Time running out to save GKI redevelopment and 1500 CQ jobs
AMBITIOUS plans to redevelop Great Keppel Island have reached a critical juncture where a billion dollars worth of investment and 1500 future jobs for Central Queenslanders now hang in the balance.
When the Noosa-based Altum Property Group began the process of taking over the leases for Tower Holdings' stalled GKI Resort Development plan, its director Rob McCready made it clear the Queensland Government's project to rejuvenate the island was critical for underpinning the redevelopment.
After waiting months for the finalisation of the State Government's financial support for the project, Altum has issued a statement warning it could walk away from the project if it didn't receive a solid commitment from the Queensland Government before the end of the month.
Like many other projects in complex environments, Altum's directors said the project needed early support from government to give it the launch pad it needed.
"The Altum directors have until August 30th to make their investment decision regarding whether to progress with the GKI project," Altum said.
"It is widely understood that the original State Government commitment of approximately $30m was not enough to support the delivery of the common user infrastructure required for the island redevelopment to proceed.
"Altum has requested written confirmation from the State Government stating their level of financial support for the GKI project, which is a necessary first step, prior to securing additional investment from Australian and British finance partners."
Altum said the Queensland Government was well aware of this situation and the time frames that Altum was working to.
"Altum is optimistic that written confirmation of the state government's support of the project will be shortly forthcoming, with this important step ensuring that critical infrastructure required for the project to go ahead is funded this year," the company said.
Given the changes to the tourism industry post-COVID-19, Altum believed GKI's redevelopment was more important than ever, as international travel was either not possible or as attractive as local destinations.
Estimated to cost $63 million, the GKI rejuvenation project involves the installation of about 13.5km of power, water and telecommunications infrastructure between GKI and the mainland, along with the supply and installation of supporting infrastructure including on-island reticulation, pumping stations, substations and a reservoir.
To date, the Queensland Government has committed a total $31.8 million towards the project and had been unsuccessful in their bid to secure federal funding.
As governments look to pour money into fast-tracking infrastructure projects to drive employment and the economic recovery around the country, it is a mystery why funding can't be found for the GKI rejuvenation project, enabling the resort development to proceed.
Altum said its resort project was forecast to deliver 1490 construction jobs annually for 12 years and 1500 long-term operational jobs, while supercharging the region, rebuilding the local tourism industry and setting new standards in resort sustainability and technological innovation.
"Construction work on the project includes $1 billion on tourism infrastructure such as accommodation, retail premises, bars, restaurants and the yacht club," Altum said.
"Prior to this, $500 million is also forecast to be spent on infrastructure for the project, including roads, power, water and sewer connections."
Mr McCready said in June they were working with the Queensland Government to bring forward the planned early work on common user infrastructure for the island, starting as early as September.
"These early works consist of cleaning up the significant debris and rubbish on the island and building infrastructure such as connection paths to lookouts, day tripper areas with picnic tables, shade sails and toilet facilities and improved roads access," he said.
In its effort to rally support behind the resort development, Altum has had "positive conversations" with the region's peak tourism and economic development organisation, Capricorn Enterprise, Livingstone Shire Council Mayor and Councillors and Keppel MP Brittany Lauga, Capricornia MP Michelle Landry, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson and Keppel state MP candidates Wade Rothery (One Nation) and Adrian de Groot (LNP).
If Altum was to walk away from the sale, it is understood that Tower Holdings' leases would be forfeited to the Queensland Government.
Tower Holdings was contacted for comment.
Queensland Government and LNP respond to Altum's call for clarity
Keppel MP Brittany Lauga said she had been working closely with Altum over the past couple of weeks.
"They are getting very close to the point where they need to make some hard decisions about the future," Ms Lauga said.
"I'm still proud that it's only the Palaszczuk Labor government that has any money on the table with respect to this project.
"We're very much committed to working with Altum and NAIF and all of the stakeholders to make sure that we make Great Keppel Island great again."
Ms Lauga confirmed that her government had considered funding the rejuvenation project in full.
"The priority that Altum is actually seeking at the moment is investment in common user infrastructure on the island, (including a) jetty facility, improvements to the barge landing at Rosslyn Bay Harbor, they're looking at improvements to the roads, interpretative signage, walkways, improvements to amenities, landscaping, and shade shelters," she said.
"That kind of common user infrastructure is what their priority is and they've said that down the track, power and water is something that they'd like to see so we've been having those conversations about the best way that we can spend the money that's on the table.
"I'm very much looking forward to continuing to work with Altum, not only to help them get their development under way but also to improve the island for all the other tourism operators and to make it a great place that people can be very proud of."
A Department of State Development, Tourism and Innovation spokesperson said the Queensland Government was the only government to commit funding for tourism infrastructure on Great Keppel Island.
