Article – Northern Australia: Renewed push to seal inland north Queensland highway

18 August 2014
Kirsty Nancarrow
ABC News
The Federal Government’s determination to develop northern Australia has raised hopes for improving the condition of a major inland route through Queensland.
The Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia is set to hand down its findings to Parliament in Canberra next month.
It is examining more than 280 submissions, along with the Federal Government’s green paper on developing the region.
The Hann Highway Action Group in north Queensland has long been arguing its case for improvement.
The unsealed highway stretches 256 kilometres from the Lynd Junction south to Hughenden.
It was built by American troops during World War II as an alternative supply route.
For the past decade, outback communities have been pushing for the Hann Highway, currently known as the Kennedy Developmental Road, to be fully sealed.
It is under renewed focus as part of the Federal Government’s moves to open up northern Australia as the new frontier, taking advantage of its rich resources and proximity to international markets.
Hann Highway Action Group chairman Russell Lethbridge said there was 110 kilometres to be sealed at a cost of approximately $70 million.
“That also includes the 30 kilometres south of Torrens Creek which links the Hann Highway to the south,” Mr Lethbridge said.
The Lethbridge family has owned Werrington Station, bordering Blackbraes National Park, for almost 120 years and the 20,000 hectare property runs about 3,000 head of cattle.
Mr Lethbridge said sealing the Hann Highway would cut the trip from Cairns to Melbourne markets by 800 kilometres, reducing stress on the animals and freight costs.
“It needs to be sealed completely, number one to give us an alternate to the Bruce Highway in times of flooding,” he said.
“During Cyclone Larry I think it was, it took three days for the Army to get to Cardwell.
“During that time the Clarke River on the Gregory was cut so basically the north was cut off and the north was left absolutely vulnerable.”
Beef, horticulture industries stand to benefit
It was not just the beef industry that would benefit from an upgrade of the Hann Highway.
There was growing investment in horticultural projects further north in places like Lakeland Downs.
“They’ve developed those farms to reduce the risk of cyclone damage and to be able to supply bananas to the population of Australia whether we have another Larry or another Yasi in quick succession, and I guess it’s just risk mitigation,” Mr Lethbridge said.
Phil Harlan transports livestock and feed along the Hann Highway almost every week and said it can be a slow, rough and costly journey.
“You get around I guess – one flat tyre, my air-con’s not working right now because the pipe’s cracked on the corrugations on this road,” he said.
“It’s another thing that adds to your list, there’s always something – rocks in your windscreen and all sorts of little things, but they all add up.”
With many north Queensland and Gulf communities still in the grip of drought, some towns were reliant on passing tourists to keep the economy ticking over and they were another key driver behind the push to seal the Hann Highway.
Caravanners Wayne and Jill Houston made it all the way from Fremantle in Western Australia without a flat tyre until they attempted to take a shortcut to Cooktown in far north Queensland on the Hann.
“If the road was fixed it would certainly open the road up more,” Wayne Houston said.
“It’s different to the outback and the area around Cloncurry and the Isa, and all that area – it’s great – Porcupine Gorge was really nice.”
A spokeswoman for Queensland Main Roads Minister Scott Emerson says about $75 million has been spent upgrading the Hann Highway over the past decade.
The State Government was yet to make any decisions about sealing the remaining 110 kilometres of the road.
The Hann Highway was one of the key infrastructure projects put forward to the Federal Government’s cross-parliamentary Northern Australia Committee.
The project had the support of the Committee’s chairman, Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch, but no further federal funding had been pledged at this stage.
The committee had received more than 310 submissions and was holding its final public hearings in Darwin this week, before presenting its report to the Parliament at the start of September.
Regular Hann Highway user Phil Harlan says it can be a slow, rough and costly journey.
Courtesy of ABC News