Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten at the Tree of Knowledge last year (Twitter picture)
Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten at the Tree of Knowledge last year (Twitter picture)

Welcome to the heartland Labor forgot

BARCALDINE has literally paved the road to the Adani mine and, five years later, the western Queensland town that gave birth to the Australian Labor Party is still waiting for the multimillion-dollar payday Adani represents.

As Queensland's Labor Government holds off on approving the proposal and their southern federal colleagues denigrate its prospects, the town that created the ALP - but is now a conservative stronghold - struggles to survive a cruel drought and serious economic decline.

Barcaldine Regional Shire was handed nearly $5 million in Royalties for Regions funding in 2014 and seized the opportunity to pave the road to Lake Dunn and then further eastward towards Clermont, and the site earmarked for the Adani mine.

About 70 extra kilometres has been paved, creating a part gravel road link that would still allow bus companies to transport week-on-week-off workers from Barcaldine direct to the mine site, if jobs were available.

Mayor Rob Chandler understood the future the mine offered his constituents, and sees the road as just one variable in the Adani equation which promises his town spin-offs from laundry and cleaning work to opportunities in civil engineering.

"We as a council have to work with all governments ­regardless of their political persuasion and we do but I am pro-development and I am saying, 'give our people some hope for the future','' he said.

Barcaldine gave birth to the Labor movement more than 100 years ago when it was the epicentre of the Great Shearers' Strike and workers marched under the Eureka flag to protest about poor conditions and wages.

The Workers' Political Party - which became the Australian Labor Party - was formed under a big gum tree outside Barcaldine Railway Station, dubbed the Tree of Knowledge.

Cr Chandler said a region reliant on primary industry was acutely conscious of the potential environmental impacts of Adani, especially its impact on the Artesian Basin.

 

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But if the environmental requirements were fulfilled, he believes his constituents are overwhelmingly behind a mine representing an economic boost, which would change the face of communities across the interior.

"This whole region, and by that I mean places outside Barcaldine, like Aramac and Alpha and Jericho, need not only the Adani mine, but the opportunities that are presented by the entire Galilee Basin,'' he said.

Jeffrey Winter and wife Lisa have spent more than a decade building the hugely successful Western Produce and Rural Supplies business, which services about 150km around Barcaldine. He also believes the protection of the Artesian Basin is the priority.

But if environmental protection measures are in place to protect primary industries, Mr Winter sees Adani and other mining venture giving a future to his community.

"I bring in freight, so I know when our local economy is suffering, and in the past 18 months, believe me, it has been suffering,'' he said.

"If we could even just get a few crumbs from a venture like Adani, it would give this district a tremendous lift.''

To publican Gay Stubbs, at the Jordan Valley Hotel in Jericho three-quarters of an hour outside Barcaldine, mining is not just an economic booster, but a financial lifeblood ­desperately needed by her depressed community.

The pub is one of the few businesses left surviving after the last downturn in 2011, with the two cafes closed and no buyers on the horizon.

Real estate prices have slumped dramatically since the last mining boom.

"There was a man here who put his house on the market for $485,000 12 months ago - he just sold it for $115,000.''

The LNP Member for Maranoa David Littleproud - who holds the seat by a huge 17.6 per cent margin - said Labor had lost the values and principles it was founded on in Barcaldine.

"The Labor Party is more about ideology than creating real jobs," he said.

LNP state Member for Gregory Lachlan Miller, who spent last Saturday at the Bacaldine Show, says ­almost no constituents opposed the mine, but there is growing community anger at impediments put in the way.