JOBS BONANZA: Rocky’s rail revival plan to create 500 jobs
NEW life will be breathed into Rockhampton's rail manufacturing industry, bringing with it 500 jobs to the city, thanks to a game changing election announcement delivered by Queensland's Premier this morning.
Surrounded by workers in hi-vis and her key ministers including Treasurer Cameron Dick, Transport Minister Mark Bailey, Minister for Manufacturing Glenn Butcher and local MPs for Rockhampton, Barry O'Rourke and Keppel, Brittany Lauga, onlookers could tell Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk had some important news to deliver, and she didn't disappoint.
A re-elected Palaszczuk Government will revive Rockhampton's rail industry by making it a maintenance, manufacturing and logistics centre for railway production.
Following the $1 billion pipeline of train building work announced in Maryborough this week - including $600 million to build 20 new Queensland trains, supporting 690 new jobs - she revealed Rockhampton would form a key component of the supply chain.
Ms Palaszczuk said she was proud to bring back rail manufacturing to Rockhampton following rail giant Aurizon's devastating decision to close its 21 hectare Rockhampton rolling stock workshop in 2018 - axing 181 jobs in the process.
"This is great news for the Central Queensland economy and will provide good, secure jobs for the future," Ms Palaszczuk said.
"Rockhampton has a great history in rail manufacturing and that's why I'm pleased to announce that negotiations have started to purchase the Rockhampton rail workshops as a part of our strategy.
"Supporting more manufacturing industries in our regions is a central part of our COVID-19 economic recovery plan."
The government entered into negotiations before the caretaker period began.
Mr O'Rourke said the pathway to revitalising local rail manufacturing included securing land at the old Aurizon workshops, using that land to support a rail maintenance, manufacturing and logistics centre and ensuring Rockhampton manufactured components of the new trains, such as electrical looming or fibreglass forming, leveraging local supply chains.
"Once secured, the Rockhampton site would be made available to support local suppliers to manufacture rail components," Mr O'Rourke said.
"That's a great plan for great local industry."
Ms Lauga said the new facility in Rockhampton would complement the existing QR maintenance site in Gracemere where electric tilt trains were maintained.
"Recently a new shed for electric testing has been completed there," Ms Lauga said.
"Now we're moving ahead with fresh plans for more local manufacturing and employment."
Elsewhere in Queensland, rail industry supply chains will also be strengthened to support smaller suppliers and jobs across the state, including in Cairns, Townsville and Redbank.
Mr Bailey said the commitment would bolster Queensland's ability to build and maintain more rolling stock and rail infrastructure, creating long term stable jobs for Queenslanders.
"Trains will be built in Queensland, by Queenslanders, for Queenslanders," Mr Bailey said.
"We will grow and protect manufacturing jobs and build more manufacturing capacity right across Queensland.
"We are committed to keeping Queensland Rail in public hands and will continue to invest in better manufacturing facilities to support more long-term job opportunities.
"And a statewide industry development strategy will include local supply chains for major rail projects like the 20 new trains we need for Cross River Rail being built in Maryborough."
Mr Bailey was unable to guarantee that the site would be purchased, but said they were "confident" about the process.
"Obviously there's specific infrastructure here that is particular to rail manufacturing that makes this site very valuable and it's one that we're very keen to come to an agreement on," he said.
The new statewide industry development plan will help proponents identify and connect with local suppliers, to increase local supplier participation in the Maryborough train build.
Mr Dick said only a Queensland Labor Government could be trusted to keep major train manufacturing operations in Queensland.
"We all know the LNP sent train building overseas, with cut price contracts for the NGR trains that are now being fixed by Maryborough workers," Mr Dick said.
"Now the LNP has made more than $25 billion in unfunded promises, while committing to deliver a surplus.
"The only way that they can achieve that is to cut, sack and sell assets like Queensland Rail.
"The Palaszczuk Labor Government will always keep assets in public hands and will work hard to increase our manufacturing footprint across the state, promoting long-term local industry development and regional employment."
Former local rail worker and current LNP candidate for Rockhampton Tony Hopkins blasted Labor's rail announcement.
"To come back here and say 'we're going to give you 500 jobs' after (Aurizon) closed it not too long back - it's just an insult," Mr Hopkins said.
"To come and offer 500 jobs before an election, I don't believe there's going to be any jobs here. It's a political stunt."
Remembering the fraught history at the rail site, KAP candidate for Rockhampton Christian Shepherd rubbished Labor's announcement.
"Isn't that just Labor in a nutshell? Create a problem then act like they're saving the known world when they circle back around and try to fix their own screw up," Mr Shepherd said.
"Don't let these buffoons back in."
He found support from One Nation's Torin O'Brien who compared the issue to Labor's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in Victoria.
"This isn't much better than Dan Andrews locking a state up beyond repair, he'll let them go outside soon and diehard ALP will be praising him for allowing them the privilege of sunlight," Mr O'Brien said.
Rockhampton mayor responds to the news
Rockhampton Regional Council Mayor Margaret Strelow excitedly welcomed the rail announcement saying it was brilliant news.
"It gives us an opportunity to build up some of the long term and sustainable jobs in our region," she said.
"While we appreciate the infrastructure and the jobs they bring, we know from Gladstone when they finish, the jobs fall off a cliff.
"This gives us a more solid base for a future to build on, particularly with the importance of mining in our region.
"The timing couldn't be better."
Cr Strelow said those who lost their jobs in the Aurizon closure should be first in line to be employed.
"I would like to see the first jobs go to those who built up skills and committed so much time to the workshops as we knew them in the old days," she said.
Cr Strelow commented she would like to see the announcement matched by both sides of politics and she sincerely hoped the commitment would come alive after the election.
Other Labor election commitments for regional rail jobs
• Growing work at the Redbank workshops in Ipswich
• $2.5 million invested to upgrade the QR Portsmith rail maintenance facility
• $730,000 invested to build a new rail maintenance workshop in Gracemere and purchase a recovery truck to service regional rail
• Maintaining QR's maintenance depots in Townsville, supporting 234 local jobs