Central Queensland politicians are calling on the Department of Defence to commit to the Rockhampton and Livingstone regions long-term.

In Senate Estimates in late March, Mr Canavan questioned Estate and Infrastructure Deputy Secretary Steve Grzeskowiak about plans regarding the Australia Singapore Military Training Initiative.

He asked about a military storage facility to be built in Townsville by 2025, and what that meant for the current storage at Rockhampton Airport.

“My understanding is that that will remain, certainly for the time being, but I’d have to take on notice what the very longer-term plans for that facility are,” Mr Grzeskowiak said.

He said the decision was “entirely one for the Singaporeans”, and that as far as he was aware, the new storage would not affect the number of people training at Shoalwater Bay, or the 18-week annual length of their training.

Mr Grzeskowiak noted the Defence Department’s engagement with local businesses and the regular visits to the Rockhampton region by the armed forces.

Solders on the beach at Shoalwater Bay.
Solders on the beach at Shoalwater Bay.

Speaking to Chief of Army Lieutenant General Rick Burr, Mr Canavan said the armed forces welcome in Central Queensland was being “worn out” because the Defence Department had none of its own employees based in Rockhampton and because it had made no commitment to the area past 2025.

“You have been traditionally very welcome in Central Queensland and the Shoalwater Bay area, but that welcome is being worn out a bit if there’s not more efforts to put a permanent presence in that region, rather than just be fly in-fly out visitors,” he said.

To Defence Secretary Greg Moriarty, he added: “I’d raise the point that the Singaporeans provide more benefit to the local economy in Rockhampton than the Australian armed forces do.

“They [Singaporeans] do R&R there, whereas as I say, the Australian armed forces are really fly-in, fly-out: we don’t see them much.”

Member for Capricornia Michelle Landry said 55 companies had been involved in the Shoalwater Bay Training Area component of the ASMTI.

She said 34 of those companies were based in the Rockhampton and Livingstone regions, and the work was worth about $157 million.

“I am confident the ASMTI will continue to be a critical avenue to strengthen our partnership with Singapore and to build on Australia’s defence capability,” Ms Landry said.

Mayor Tony Williams said Rockhampton Regional Council was “working closely with all stakeholders to ensure Central Queensland continues to benefit from this relationship”.

“We are always here to engage on the future of defence operations in our region and we look forward to continuing these constructive conversations with the ADF and Department of Defence going forward,” he said.

“Rockhampton is the traditional home of Singapore Armed Forces military training exercises while they’re in Australia, and our 30-year history has built long lasting friendships and economic benefits for residents and businesses in our city, the wider region, and Australia.”

The Defence Department did not respond in time for publication.

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