Dalene Wray

Towns like Boulia, Bedourie and Windorah are not just gateways to the vast & magnificent cattle production region of the Channel Country, they are tourist hubs as well. The Big Red Bash, Birdsville Races and the Outback Golf Masters are just a handful of the events which bring tens of thousands of people instead of cattle moving about our roads and into and out of our production region. There is a significant surge of people moving about and spending money in the tourist season, bringing benefit to regional communities and I’m not just talking about Birdsville.

Did you know that businesses from Charleville to Quilpie and Longreach to Winton report that the week preceding the Big Red Bash, is their busiest period of the year? You see, these major events draw people to and through our wonderful state.

In our written submission to a recent Queensland Government roads inquiry, we’ve highlighted the problems, along with a number of possible solutions including recommending that the Queensland Government improve the trafficability of the existing road network through investments in bitumen, including appropriate overtaking lanes and causeways to ensure we can use our roads 24/7.

Outback tourism, the resources industry and the cattle industry have outgrown the existing road infrastructure.

Our road infrastructure and road maintenance programs are not growing at the same rate as Queensland’s economy, under the Palaszczuk Queensland Government. The onerous maintenance programs to maintain these unsealed roads has outgrown local Government’s ability to respond.

Birdsville is the only iconic town in Queensland without bitumen access. Our road infrastructure, quite simply, is being left behind.

When a livestock truck carrying a load of 132 head of organic cattle weighs around 100 Tonne, it puts a huge strain on the existing unsealed roads (compare this with a standard SUV that weighs 1.5 Tonne).

There is no-where else in Queensland where you put the same number of cars on dirt roads with trucks.

Heavy vehicle drivers who utilise the Birdsville-Windorah road are disadvantaged compared to their peers with regards to fatigue management & running costs. On an unsealed road, fully laden, they may only proceed at around 40 – 60kms per hour, compared to 80 – 100kms per hour on a sealed road. It means it takes longer to reach their destination, its more difficult to meet their fatigue management obligations, its more costly to maintain their equipment and they are less profitable.

In another example, properties in the Channel Country can’t get poly tanks delivered from Dalby anymore, because they don’t have anyone trained to drive on dirt roads. The tanks now have to come from Townsville. In business circles like these, dirt roads are dirty words.

Now we’re not suggesting that trucks cause accidents on dirt roads like ours. There were 50,000 new caravan registrations in Australia last year & there are no licensing or testing regimes for owners, which adds a larger safety risk on our roads.

When a car accident happens out here, as was case in June 2023 when a car rolled near Betoota, on the Windorah Birdsville Road, injured passengers are retrieved by the Royal Flying Doctor Service & airlifted to Mt Isa, Townsville, Toowoomba or Brisbane. At an estimated cost of $30,000 per retrieval, it makes sense to try to reduce accidents where possible. The Queensland Government paid the RFDS $50Million in FY22 for their services.

Wet weather events on the Birdsville roads are becoming more frequent, as is their severity. As detailed in the TMR Annual Report 2021-2022 pg 19  “Climate change is one of the greatest environmental and economic challenges facing the transport sector and Queensland is already the most at-risk Australian jurisdiction from extreme weather. It’s imperative TMR continues to work to improve the sustainability of Queensland’s transport infrastructure and services to deliver more resilient assets”.

We gave an example in our written submission, stating that subsequent rain events in Queensland in 2022, led to wet & closed roads. It cost our business $3M in lost export revenue for the year. To put it simply, just 10 mm of rain can close the Windorah – Birdsville road. When you can’t truck cattle out of this Country, you can’t get them to abattoirs near Brisbane and turn this unique resource into an export commodity, to benefit the Queensland economy.

In its 2022 Annual Report on page 55, TMR demonstrated the 20km and 9km sealing projects in this area have delivered important improvements in safety, reliability and travel times for freight and agricultural industries that use this central link to access markets in major centres across Australia and the world.

Let’s finish it.

A sealed road would support the Queensland Freight Action Plan. It supports Queensland’s freight system as a key enabler for the vital components of our economy, including production, distribution and trade. Through collaboration with industry, it provides the opportunity for businesses to be efficient, keep shelves stocked.

The State Government’s 2022 State Infrastructure Strategy would also be achieved with sealed roads – its strategy includes objectives around connecting Queensland’s regions digitally and physically to ensure families, communities and businesses can live, work and socialise across often vast distances.

Investments in bitumen would also align with the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program, (Federal), which funds projects that improve the productivity and safety outcomes of heavy vehicle operations in Australia.

In its June 2023 report, the Queensland Government Statisticians Office provided unemployment rates across its 19 districts.  The “Outback”, which is where we are today, had the highest unemployment rate of 9%.  At June 2023, youth unemployment in the ‘Outback’ was 23.6%, the highest in any region in Queensland by a long way (2nd highest 14.6% in Ipswich)

A project to seal these roads would provide much needed employment to local communities and would allow the movement of people to attain and maintain employment more efficient.

On a similar theme, the Australian Bureau of Statistics produces Socio-Economic indices for Areas around Australia (SEIFA).  Whether it be socio, economic, employment, resources or education,  this part of Queensland scores in the ‘most disadvantaged’ on a 1-5 scale consistently.

We’re mindful of the challenges the world faces to feed a rapidly growing population expected to reach nine billion people by 2050. For over 25 years, we’ve been developing competence and expertise in the management of a global organic beef supply chain that originates in the pure heart of Australia.

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