On Sunday June 26, the Greens’ candidate for Page, Kudra Falla-Ricketts and like-minded Lower Clarence residents conducted a pop-up protest at the Yamba River Market, to draw attention to a proposal to turn Yamba into an international shipping port.
Australia Infrastructure Developments Pty Ltd is and has been lobbying the NSW and Australian governments to support the proposal, which is made up of five projects, for several years.
The primary project, the construction of a port on the Lower Clarence, which is called ‘Eastgate’ in the proposal and covers around 36km2, will “transform [the Port of Yamba] from its limited domestic operational status into a globally significant ‘common-user’ shipping hub capable of accepting a wide-range of vessel types, ranging in size to include, but not limited to, Post Panamax and Cape Size vessels,” the aid-australia website states.
And, while Page MP Kevin Hogan, Clarence MP Chris Gulpatis and Clarence Valley’s mayor, Richie Williamson, have all labelled the proposal as “pie in the sky”, the project’s public face and initiator, Des Euen, is adamant that isn’t the case.
“The same was said about the Snowy Mountains [hydro electricity scheme] back in the time when it was being put up for approval,” Mr Euen told the Independent.
“You’ve got to [respect] everybody’s point of view; however, Australia needs infrastructure development of this sort right now.
“The resources boom has finished … if we don’t have infrastructure and construction which can take the place of the resources boom to lift employment levels … I can tell you now, Australia is going to be a very sad place to live in.”
The other four parts of the proposal involve the establishment of a series of rail links and upgrades to existing rail infrastructure on the other side of the Great Dividing Range, including a rail link called the ‘Pacific West Railway Development’, which would connect Yamba and Moree.
According to Mr Euen, starting any work is “not a done deal yet”.
“It is all subject to the outcome of the EIS [environmental impact statement] study,” he said.
“We can’t, however, start on the EIS until the [NSW] government gives us the approval to do so.”
The proposal has gained interest from the eight councils that make up the Namoi Councils Joint Organisation – Tamworth Regional and Walcha councils, and the Narrabri, Gunnedah, Gwydir, Liverpool Plains, Liverpool Plains and Uralla shire councils.
Moree councillor Theo Tzannes has invited Mr Euen to present his proposal to the joint organisation’s July meeting.
“My motivation is to not want regional towns in Australia to die,” Tzannes said. “They will die if someone doesn’t get off their bum and do something.”
Cr Tzannes said he had attended a meeting in Canberra about 18 months ago with Mr Euen, which “didn’t go particularly well”; however that hasn’t dampened his support for the idea.
He said his region is hamstrung by a logistical inability to get the area’s products to market efficiently, due to restrictions at the state’s existing ports.
Port Botany and Port Kembla are in private hands and have 99 year leases; Newcastle’s and Sydney’s ports are government corporations.
These ports do not accommodate ships as large as those in the AID proposal.
Cr Tzannes said that ships able to carry 12,000 containers, serviced by a dual rail link from Moree to Yamba carrying trains capable of double-stacking the containers, would transform his region.
“Customs [would do their work] at Moree, Glenn Innes, Inverell – those towns would get unbelievable populations.
“There were a lot of objections with the Snowy scheme, but this will do the same thing: open up all of northern NSW so people could live safely and get jobs.”
Tamworth’s mayor, Col Murray, also welcomed the proposal. “We are a high production agricultural area, so any opportunity to get more efficient logistics is of a very high interest to us,” he said.
“However, one of the interesting things I note, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of support from state or federal governments.
“One of the other interesting things I’ve noticed: there seems to be some emerging support for the project from international investors – it will be interesting to see how the state government reacts if they don’t have to fund it.
“The Narrabri and Moree shires are two of the most productive agricultural areas. A significant amount of produce goes through Queensland ports.”
Meanwhile, Page candidates for the federal election, sitting member Kevin Hogan and Labor’s Janelle Saffin, don’t see the port project coming to fruition.
“This is not going to happen,” Mr Hogan said. “As a government, we are supporting the inland rail on which work has started.”
Ms Saffin said: “I would give it no support. We want development that will gel with our area and lifestyle. What they are proposing doesn’t gel with us.”
Mayor Richie Williamson said: “It is unworkable, unsustainable and is not going to happen; it’s pie in the sky – I believe that any level of support from any government would be unlikely into the future.”
Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis said: “I think people are just wasting their time – it will never get support from anyone in government I know, because it doesn’t tick the environmental or social boxes.”
See page 10 for a Q & A with Des Euen.