Councils fear roadworks cost increase as gravel pit permits change under Native Title Act
Western Queensland councils are scrambling to access gravel for roadworks after the state government changed its interpretation of the Native Title Act, a move which could cost ratepayers “millions”.
The material from the quarries is used to patch up flood-damaged roads and reseal airstrips, vital to connecting isolated outback communities.
The state government, which manages the hundreds of quarries scattered across the outback, recently changed its interpretation of the federal Native Title Act 1993.
It means councils must form Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUA) with the native title holders for each individual gravel pit.
That process can take more than 12 months, but many western and north-western councils have been notified that their current permits will expire within weeks.
According to the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF), the change was made in 2020 when native title interests conflicted with the Forestry Act 1959.
“As a result, the basis on which some sales permits were issued for state-owned quarry materials was examined and DAF decided to resolve these matters by agreement specifically by Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUA),” a department spokesperson said.
Barcoo Shire Council was the first council in Queensland to have its gravel pit licences revoked.
Only 14 of its 88 gravel pits were renewed in September.
The council’s chief executive, Mike Lollback, said the cost of roadworks would rise by 50 to 100 per cent due to the increased distance and labour required to access the available pits.
“Gravel is the lifeblood of a lot of the work that’s conducted by local governments in western Queensland,” he said.
“We have to get our gravel somewhere to keep our road programs and our road repairs current.”
Barcoo Shire has since managed to reopen another 26 pits after forming agreements with local Aboriginal groups.
With Barcoo Shire ringing the alarm bell, other councils in western Queensland are preparing for how the quarry closures will impact their patch.
An analysis of a nearby council to the north-west, Boulia Shire, conducted by the Remote Area Planning and Development Board (RAPAD), found it would have to pay over $5 million more a year for gravel.
The shire is one of the most remote in Queensland and is facing the closure of 96 out of its 100 gravel pits.
The RAPAD report stated the rise in cost would lead to delays in road repairs, increased freight costs, and damage to existing roads as the gravel would need to be carted in from hundreds of kilometres away.
Read the full article at the ABC Western Queensland website.
Read the Boulia Shire case study in RAPAD’s third quarter communique.