Road millions: Who benefits?

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By ERWIN CHLANDA

The Territory Government has a habit of putting the cart before the horse, or rather, taxpayers’ millions before projects that are still blue-sky.

At the moment the NT is sealing 35 kilometres of the road between Alice Springs and Titjikala, at an estimated cost of $1m per kilometre, presumably to assist a salt mine and toxic waste dump planned by Tellus Holdings Ltd.

Titjikala store and pet donkey.

It has been on the drawing board for about a decade, still without any certainty about its future.

This is a reminder of the government spending of $32.2m for a road in the Top End for “Project Sea Dragon … a $1.87 billion aquaculture project, which will ultimately see the development of up to 10,000 hectares of ponds for black tiger prawns production [with a] potential to create around 1,500 jobs in northern Australia,” as the Territory Department of Industry touted a year ago.

“Ultimately” and “potential” are clearly the key words as today there isn’t much on the ground and the company “developing” Sea Dragon, Seafarms Group Limited, had a bad year on the stock exchange (see graph), as Listcorp reports.

The part-sealing of the Old South Road is no doubt being welcome by the 200 souls in Titjikala, 105 km from Alice Springs, for the Finke race spectators getting to their bush camps once a year, and the people heading for Chamber’s Pillar although the last 45 km, beyond the community, are pretty rough.

However, the tourism industry would be likely to favour putting the money into the east-west Outback Way seal, proceeding at a snail’s pace. In fact if we gave the job to the Boulia Shire Council we would get three kilometres of seal instead of one.

The proposed salt mine is some 15 kilometres south of Titjikala.

Not much is happening there so far, except talk. There is no Indigenous Land Use Agreement with the locals in place as yet.

MacDonnell Council CEO Jeff MacLoud says the project has gone off the boil. Past negotiations with traditional owners may no longer be relevant as some of them have died.

There would need to be “a re-start of the engagement process. They are re-looking at the whole model”.

We have asked Tellus, the NT Mines Minister Nicole Manison and the Central Land Council for information about the project. None have responded but we will consider for publication any statements they may supply.

Member for MacDonnell Bill Yan says: “I’ve heard snippets of things but nothing concrete at this stage.”

It appears that Tellus’s focus is very much on toxic waste disposal.

In March last year Tellus received WA Government approval for its Sandy Ridge facility to “accept, store, treat and dispose of hazardous and intractable wastes,” according to the company’s website.

The firm’s CEO Nate Smith is quoted: “Hazardous wastes previously exported can now be treated and disposed of in Australia as part of our best practice circular economy obligations.

“This will deliver a significantly lower carbon footprint than offshore forms of disposal.”

He says Sandy Ridge, 240 kilometres west north west of Kalgoorlie, is now “licensed to receive nearly all types of hazardous waste types, including waste from a broad spectrum of industrial sectors, including mining, oil and gas, contaminated site remediation and utilities.

Project Sea Dragon prawns: Government promotion.

“Sandy Ridge does not accept international waste, nuclear waste, or waste streams falling under intermediate or high-level radioactive waste designations.”

This suggests that low-level radioactive waste will be accepted.

Mr MacLoud says while Tellus appears to still intends getting the Titjikala (Chandler) project up, it seems the company is focussed on getting its WA project up and running.

He says he had contact with the company some eight months ago, when it was indicated that they are “reinvigorating” the Chandler project.

“They are re-looking at the whole model.”

There had been discussions about the company co-funding the road seal. Building a spur line to the Ghan railway had not been favoured.

Mr Yan says: “I’ve heard that Tellus are once more looking to reengage with the proposed salt mine at Titjikala. I don’t have any information on dates of timeframes, only that they are looking at it once again.”

Are there negotiations under way with the community?

“My liaison officer attended the last local authority meeting at the community and it was mentioned.”

Is Tellus paying for part of the sealing of the Old South Road?

“I don’t believe so, the recent upgrades have been funded by government,” says Mr Yan.

What, in the absence of the salt mine, is the daily traffic on that road?

“Hard to say. Tourism in that area is increasing, I believe, with the Ooraminna Homestead and Oak Valley. Parks might have numbers on visitors to Chamber’s Pillar (pictured) and Ewaninga Rock Carvings,” says Mr Yan.

