSG industry's rapid expansion.
From 2012 to 2013, the annual population growth rate was some 3.5 per cent, more than double that of the previous five years. The industry is now moving from construction to production, which means a loss, just from one project, of some 3,500 workers—mainly fly-in fly-out, but there are other pressures on the community—and 1,500 from another project, making a total of 5,000 workers from just one of the companies that will not be there by this time next year. The other three companies are in a similar situation as they move from this big construction phase into production. Population predictions for the area estimate the annual population growth rate will now slow to less than one per cent for the forward consecutive years, from now through till 2036—from a 3.5 per cent growth to less than one per cent. So we have had the spike, we have had the boom, which is rapidly ending, but in its aftermath it leaves many legacy issues that we have to deal with. I know that the companies want to work with government, and I am certainly working with those companies and local government, on how we can deal with this.
Santos has invested some $6 million in rental subsidy and affordable housing projects in the Roma region specifically targeting low-income workers not associated with the CSG industry—because that was one of side effects: it was the existing population, the workers in shops, schoolteachers and other locals, who were massively affected by this rapid escalation in the coal seam gas industry and the pressure put on rental properties. The numbers speak for themselves. The civil trends are not slowing down at the same rate as the CSG industry. In other words, what is happening is that there is a risk of oversaturation in the housing market, which I am already witnessing, and discussions I have had with real estate people confirm my concern. Santos invested another $6 million in associated projects across the Maranoa Regional Council, including $2½ million in the Roma Airport upgrade, $1.5 million in the Roma Hospital and half a million dollars each to construct some public wash-down facilities and community services as well as bushfire equipment for people on the land.
There is no denying these companies have been good corporate citizens. They have tried to do their best to mitigate the boom, which has impacted in a positive way but also in a negative way on many aspects of daily life in my own home town of Roma and the others in Dalby, Chinchilla, Miles and, to a lesser extent, Tara and Wandoan. But what I am wanting to see now is that these companies look at future-proofing these towns to ensure that the social infrastructure can sustain long-term population growth. For instance, if we are going to keep the population there—young people particularly—we could look, in my own home town of Roma, at the netball courts. The children there actually play on a car park, a bitumen sealed car park. We can do better than that. But I would like to see some of the money that may have been channelled into more affordable housing going into that sort of sporting infrastructure. Upgrades to the PCYC would be a great investment in people, and young people particularly, to help retain these people as we go through this phase.
The Maranoa Regional Council, for instance, has developed an extensive plan for an upgrade of Bassett Park, which is our showground and racecourse. Now the CSG industry may be interested in partnering with the Maranoa Regional Council to see some of these plans that they have become a reality. I once again say we now have to look at the livability of our towns. We have been through the construction. It has been a massive boom, but behind it there are legacy issues we need to deal with to make sure we can retain our population and particularly do something for young people and livability post the boom of the CSG industry in the electorate of Maranoa.