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OHDC backs Boulia on Donohue Highway

Outback Highway Development Council has swung behind Boulia Shire on Donohue Highway upkeep

By Rob McKay | May 10, 2013

The Outback Highway Development Council (OHDC) has swung behind Boulia Shire in its effort to gain Queensland Government financial support for Donohue Highway upkeep.

The shire says increased cattle-train traffic from the Northern Territory on the section of the highway that it owns is causing damage that it is unable to afford to repair.

Last week, Boulia Mayor Rick Britton sought the help of Queensland Transport and Main Roads Minister Scott Emerson, who promised to examine the case.

While thankful for Emerson’s response, Britton tells ATN that without state attention, the shire will be forced to close the section that it is responsible for.

The increased traffic is due to overstocking in northern Australia as a result of the disrupted live export trade to Indonesia, made worse by drought.

OHDC, which lobbies for development of The Outback Way linking Laverton in Western Australia with Winton in Queensland on behalf of local and state governments, sees Boulia as a critical part of the wider issue of keeping the whole Outback Way open to road trains.

“The capacity for the Outback Way to play a vital role as part of the solution for the future market access and geographical advantage, assisting producer to rebuild businesses post live export,” Outback Way-OHDC General Manager Helen Lewis says.

“It is both short and long term – we are shovel ready and work on sections immediately as funding flows to improve the accessibility and traffic-ability of the road, and the longer term is the sealing program.

“By keeping the Outback Way trafficable for the domestic distribution of livestock, throughout Queensland, NT, WA and to southern markets in South Australia, helps producers who have reduced live export, and dealing with a current cattle-price crisis exacerbated by the drought conditions in Western Qld and central Australia.

“The Outback Way is part of the solution and emergency funding is being sought as part of a bigger policy proposal for the readjustment for the cattle industry.”

Boulia Shire has up to seven triple road trains a day rolling through town with cattle from central Australia along the Donohue Highway.

“The road is starting to break up into bulldust – yet this route is critical for central Australian producers significantly affected by the reduction in live export,” Lewis says.

“The 140,000 head turned off each year need to go somewhere, currently Queensland is their destination.

“The cost of taking cattle over the Barkly from central Australia adds $30 a head to the transport costs, when you are only getting $ 1.30 a kg at market this is an unwanted additional expense.

“The dry conditions are also increasing cattle numbers on the move.

“If the Outback Way was in better condition, more central Australian cattle could go into Western Australia markets, and producers who have already been hit by a sudden change in income, would be able to get cattle market and grass more cost-effectively.

“In addition, feed trucks have refused to deliver to properties because of the state of the road, what do you do when you can’t get your stock out and you can’t get feed in?”

OHDC recently sought $14.9 million from Round 4 of Regional Development Australia’s Regional Development Infrastructure Fund, to upgrade and seal priority sections of the Outback Way.

According to the department’s website, the assessment received a request to the Shire of Laverton to
proceed to a full application.

“On the Plenty Highway 6km will be upgraded to a formed gravel road instead of being below ground surface,” OHDC Chairman Patrick Hill told the Alice Springs News last month.

“The Plenty Highway is a critical beef road in the NT and currently up to seven B-doubles a day are traversing the Plenty with stock movement through to Queensland properties and sale yards, adding enormous pressure onto the Donohue Highway (Tobermorey to Boulia section), which is a shire road, yet the incoming cattle are bolstering the livestock, associated industries and state economy.

“Boulia Shire, who do a lot with a very small rate base, are seeking emergency funds to keep the Donohue Highway safe and trafficable, and in the longer term, they have a transfer plan for the road to the Queensland State Government.”

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