THE State Government on Tuesday approved the largest coal mine in Queensland's history, but questions remain how 3600 workers will be found to construct and operate the $6.4 billion project.
Owned in part by mining magnate Gina Rinehart and Indian multi-national GVK, the Alpha coal project was conditionally approved by the Coordinator-General.
Located about 460km west of Rockhampton in Central Queensland, the mine would be the first to exploit coal reserves in the state's massive Galilee Basin.
Proponent GVK plans to mine 30 million tonnes of coal over 30 years from the site, which would be transported by rail to Abbot Point and likely exported to India and China.
Queensland Mines Minister Jeff Seeney said the project would boost the state's economy by $1 billion a year, and $11 billion over three years of construction.
"Australia can expect an $80 billion dollar rise in exports over the life of the mine," he said.
The approval came days after a deal emerged between Ms Rinehart and the Federal Government to bring 1700 overseas workers to work on a Western Australian iron ore project.
The deal sparked outrage from within Labor ranks, and drew the ire of MPs and senators on the crossbenches.
In an effort to quell dissent from within party ranks, the Labor caucus on Tuesday launched a new sub-committee to analyse the currently confidential EMA process.
Queensland independent MP Bob Katter said the support from the two major parties was a "junta" arrangement trying to force out opposing views.
Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson said GVK had not applied for an EMA for the project, he did not rule out the possibility of creating one.
He said the government's first priority was to employ Australians on the project, but that low unemployment rates in the neighbouring towns of Alpha and Emerald would pose challenges.
During question time on Monday Mr Ferguson said in last year's Budget the government had made it clear it was "open to doing these agreements on a variety of projects if they meet the conditions that we deem appropriate".
"This is the first of potentially a range of agreements, but people should remember first and foremost this is about creating jobs for Australians."
GVK vice-chairman Sanjay Reddy said: "Our priority is offering locals and other Australians the opportunity to work on these projects.
"Last year, the Federal Government invited us and other major companies to look at EMAs, but we need to review them with contractors and will consider the issue over the next few months.
"We have not applied for EMAs, but with large numbers required for the construction phase, we see them as a good insurance."
Premier Campbell Newman told reporters in Brisbane it was important Queenslanders were employed at the mine.
"Unlike the Federal Government that rolled over last week on another project, we will be demanding answers to show that everything possible has been done to actually train and skill Queenslanders from anywhere in this state," he said.
"We want any Queenslander that wants a job there to be given the opportunity to go and work on this project first and foremost."
But Construction, Forestry, Mining and Electricians Union district president Stephen Smyth said he was not aware of any plans for overseas workers to be brought in for the project.
He said the EMA for Ms Rinehart's Roy Hill iron ore mine was a disgraceful situation and if a similar agreement was drawn up for any Central Queensland operations he would be disgusted.
Queensland Greens Senator Larissa Waters said the project would have "devastating effects" for the Great Barrier Reef and Central Queensland communities.
"Queensland communities will suffer increased cost of living and infrastructure pressures from the influx of fly-in, fly-out workers likely for this mine - will Alpha go the way of Moranbah?
"And will Gina Rinehart now seek an Enterprise Migration Agreement for this mine to ship in overseas workers in preference to locals?"
ALPHA PAY RATES
- $65,000 for trainees
- $85,000 for administration staff
- $110,000 for university graduates
- $150,000 for supervisors
- $185,000 for senior professionals
- $360,000 for senior site executives
Source: Rates proposed in Alpha Project EIS