Thursday, April 11, 2024


Mackay and Whitsunday Life

Dynamic Dialogue Premier's Mackay Tour Sparked Debate And Development

Amidst mounting tension and discontent, Queensland Premier Steven Miles embarked on a pivotal visit to Mackay last week, navigating the delicate terrain of community unrest surrounding the proposed Pioneer-Burdekin Pumped Hydro Project. The journey, punctuated by two town hall meetings, unfolded in the face of fierce opposition and impassioned calls for accountability. Since the pumped hydro scheme was announced in 2022 in a manner that blindsided both local Pioneer Valley residents and the region’s Mayor, Premier Miles is the first Premier to front up to the public to answer questions, a notion he apologised for but one that locals said was too little too late.

During his three-day visit to Mackay, Premier Steven Miles didn't just engage with the community through town halls; he also unveiled several significant funding projects aimed at bolstering the region's infrastructure and services. One such announcement involved the addition of 140 islands or parts thereof within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to Queensland's protected areas estate. This acquisition, spanning a total land size of 1,390 hectares, serves to safeguard endangered ecosystems and vital habitats for species like green and flatback turtles, seabirds, and shorebirds.
In addition to environmental initiatives, Premier Miles and his team also addressed crucial public safety concerns by announcing extra police allocations for the Mackay-Isaac-Whitsunday Region. This allocation includes an additional 20 police positions to be stationed in the region by mid-next year, alongside the delivery of 28 new police vehicles. The State Government also unveiled plans to boost social and affordable housing in Mackay, with the construction of seven one-bedroom units as part of its Homes for Queenslanders plan. Simultaneously, sod was turned and construction commenced on a $250 million project to expand Mackay Base Hospital, adding 128 extra beds and relocating the Women's Health Unit and Child and Adolescent Unit to new wards. Additionally, Premier Miles took time during his visit to acknowledge community volunteers at Orange Sky and even sampled a famous Pinnacle Pie, while Health Minister Shannon Fentiman was at the opening of the new Sarina Hospital.
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Premier Steven Miles celebrated the beginning of construction for the Mackay Base Hospital upgrade with Health Minister Shannon Fentiman, Member of Mackay Julieanne Gilbert, and MHHS CEO Susan Gannon. This was one of many announcements made during a three-day visit to Mackay. Photo credit: Annette Dew

Premier Faces Tough Questions In Fiery Town Hall

The Premier's arrival in the Pioneer Valley marked the commencement of a three-day engagement aimed at addressing the concerns swirling around what could potentially be the world's largest pumped hydro scheme. However, as Mr Miles stepped into the spotlight at Tuesday’s town hall meeting at the Eungella Memorial Hall, he was met with a chorus of jeers and interruptions, emblematic of the simmering discontent gripping the community regarding the potential loss of platypus habitat.
At the heart of the matter lies the proposed hydro project's potential impact on the local landscape, the loss of local homes and agricultural land, and the habitat of endangered species, casting a shadow of uncertainty over the region's future. Residents, grappling with feelings of neglect and frustration, seized the opportunity to confront the Premier, demanding transparency and accountability from their elected officials.
In a bid to assuage mounting anger, Mr Miles extended a public apology for the state government's lack of consultation and communication, acknowledging missteps in the project's rollout.
"I want to apologise for the pain some of you felt around the way the initial announcement about this project was made,” Premier Miles said.
Yet, for many residents, the apology fell short of expectations, underscoring a deeper rift between the government and the grassroots.
A spokesperson from the organisation ‘Save Eungella’ said that the Premier's attempt to apologise for the project's abrupt unveiling and to engage directly with the community's queries signified a noteworthy, albeit overdue, step towards open dialogue.
“However, most residents feel it's too little too late and were left with more questions than answers,” the spokesperson said.
“The community's disappointment stemmed not just from unanswered questions but from a growing sense that the project was launched with scant planning, preparation, or genuine consideration for the local populace or the environment.”
Save Eungella said that this situation serves as a stark reminder of the importance of not only pursuing renewable energy solutions but doing so in a manner that is transparent, inclusive, and respectful of local communities and natural habitats.
“The dissatisfaction expressed by Eungella's residents highlights a crucial gap in the government's approach to renewable energy projects — the need for meaningful, ground-level consultation and planning that prioritises ecological preservation and community welfare.
“As we stand firm against the Pioneer-Burdekin Pumped Hydro Project, the experiences in Eungella only strengthen our commitment to ensure that such developments are not pursued without genuine consideration and respect for the communities and natural habitats they impact.”
Premier Miles said that several studies, including environmental, geotechnical and ecological, still had to be completed.
"Those studies are important to understand what the impacts are and how we can mitigate those impacts, before making a final decision," he said.
Despite the tension, moments of conciliation emerged as some residents expressed gratitude for the Premier's willingness to engage directly with the community. However, lingering skepticism persisted, underscoring the profound disconnect between government rhetoric and grassroots realities.
A positive in the Premier’s journey to the Pioneer Valley was the 10/10 he gave a steak pepper pie at the famous Pinnacle Family Hotel, sharing the experience to his social media to help boost the region’s hospitality tourism.
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The Town Halls held in Eungella and Mackay were well attended bylocals, followed by the Premier and Deputy Premier on the tongsserving up sausages. Photos: Annette Dew

Premier's Funding Drive Spurs Economic And Environmental Growth

Amid a series of significant announcements during his three-day visit, Queensland Premier Steven Miles unveiled a strategic plan aimed at fortifying Mackay's future while prioritising the well-being and safety of its residents. From bolstering environmental conservation efforts to enhancing community safety measures and expanding healthcare infrastructure, the initiatives reflect a concerted effort to address key priorities and foster sustainable growth in the region.

