Opposition leader Bill Shorten has some fighting words for the Prime Minister over the proposed expansion of the Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten has some fighting words for the Prime Minister over the proposed expansion of the Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area. Rob Williams

PM needs to meet devastated Shoalwater families: Shorten

OPPOSITION Leader Bill Shorten has made his own call to action this morning following Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's order the Australian Defence Force scout new land for military training expansion.

Mr Shorten's office this morning released a letter that he'd written to the PM yesterday in which he urged the proposed Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area expansion be addressed urgently.

Mr Shorten called on the PM to visit the region to meet with the families directly impacted by the proposed acquisition of 162,000ha of primarily grazing land.

The Labor leader confirmed his party remained supportive of the enhanced military training arrangements with Singapore, but said the government was yet to "satisfactorily make the case for acquisition of prime agricultural land" to support the expansion.

 

Here are the words he penned for the PM:

Dear Prime Minister

On 24 January I met in Rockhampton with land holders and local businesses, including members of the Marlborough Against Defence Land Grab Committee, over their concerns that land will be compulsorily acquired as part of the Government's planned expansion of the Shoalwater Bay military training area.

The community is rightly concerned by the Government's poor consultation and lack of transparency in relation to these expansion plans, which has led to anxiety and uncertainty for those affected. Defence Minister Payne's 23 January statement that Defence will now accelerate its considerations over land that may be required, to be announced in four weeks' time, has heightened community fears that detailed consideration of all social, economic and environmental issues will not occur and that the land to be acquired is a forgone conclusion.

Labor remains supportive of the enhanced military training arrangements with Singapore, both in terms of the economic and development benefits it will bring to the region and the stronger ties it will create with one of our most significant bilateral partners in the Asia-Pacific.

Notwithstanding, we believe the Government is still yet to satisfactorily make the case for the acquisition of prime agricultural land to support expansion of the existing training area. I'm very concerned that the views of local people appear to have been sidelined in your Government's rush to announce this arrangement before the election. Not only were locals not consulted, they were completely left in the dark about the potential impacts of this acquisition before the election.

The Government must urgently explain:

  • What other land options it has considered and on what basis have these been ruled as unsuitable. Surely there are other alternatives to acquiring prime grazing land.
  • To what extent have all social, economic and environmental impacts been considered in the decision on which land to acquire. How can the Government realistically claim all impacts will be considered fully, now that Minister Payne as accelerated the decision process on land requirements to occur within the next four weeks.
  • Given consultation with local landholders and business owners has been woefully inadequate to date, how the Government has calculated the flow on secondary impacts to local businesses such as the fishing and meat industries. Removal of up to 70 000 head of cattle from this land, for instance, will directly impact on local abattoirs and cost Australian jobs.

The agreement with Singapore to enhance its ability to conduct Defence training in Australia is positive for Australia, for local development and local economic growth. It is in our national interests, however, that we seek the best outcomes from these arrangements without harming local land holders and damaging agricultural industries. The Government's ill-footed approach to date has failed to do so and has caused undue anxiety to the communities affected.

I call on you to review this matter urgently, and ensure outcomes that balance both Defence and agricultural interests to provide the best benefit for all. I also encourage you to do as I did, and travel to the region to meet directly with the people affected by this. Only then can you truly understand the impact your government's poor handling of this issue is having on local communities.



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