By HARRY CLARKE
THE Australian Prime Minister used a whirlwind visit to North Queensland to express his confidence in the region’s economic outlook and the importance of its mining industry, but stopped short of voicing support for a major water project which his host said was crucial for the region’s future.
Anthony Albanese also took up a longstanding invitation to attend the iconic Mount Mines Isa Rodeo, the largest and richest in the southern hemisphere, and presented Great Australian awards to five legends of the northern outback.
Albanese said he’d visited the region on six occasions but this weekend’s trip, at a time when Mount Isa is celebrating 100 years since the town’s foundation, was the first from a sitting Australian Prime Minister since Bob Hawke.
WATCH: Country Caller’s interview with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese
“It was fantastic to be there (at the rodeo) last night and it’s always great to visit Kennedy,” Albanese said.
“I’ve visited Hughenden a couple of times, I’ve visited Cloncurry on at least five occasions, I’ve been to Mount Isa on half a dozen occasions with Bob Katter.
“This iconic local member here – he’s so passionate about representing the north west of Queensland and making a difference. He is someone who is really connected with his local community and I thank him for the invitation.”
Member for Kennedy Bob Katter joined Albanese and Assistant Minister for Regional Development Anthony Chisolm on a tour of Glencore’s historic copper and zinc mine, which the Prime Minster said would remain a vital facility amid Australia’s energy transition.
WATCH: Bob Katter and Anthony Albanese tour Mount Isa Mine
The underground and open cut mine, which was established in 1924, comprises two mining and processing streams – copper and zinc-lead-silver. It covers a lease area of 32,000 hectares, spans 52 kilometres and employs about 4,000 workers.
“This north west Queensland corridor, between here, across to the Northern Territory border and across to Townsville, has an abundance of zinc, copper and vanadium – the sort of products that will drive our economy in this century.
“That’s why Mount Isa has such a strong future. It’s been terrific to talk to the workers and management here in Mount Isa. This is an iconic institution here.
“The mining industry is vital for our country as we move to a clean energy future. The composition of the mining industry will change but its importance won’t.
“What we will see is products like copper increase in value because of what’s happening in the car industry.
“An electric vehicle is something that’s basically copper, together with other minerals that we have – nickel and cobalt, when it comes to lithium for batteries – all of the things that Australia has.
“I’m determined to have a future made in Australia and that’s something that is a real focus of my government.
“Mines such as this one are a great example of ingenuity, of Australian research and science and engineering, and capacity.”
North West Queensland is leading Australia’s burgeoning vanadium mining industry, with the Saint Elmo Vanadium Project near Julia Creek due to begin producing this year according to the Department of State Development Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning.
Several other mining companies are seeking approval to develop other reserves of the construction metal within the North West Minerals Province of Queensland. Among proposed projects is a $242.2 million vanadium mine north west of Richmond.
Katter said the viability of the vanadium industry depended not only on the recently approved $5 billion Copperstring mega transmission line between Mount Isa and Townsville, but the proposed $750 million Hughenden Irrigation project which would dam a key section of the Flinders River.
WATCH: Bob Katter’s please to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese
“I want to put on public record my appreciation of the Prime Minister,” Katter said.
“In another role he was responsible for the back road called the Hann Highway, a major component which cuts 2,000km off fruit and vegetables going from North Queensland going to Victoria and fruit and vegetables from Victoria coming to Queensland.
“Without Anthony’s intervention it would never have happened.
“The four great vanadium mines that are about to open can’t open unless they get Copperstring and commercial prices for electricity.
“They will also need, and I’ve told the Prime Minister, the Hughenden Dam to supply water to those mines. They’re all along the Flinders River, so that will have to go ahead and we want to become the leading vanadium producing country on earth.
“We thank him very much for all the he’s achieved and we need his help on the Hughenden Dam scheme which will also build Hughenden into a town of 20,000.”
The Morrison Government had earmarked $182 million to support the project and a Detailed Business Case has been before the government since April last year.
“We have now received the business case and that’s being assessed by our Water Minister, Tanya Plibersek, and that’s being assessed in a proper way,” Albanese said.
“We always want to make sure that there’s business cases for projects that require significant investment.
“I’ve visited Hughenden on a couple of occasions, I’ve been there to see the Kidston project that is progressing, I’ve been to see Big Kennedy and Little Kennedy.
“I’ve spoken with the mayor there on a number of occasions, most recently at the Council of Australian Governments meeting that we reconstituted, and we’ll continue to work through that issue with the proponents.”