By ERWIN CHLANDA
“We got out there and fought for it,” says motel owner Jason Newman. “Pick us. Tennant Creek needs help.”
Today’s gas pipeline announcement has made it a red letter day for the plucky mining town with a population of 3500, about half of them Aboriginal and many of them unemployed.
And the Christmases are coming all at once for them: A compression station, part of the pipeline, will be built at Warrego, a 12 months project, and the NT government will upgrade the power station, a $20m project.
To get the pipeline the Tennant Creek Mount Isa Alliance (TCMI) was formed, and Mr Newman is its chairman.
He says Jemena, “which is over the moon to get the job,” has been a constant presence in the town for the past few months, more than ready to give the public information about the project, including even having stalls outside the supermarket.
Mr Newman rejects the assertion by the Lock the Gate Alliance NT that people were kept in the dark: “People who weren’t informed were not trying to be,” he says.
“We couldn’t do any more than what we have done. We’re proud of it. And Jamena couldn’t even be sure it would succeed with their bid.”
Where will the 600 “local” workers come from who Chief Minister Adam Giles claimed will be able to get jobs?
Mr Newman isn’t fazed. This is how it’s likely to work, he says: There will be a “job progression” of people now in lowly paid work moving up to better – even much better – jobs.
People now unemployed or further down the food chain will move up to take positions becoming vacant – cleaning motel rooms, gardening, hospitality.
“High-end workers will be coming from out of town,” says Mr Newman.
There was a similar process during the Federally funded SIHIP Aboriginal housing scheme: Tradies moved into town. Motels that had seven staff suddenly needed 22.
New houses were built to provide rental accommodation and people earning better wages moved up.
People in poor housing moved to the cheaper accommodation, making room for homeless to also move up a notch.
There will be ready work for local trades – plumber, electricians, mechanics – plus training for expert work such as pipe welding and pressure testing, says Mr Newman.
But a string of other tasks – truck driving, operating graders and diggers, even providing food for the pipeline crews – are jobs locals are well equipped for.
Tennant Creek – as it has done so many times in the past – is set to boom.
PHOTO: Mr Newman addressing a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Mount Isa, promoting the Tennant Creek Mount Isa Alliance’s gas pipeline agenda.
By ERWIN CHLANDA