16 November, 2020
Time to normalise: Weipa Town Authority chairman
Time to normalise: Weipa Town Authority chairman
By MATT NICHOLLS
ALL the stars have aligned for Weipa to become a normalised town and form its own council, Michael Rowland says.
The chair of the Weipa Town Authority said the continuation of the Palaszczuk government for a third term was a major positive for the push to normalise Weipa.
That, and the fact Rio Tinto is ready to hand over the keys.
“We’ve been having talks for a long period of time now and things were on the verge of happening just before the election,” Mr Rowland said last week.
“Now that we’ve kept the same government, we shouldn’t lose that momentum down in Brisbane.”
Mr Rowland said if the wheels were put in motion and agreements signed, the next local government election in 2024 would be Weipa’s first as a normalised community.
“That’s the timeline we are working towards,” he said.
“If we could get it done by then it would be a great result for the community.”
Mr Rowland has already ruled himself out of the running for what would be Weipa’s first mayoral election.
“This is my last stint and I ran on the platform that I wanted to guide Weipa to normalisation. That’s my number one objective,” he said.
EYE ON THE FUTURE
WEIPA won’t look any different the day it becomes a normalised community, Mr Rowland said, but that won’t always be the case.
“In general it’s not going to look much different to how it is at the moment. All the key services that Rio Tinto and the WTA provide will still be there,” he said.
“Going forward, there will be some noticeable changes.
“This is about future-proofing the town so it is not a mining town but a town with a mine.”
The WTA chairman said Weipa was a regional community with 4000 people and had a number of advantages that other remote towns did not have.
“We’ve got a great airport, a deep water port, a high-earning workforce and some very good public infrastructure,” he said.
“Weipa definitely needs more investment outside of mining and normalising will help boost investor confidence.”
Mr Rowland explained that any potential business had to deal with Rio Tinto first if they wanted to bring industry to Weipa.
That would change if Weipa was a normalised community and had its own council.
“We have to be sustainable and the only way to do that is to grow and bring more jobs and tourism to Weipa,” Mr Rowland said.
“That’s what the state government has always worried about – another council that has to be put on life support.”
As the Andoom and East Weipa mine sites reach their expiry dates, Rio Tinto would have less reason to keep investing in the town, the chairman said.
“The timing is perfect now so we can transition Weipa away from Rio Tinto’s control so it can stand on its own feet,” he said.
“In the conversations we’ve had with Rio and the government, there is an understanding that Rio Tinto will need to keep contributing over a period of time.
“Those details will be key but we need to get a Memorandum of Understanding signed and start the clock.
“There will be key milestones that need to be achieved along the way, but we are talking about a 10-year period of transition.”
RIO TINTO SUPPORT
PREVIOUS administrations have presented as a stubborn road block to normalisation but the current decision makers at Rio Tinto support the change.
Dan Kelleher, the acting GM of Weipa’s operations, said Rio Tinto was ready to hand back the keys to the town.
“Normalisation is extremely strongly supported by Rio Tinto and, for the first time ever, we have the support of the government,” he said at a community forum.
Mr Kelleher said progress was stalled due to the state election but indicated a Memorandum of Understanding could be signed between Rio Tinto and the Queensland Government in January.
“The director-general for local government is supportive of normalisation,” he said.
“If the support for normalisation is still there from the government in December or January we could sign an MoU that would look to having something formalised and be ready to go by 2024.”
Mr Kelleher said Rio Tinto was committed to making sure Weipa was able to stand on its own two feet as a normalised community.
WEIPA residents should not feel alarmed about the future and some of the key infrastructure in the community, Mr Rowland said.
“Your rubbish will be collected, the power will stay connected and the sporting facilities will run as they always do. There won’t be a lot of noticeable changes,” he said.
“For most residents, it’ll be business as usual.
“We are just thinking about the future and what things will look like in 10 years, 20 years, 50 years.
“It’s important that Weipa does this now so the future is secured for the community.”
MILES THE NEW MAN
A CHANGE in the Queensland government ministry should not have a major impact on momentum, Mr Rowland said.
Deputy Premier Steven Miles was last week handed the portfolio for Local Government, replacing Stirling Hinchliffe.
“I’m fairly confident we won’t (lose momentum,” the WTA chair said on Wednesday.
“A lot of the work is done by people within the department.
“The Minister is at the top of the pyramid and signs off on it all, but the department guys do the work.
“We’ve had assurances that everything is moving forward.”