Letters last Friday delivered the shattering news to landholders in the Townsville and Rockhampton regions that their land would be needed by the Department of Defence for the expansion of field training areas, to allow 14,000 Singaporean troops to be accommodated for 18 weeks each year.
The news stopped many in their tracks, not least Couti Outi Brangus breeders Lawson and Linda Geddes, whose land abuts the existing Shoalwater Bay training ground in central Queensland.
“We don’t know the full implications yet – the letter only arrived on Friday – but we don’t want to go,” Linda said.
“We feel like a mat has been pulled from under our feet.
“We would never replace what we’ve got – good coastal fattening country.
“My husband’s family has been here 140 years and we’re continually improving the place.
“We’re in our 60s – are we expected to start again?”
It’s unclear what land will be needed for the Shoalwater Bay expansion, or how many will be affected, with Defence Minister Marise Payne advising that “the size and complexity of this expansion means that Defence needs to conduct detailed research”, and liaise with the state government to confirm the number of potentially affected properties.
In the Townsville region the compulsory land acquisitions are believed to cover 120,000ha and involve 23 landholders in an area stretching from Hervey Range west to the Burdekin and south to the Flinders Highway.
According to Townsville-based senator Ian Macdonald, the agreement is another step forward for the $2.5 billion Australia-Singapore Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.
“The existing training areas can only accommodate a limited number of troops and it is of critical importance that Australian Defence Force training is not unnecessarily disrupted,” he said. “Some landholders will very willingly sell their land, but nothing will happen without the proper consultation – and of course compensation.”
Capricornia MP Michelle Landry did not returned the Queensland Country Life’s call, choosing instead to put out a media release saying that Defence officials would be holding one-on-one information appointments with local landholders from December 7-9 to discuss the future expansion of the Shoalwater Bay military training ground.
“It’s a long term process, but Defence is keen to be (as) open as possible, so that local property owners are fully aware of future plans for the area and have the opportunity to ask questions.”
Kennedy MP Bob Katter has come out swinging.
“Don’t put this next to a city, when this land is the only place they can expand to,” he said.
“This is prime 30 inch rainfall land, right alongside the third biggest river in Australia – we need this land for irrigation.
“I don’t care what money they’re offered; it won’t remotely compensate them for what those cattlemen have got now – a big saleyards at Charters Towers, and a big abattoir in Townsville.
Mr Katter said a more workable solution would be to take up 200,000ha in the Desert Uplands region on the western side of Pentland, describing it as a cheaper option.
In the wake of a meeting in Townsville on Sunday, a landholder steering committee has been formed, consisting of John Brownson, Forest Home; Bob Hicks, Mirambeena; David Nicholas, Payne’s Lagoon; Glenn Spurdle, Linden Hills; and Matt Stanger, Tomato Springs.
Conrad Law has been engaged by the committee to assist with the coordination of its efforts, and a letter will be circulated shortly to all known affected landowners, major affected businesses and other potential supporters.
The letter will request a contribution of $1,000 to a fighting fund.