Karratha business community calls for government, industry investment to improve liveability
Karratha’s business chamber is calling for longer-term state and industry investment in Pilbara communities as sales in the minerals and petroleum sector reach a record high.
The Western Australian government recently announced the sector recorded $210 billion in sales across the 2020/2021 financial year – a $38 billion increase on the previous year.
Karratha and Districts Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KDCCI) president Jared Fitzclarence said while there was “significant” government and industry spending in the region, a lack of cohesive framework meant the money varied “considerably” between projects.
“There’s a strong disparity between those organisations that could and should be contributing and that are benefiting from the resource wealth of the region,” he said.
“We’ve also seen an erosion of the strength of the Royalties for Regions fund, it really doesn’t bode well for the long-term strength and sustainability of those regional communities that rely on that funding.
“These communities are creating the wealth of the state and more so the nation, but really are not well represented in terms of government support services and community development in many regards.”
Housing, services at a premium
According to the Real Estate Institute of WA, during June-July Karratha had a rental vacancy rate of 0.9 per cent, and a median sale price of $491,750 — an increase of 14.4 per cent on the previous year.
Mr Fitzclarence said government and industry reinvestment needed to take a multifaceted approach to improve the sustainability of Pilbara communities.
“Addressing some of the social issues affecting the region such as housing affordability, and lack of mental health or childcare support services,” he said.
“More broadly, looking at implementing long-term strategies to promote the liveability of the region and moving away from long-term FIFO involvement.”
Mr Fitzclarence said support for the More Than Mining campaign to develop regional mining communities, along with investment for key services, would stabilise living costs and encourage growth in Karratha.
“It will create significant incentives for young families to relocate to the region and to build some of that strong community and workforce that’s required.
“Not just providing services directly to the mining industry but … all these other occupations within a vibrant and successful community.”
Karratha no longer a ‘short-term’ town
The chamber president said with Karratha’s guaranteed iron ore expectancy of 100 years and investment into other mineral and energy sources, towns initially built for the mining workforce were becoming regional hubs.
“Through more sensible and forward-thinking strategies in the ’60s and ’70s, Karratha could be a booming regional centre of 300,000 people and very much a city of the north on the doorstep to Asia,” he said.
“We’re still seeing this mindset of ‘we’ll only do what we have to do’, and that perpetuates this notion of a backwater, insignificant regional centre.
“We’re losing opportunities to develop many of the exciting projects and opportunities in the area through increased cost of doing business, lack of capital investment et cetera.
“That really stifles innovation and growth that could be making the sector even more significant in the national economy than it currently is.”
WA Minister for Regional Development Alannah MacTiernan said she did not accept the premise of the KDCCI’s position.
“Our government is delivering major investments into the Pilbara in infrastructure, education, healthcare and community services,” she said.
“We understand the critically important role the Pilbara plays in our state’s economy, which is why we’re investing in projects that local communities need to continue to grow.”
Ms MacTiernan listed more than 20 projects in the Pilbara that the state government had invested in, including the $121 million Port Hedland Spoilbank Marina, a $61 million redevelopment of the Newman Health service and a $42 million redevelopment of Roebourne District High School.
Chamber of Minerals and Energy director of policy and advocacy Rob Carruthers said the resources sector contributed $12.7 billion in royalties and levies to the state government in 2020/2021.
“As it relates to the Pilbara, a lot of that flows back through into the region where it came from,” he said.
“Then if you think about the companies themselves they’re making investment in community infrastructure and services over and above that.
“So there really is a double whammy for residents of the Pilbara that both get the flow through of government support but also from the companies that generate so much wealth from the region.”
He said the resources sector had made substantial investments in long-term infrastructure to make the Pilbara a great place to live and work.
“When the likes of Rio Tinto or Woodside are making long-term investments in cities like Karratha, investments like the Red Earth Arts Precinct or the Leisureplex, they’re doing that with a long-term view,” he said.