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Port of Cairns will receive a $30 million boost to build two new wharves and advance the case for further growth as a defence vessel maintenance and shipbuilding hub.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the wharf construction work would deliver 150 new jobs at the Cairns Marine Precinct.

The funding announcement came under the Cairns/FNQ Regional Recovery Action Plan.

“Working with Ports North, the construction of these new wharves in Cairns will expand the capacity to carry out in-water maintenance on vessels used by the Australian Defence Force and Australian Border Force,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“The funding will also cover a business case to identify how we can build on this initial investment and grow as a centre for large vessel repair work.”

Treasurer Cameron Dick said in addition to the maintenance growth, shipbuilding could return to Cairns, with a separate study into the possibility of building vessels at the Cairns Marine Precinct.

“The Cairns Reshoring Shipbuilding Project business case will investigate the manufacture of commercial vessels required for servicing the region that would bring more new jobs to the city,” he said.

“There is an existing skilled work force, contractor base and infrastructure within the Cairns Marine Precinct which has a legacy of significant ship building in the city over many years.”

The $30 million in funding announced includes $28 million over 2020-21 to 2022-23 for the wharf construction project and $2 million in 2020-21 to complete the Cairns Marine Precinct Business Case for the broader development of the port’s marine industry.

The initiatives follow completion of the $127 million Cairns Shipping Development project, which paved the way for vessels up to 300m including visiting naval ships, cargo carriers and cruise ships to enter the port.

Ports North chairman Russell Beer said the organisation was working closely with the Queensland Government and a range of stakeholders including the three Cairns- based shipyards to firm up options which had arisen from work underway on a 30-year Master Plan.

“The work we have done shows that there is a need for a step up in facilities in the Cairns Marine Precinct to deliver on the opportunities of future growth of the marine sector,” he said.

BHP will create 2500 new apprenticeship and traineeship positions within five years through its BHP FutureFit Academy hubs at Mackay and Perth.

That will mean about 1250 positions at Mackay, including the 225 people already enrolled, in addition to a separate skills development investment focused on regional areas throughout Australia.

The commitment from BHP chief executive officer Mike Henry is part of a wider training and METS business support package representing an investment of almost $800 million.

It includes funding for 3,500 new Australian apprenticeship and training positions, and driving up to $450 million into supporting business opportunities in Australia’s mining, equipment, technology and services (METS) sector.

Mr Henry said the major skills and technology package would be good for the company and good for the country, as Australia focuses on its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.


The package comprises three key elements to be deployed over the next five years:
  - An increase of 2500 apprenticeships and traineeships through the BHP FutureFit Academy, established earlier this year, with associated spend of $300 million.
  - A further 1000 skills development opportunities across a range of sectors in regional areas. BHP will invest $30 million and work with the Australian Government to create advanced apprenticeships and short courses in areas of potential future workforce demand.
  - BHP will commit up to $450 million spend in contracts with Australian METS companies and further advancement of this sector. It will work directly and through its major technology providers to source more local products and services, and will invest in technology pilots and emerging businesses.

“As Australia looks to rebuild its economy and provide jobs for the future, the mining industry has an important role to play as Australia’s biggest export earner employing hundreds of thousands of people,” Mr Henry said

“The mining and METS sector is a critical pillar of our economy, and it has never been more important than now.

“Providing apprenticeships, skills and training opportunities for Australians of all ages and all walks of life, particularly in our regional communities, is a commitment we can make to help Australia bounce back.

“These investments will create a pipeline of future talent in highly skilled roles, working in an industry that delivers essential products to the world and generates export dollars that keep the Australian economy strong.”

IMAGE: BHP President Minerals Australia Edgar Basto (centre) with apprentices (L-R) Max Napper, Tom Kase, Catherine Mosie and Milena Andrejic at BHP’s Blackwater mine in Central Queensland.

The Eton Range Realignment, west of Mackay, is open to traffic after a $190 million construction project.

Federal Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Minister Michael McCormack said the road realignment was a significant upgrade to a critical part of the Peak Downs Highway.

“This upgrade will encourage even more investment in the region as it will improve the connection between the Bowen and Galilee Basin coal mines and Mackay businesses,” he said.

Queensland Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey said the project supported about 300 jobs during construction.

Now it would support the vital freight movement and industries that made up Mackay and Isaac region’s $36 billion economy, he said.

“It’s great to see Queensland ingenuity and hard work at play on this project, with 295 workers reducing the road’s gradient to 7.5 per cent , while also building an engineering marvel – a reinforced embankment measuring 780m long and 45m high at its highest point,” he said.

“Safer, quicker access from our resource provinces to the Mackay port and Bruce Highway is absolutely crucial to getting our economy going again as we come out the other side of COVID-19."