"We remain committed to delivering $25 million worth of tourism infrastructure on Great Keppel Island," the spokesperson said.
The LNP's candidate for Keppel Adrian de Groot said he had met with Altum and assured the developers that unlike Labor, a LNP Government wouldn't change the goalposts on job-generating projects from the private sector.
He said his party would invest the $25 million Labor promised but failed to deliver as well as support a loan from the North Australia Infrastructure Facility.
"Great Keppel Island is one of the most incredible places on Queensland's coast. The island should be an asset for Keppel that creates jobs and builds a stronger local economy," Mr de Groot said.
"There is huge potential for a world-class development that will attract tourists to the region and create more local jobs."
"Projects like the Great Keppel Island development are desperately needed to create more local jobs.
"We support the water and power connection. As the LNP candidate for Keppel I want to see work started on a development as soon as possible that creates desperately-needed locals jobs during construction and well into the future through tourism."
After five years of delay after delay to this project with multiple project proponents falling over, he said the Labor Government was the weak link in making the development a reality.
Federal Government responds to Altum's situation
Capricornia MP Michelle Landry said her office had made representations on Altum Construction's behalf to multiple federal departments and their respective cabinet ministers to see what Commonwealth grant programs exist that could potentially suit the GKI Rejuvenation Project.
"I have also facilitated meetings with Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Keith Pitt and the office of Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham," Ms Landry said.
"I appreciate Altum Construction's co-operation in our positive and constructive conversations thus far.
"While there are minimal Commonwealth grant programs available at the moment that would suit the project, any project of this size stands to deliver much needed jobs to the region and I am doing everything within my power to see the Capricorn Coast arise stronger than ever out of the coronavirus pandemic."
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said his government worked with all levels of government to identify infrastructure priorities.
"While no grants programs in the Regional Development portfolio are open for applications at this time, proponents are encouraged to monitor the GrantConnect website for upcoming opportunities," Mr McCormack said.
"In June, the Australian Government announced an additional $415 million of joint funding with the Queensland Government to deliver shovel-ready infrastructure projects and urgent road safety upgrades to support infrastructure construction jobs across Queensland over the next two years, including a number of projects in CQ.
This builds on the fast-tracking of $1.4 billion for infrastructure in Queensland we announced last November, locking in priority upgrades that will bust congestion, increase productivity, improve safety and boost jobs at a time we need it most.
It is understood the Queensland Department of Innovation, Tourism Industry Development submitted an initial application under Stage 1 of the Regional Growth Fund for the Great Keppel Island Power and Water Infrastructure Project.
Stage 1 was reportedly very competitive, with more than 300 initial applications received, with the GKI project was deemed unsuccessful to proceed to the next stage.
One Nation springs into action for Altum
After travelling to meet in person with the Altum Property Group owners, a fire was lit under One Nation leader Pauline Hanson and Keppel candidate Wade Rothery to secure the funding required to ensure both GKI's rejuvenation project and Altum's GKI Resort development plans proceeded.
Senator Hanson accused the Labor Party of bungling its handling of Great Keppel Island.
"At the rate they're heading, I wouldn't be surprised if Altum walks away from the deal because of how hard the Queensland government are making the sale," Senator Hanson said.
"The power and water still haven't been connected to the island as promised by the Labor Member for Keppel because she grossly underestimated the cost.
"It's another broken election promise and further proof that Labor can't be trusted when they make election commitments to the people of Keppel."
Great Keppel Island has previously relied on a diesel generator to power the old resort, and several depleted aquifers for freshwater.
After her original plan for a desalination plant and hybrid solar / diesel power generator on the island was rejected by Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Senator Hanson recognised the importance of the project having the stability of mainland power.
The meeting with Altum prompted Senator Hanson to write to Prime Minister, Scott Morrison as well as the Federal Finance and Tourism Ministers this week, seeking a direct conversation with the Prime Minister and up to $50 million to complete the undersea power and water project.
"This project is now time-critical," she said.
"I can't see why the Palaszcuk Government aren't doing everything in their power to assist Altum Property Group and get this project off the ground.
"We have an Australian couple with a proven track record on delivering large scale projects here in Queensland, but Labor keeps putting up roadblocks."
Given that the it was now the 12th anniversary since the closure of Great Keppel Island's resort, and with the old resort looking "like a dumpsite", Senator Hanson believed it was time to step up and sort this mess out.
"One Nation holds two critical votes in the federal parliament and I won't hesitate to put the hard word on Ministers and the Morrison Government for programs I see merit in." she said.
"If the Federal Government want shovel ready projects to keep Queenslanders off the dole, this is the perfect one to get behind."