“I suppose over the years I have noticed more tourists on the Old South Road. Community travel has probably increased a little with growth on communities and people accessing services in Alice.”

Do these increases in traffic warrant the extension of sealed road in the area?

“Difficult to say. The communities and outstations certainly welcome it. Of all the dirt roads in the Namatjira electorate the Old South Road is probably the roughest. The Santa Teresa road is the next worst and that community is far larger than Titjikala.”

PHOTO at top: The global waste storage company PacTec and Tellus will be using flexible packaging and container-sized waste encapsulation bags. Such packaging provides a safe alternative to heavy drums and containers, says the company. IMAGE from Tellus website.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks Erwin, we need to know this. I’m sure there are many more useful projects to assess if our government has $35 million to spend.
    The problem is the government has a department responsible for building roads, whose achievements are measured in roads.
    The new ALP member for Fannie Bay won through Greens preferences so people want a new approach to government.

  2. Having driven both the Old South and the Santa Teresa roads in the last month I’d rate the latter, and far more frequently used strip in radically worse state.
    Further, worse than I can remember (doesn’t seem to have been graded since summer rains).

  3. @ Rosalie Schultz: “The new ALP member for Fannie Bay won through Greens preferences so people want a new approach to government.”
    History can re-write this comment: “The new ALP member for Wanguri won through Greens preferences so people want a new approach to government.”
    What I’m referring to is the comparison of the recent Fannie Bay by-election held on 20 August 2022, and the first Wanguri by-election held on 19 August 1989 – exactly 33 years and one day apart.
    Here are the salient points between the two by-elections:
    Fannie Bay by-election triggered by resignation of former Labor CM Michael Gunner;
    Wanguri by-election triggered by resignation of former CLP Health and Community Services minister Don Dale (terminally ill with colon cancer);
    In 2022 – Labor holds 15 seats, CLP holds 7, and independents 3;
    In 1989 – CLP held 15 seats, Labor 6, and independents / minor party hold 4;
    In 2022 – the government (Labor) suffered a swing against it, the CLP won the primary vote, and the Green candidate polled 19% – his preferences will enable Labor to retain Fannie Bay;
    In 1989 – the government (CLP) suffered a swing against it, the CLP still won the primary vote but the Green Independent candidate polled 16% – her preferences enabled Labor to take Wanguri (which they’ve held ever since).
    A big difference in 1989 was that there was another conservative party candidate (NT Nationals) but that party’s vote also declined significantly along with the CLP.
    The 1989 Wanguri by-election was the first to feature a Greens candidate in the Territory – her name was Debra Beattie-Burnett. This was actually before the Greens were a formally registered political party in Australia.
    The rise of green politics in the Territory over three decades ago did indeed lead to a re-appraisal of how the CLP operated in government, leading directly to the CLP becoming an extraordinarily well-honed political machine.
    The result was two-fold; first, the CLP went on to hold power in the NT for another 10 years (what I describe as a “bonus decade” in office).
    More profoundly, the CLP’s success in the 1990s attracted attention at a national level, providing a model that heavily influenced the Howard Coalition Government.
    Much that has occurred in national politics since the Howard era can be traced back to the Territory political scene some three decades ago.

  4. Perhaps there are still things going on that we are supposed to not know about, but are supposedly in our best interests. I recall a few years ago driving to Old Andado via Santa Teresa, and seeing considerable works on the road the other side of Alambi and getting fired at from several directions for describing it as a road to nowhere, and a waste of money.
    What was not generally known at that time was that under the Pirdirka basin in the middle of the Simpson lie 600 million or so tonnes of high grade coal which a certain rotund gentleman from North Queensland had his eye on.
    He did seek control by the dubious mean of stacking the board of the local company that had the exploration leases. He planned to export the coal via Gladstone in Queensland but was rejected by the board and the then CEO lost his job.
    I attended the meeting in Perth at that time but sold my shares on moral grounds. The deposit is now owned by an Americsan private company, I understand.
    Maybe something similar South of Titjikala is happening again. Don’t rule out helium as a driving factor, as there two world class helium discoveries in that area, and helium is much more valuable and in demand than coal. Or that a gas distribution hub connecting to Moomba and the Eastern market is in the planning. It’s what we don’t know that matters, as is proving the case Federally.

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