James Cook University has entered a new five-year partnership with North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation (NQBP) to help safeguard the marine environment.

The $5 million agreement expands the current three-year partnership JCU has to track the health of the marine environment around NQBP’s ports at Mackay, Hay Point, Abbot Point and Weipa and will enable new PhD and BSc scholarships based on the work. 

Associate Professor Michael Rasheed from JCU’s Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research (TropWATER) is co-director of the project.

Dr Rasheed said NQBP’s operational footprint offered a one-of-a-kind opportunity for marine science research and student learning as the government-owned corporation had three ports adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef.

“They take their environmental responsibilities very seriously. To this end, JCU provides scientifically robust and credible information on key port marine environmental assets for government agencies, stakeholders and the community,” Dr Rasheed said.

Over the next five years JCU researchers will introduce remote camera systems to replace divers, trial next generation photomosaicing, and bring in Remote Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and improved sensors and data loggers.

Professor Marcus Lane JCU’s Deputy Vice Chancellor said the partnership would introduce new scholarships for two PhD and five Bachelor of Science students to work on science relevant to applied management in the port industry.

He said NQBP would provide five $5000 per annum scholarships for Bachelor of Science (Marine Science) students for three years, a total commitment of $75,000. NQBP and JCU will also fund one PhD scholarship each, worth a combined $200,000 over three years. In addition 10 internships for undergraduate students will be offered. 

Port of Townsville has reported a 6.5 per cent increase in freight passing over its wharves last financial year, with exports of mineral concentrates and fertiliser listed as key factors in that growth.

It reported a $13.87 million net profit for 2019/20 and a saw almost 8.2 million tonnes of freight shifted at its Townsville and Lucinda operations.

In the annual report, Port of Townsville executives said the role of mining, resources and agricultural industries had never been more prominent, providing vital support for the region’s economy.

The Port of Townsville is Australia’s largest exporter of sugar, copper, lead, zinc and fertiliser.

And it saw a a 32 per cent increase in cattle tonnages by weight over the last financial year – making Townsville the nation’s largest cattle export port in 2019/20 as well.

Total exports reached 5,993,172 across Port of Townsville and Port of Lucinda, which was a 7.8 per cent increase on the previous year.

Mineral concentrate exports and fertiliser exports increased by
17 per cent and 25 per cent respectively, from the previous financial year.

There was a total of 2,162,678 tonnes of copper, lead and zinc
concentrate exported to international markets, together with
834,937 tonnes of high-analysis fertiliser.

However the low commodity prices impacted the region’s refined metals trade.

Refined zinc exports were down 10 per cent on the previous year’s volumes. Zinc ingots were stockpiled domestically, and export parcels warehoused overseas in anticipation of improved market prices, the report said. Refined copper exports fell 7 per cent on the previous year.

However Port of Townsville said these drops were offset to some degree with a 13 per cent increase in exports of smelted lead products.

An 11 per cent increase in Burdekin sugar exports saw 1,277,885
tonnes of raw sugar leave the Port of Townsville.

During 2019-20 containerised cargo imports were impacted by
COVID-19 related disruptions to international markets, weaker
demand for renewable energy project cargo in North Queensland
and slower development of resource projects.

There was also a flow-on effect of reduced volumes of imported mining

Mineral concentrate imports for 2019-20 totalled 418,021 tonnes,
a rise of 25 per cent on the previous year.

Sulphur was 18 per cent higher this financial year than last and bitumen imports were 15 per cent higher than the previous year.

Petroleum product imports, the Townsville port’s largest import commodity at 871,556 tonnes, remained almost identical to the previous year totals.

A $6 million fender upgrade at Gladstone Ports Corporation’s Auckland Point Terminal is expected to open the way for increased shipping operations and allow larger bulk carriers to visit the port.

The project will include new marine pylons, buffer and securing equipment to replace the old structure and extend the life one of Gladstone’s oldest wharves.

Auckland Point Wharf 1 was Gladstone’s central coal export facility, exporting coal from Moura to Japan in the 1950s before coal exports relocated to RG Tanna Coal Terminal.

Earlier this year, two ship loaders were decommissioned there and the wharf is now a prominent feature of East Shores 1B.

Acting chief executive officer Craig Walker said GPC’s vision was to diversify and future-proof the port and the region.

“The fender upgrade is part of several improvement projects set to develop and support the economic growth of the region,” Mr Walker said.

“Our Auckland Point wharves continue to be used for importing and exporting commodities like dry bulk, general cargo, grain, containers and bulk liquids and these upgrades will accelerate what we do and sustain our operations into the future.”

The work is expected to begin in March next year.

It is just one of the upgrades planned for Auckland Point Berth 1, with wharf strengthening work also in the pipeline.