Construction Underway On Mackay Base Hospital Upgrade

One of the first engagements on the Premier’s Mackay tour was to celebrate the start of construction on a major hospital expansion of the Mackay Base Hospital.
It’s one of 11 hospital expansions being delivered in Queensland.
The $250 million Mackay Base Hospital expansion will deliver an additional 128 beds, new birth suites and women's and children’s health units, to help relieve hospital pressures and improve patient care for the region.
New birth suites will also be located on the same level as the surgical department, ensuring a smoother transition of care for mothers and newborns.
The Women’s Health Unit and the Child and Adolescent Unit will move into the new contemporary wards when the hospital expansion opens in the second half of 2026.
Chief Executive of Mackay Hospital and Health Service, Susan Gannon said it was fantastic to see work on this major expansion of Mackay Base Hospital underway.
“We have been in the planning stage for some months so it’s good for staff and our community to know the much-anticipated expansion is happening.”
Initial site works began in February 2024, and included upgrades to essential services, such as water and sewerage, as well as site clearing.
Planning is also underway for the multi-deck car park at the hospital to support the expansion.
Premier, Steven Miles said that the $250 million investment will give locals more access to hospital beds, as well as better treatment spaces across a range of important wards.
Minister for Health, Mental Health and Ambulance Services and Minister for Women, Shannon Fentiman said, “We know just how much this significant investment will mean for this growing community.
“Once completed, the additional 128 beds at the Mackay Base Hospital, will help meet rising demand for healthcare and improve the flow of patients from the emergency department into the wards.
“Furthermore, our invaluable frontline health workers will be supported by state-of-the-art facilities and technologies, allowing us to attract and retain the best and brightest staff.”

Premier Steven Miles celebrated the beginning of construction for the Mackay Base Hospital upgrade with Health Minister Shannon Fentiman, Member of Mackay Julieanne Gilbert, and MHHS CEO Susan Gannon. Photo credit: Annette Dew

Social Homes Fast-tracked In North Mackay

Construction on seven one-bedroom units will soon commence to deliver more social and affordable housing in the Mackay region. These newly constructed units will add to the 74 social homes already in the Mackay Whitsunday region.
Queensland Premier Steven Miles said, “We know that to relieve pressure in the housing market we must boost supply.
“What is just a block of land now will soon be home to seven one-bedroom apartments,” he said.
“We know it’s this kind of housing that we need to build to home single people and older people who are looking to downsize.
“This frees up larger social homes for families and ensures accommodation is fit for purpose.”
State Member for Mackay Julieanne Gilbert said, “I’ve lived in Mackay all my life and I welcome anything that benefits the Mackay region and my fellow Mackayites,” she said.
“Like all of Queensland, in recent years Mackay has been dealing with increasing pressure on households.
“The development of housing programs aimed at increasing the housing supply in Mackay and surrounding regions is very welcome. This latest announcement to fast-track construction of seven apartments in North Mackay is positive news for our community,” she said. 

Member for Mackay Julieanne Gilbert, QBuild apprentice Ethan, Premier Steven Miles and Minister for Housing Meaghan Scanlon torn sod at the North Mackay site where seven new social housing units will be constructed. Photo credit: Annette Dew

Queensland Adds 140 Islands To Protected Areas Estate

The protection of the Great Barrier Reef has been further boosted by the addition of 140 islands or parts thereof within the marine park to Queensland’s protected areas estate, the Premier announced in Mackay last week.
The additional lands, with a combined total of 1,390 hectares, form part of the State Government’s Great Barrier Reef Island Arks project.
The project increases reef island protection, by acquiring or transferring high conservation value islands, or parts thereof, to add to Queensland’s protected area estate, ensuring endangered and of-concern ecosystems and habitat for important species such as green and flatback turtles, seabirds and shorebirds are protected for future generations.
Chief Executive Officer of the National Parks Association of Queensland Inc, Chris Thomas said, “As we continue to face environmental challenges and the delicate balance between human progress and nature conservation, the importance of Queensland’s protected areas has never been more pronounced.
“With the increase in protected areas in Queensland, we ensure the survival of these species and contribute to the overall health and resilience of ecosystems, while providing more natural spaces for the community to visit, learn about and enjoy.”
Quotes attributable to Queensland Conservation Council protected areas campaigner Nicky Moffat added, "From Cairns to Mackay and down to Gladstone, the Great Barrier Reef's Island and coastal national parks will now be more connected and this will help ensure their health into the future.”
Demolition contractors are currently removing old, dilapidated structures and plant and equipment from St Bees Island. This follows from the clean-up of the former resort on Wild Duck Island in August 2023.
Premier Steven Miles said he is passionate about protecting Queensland’s world-renowned Great Barrier Reef and its unique ecosystem for the next generation, and all those that follow.
“When we say something, we do something and it’s my promise to Queenslanders and the world that my government will always take care of the Great Barrier Reef and its natural wonders.”
Minister for the Environment and the Great Barrier Reef, Leanne Linard said The Great Barrier Reef Island Arks project is a commitment to protecting the iconic Great Barrier Reef and the wide variety of species who call it home.
“Through this project, we are protecting vital ecosystems and habitats for species like green and flatback turtles, seabirds and shorebirds,” she said.
Member for Mackay, Julieanne Gilbert added, “We must never rest in our efforts to protect and conserve our iconic Great Barrier Reef.”

The Premier with park rangers announced enhanced protection of the Great Barrier Reef with the state acquisition of around 140 high-protection islands. Photo credit: Annette Dew

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