Singapore deal ‘ at risk’
Senator warns training land hunt may move on
THE long silence surrounding the Singapore army land hunt could mean the Townsville region is in danger of being ditched in favour of Rockhampton’s Shoalwater Bay, says Senator Ian Macdonald.
The Townsville- based senator fears that if land can’t be found near the city on which Singapore soldiers can train, the focus will move elsewhere.
The $ 2.2 billion Australia-- Singapore Military Training Initiative will see the Asian nation deploy 14,000 troops for 18 weeks a year for at least 25 years in what would be a massive boost for Townsville.
But the city would only see the benefits – which Senator Macdonald estimates would be a $ 50 million- a- year windfall – if land which suits Singapore’s purposes can be found in the greater Townsville area.
Finding a large tract of land within a reasonable distance from Townsville is the key to setting the city up as being the service and supply hub to what would be the nation’s pre- eminent military training zone.
A plan revealed late last year to compulsorily acquire land in the Herveys Range region, next to the Townsville Field Training Area, sparked fury from graziers, leading to a Federal Government backdown in February.
An Australian military representative has visited station owners on Herveys Range to see if they would sell, but the Bulletin understands the bid was unsuccessful. It’s understood options at Pentland, Greenvale and Ravenswood are also being investigated.
Senator Macdonald is concerned that if none of these option stack up, the Singapore military could choose Rockhampton, where it has held defence training assets for the past 20 years. But he doubted Singapore would move the land hunt to the Northern Territory or to Western Australia.
“We are trying to pick up the pieces for Townsville. Whether Singapore is interested or not, we don’t know. Singapore has been going into Shoalwater Bay for 20 years,” Senator Macdonald said.
He said there was little information available in regard to the land purchasing plan. The Australian Defence Force has failed to respond to several Bulletin requests for information, including one this week.
But Townsville Chamber of Commerce CEO Marie- Claude Brown is optimistic about Townsville’s chances.
“I’m not reading too much into anything, given the lack of information. It’s a slow- burn relationship in terms of it all starting, but once it happens it will be long- term,” she said.
Ms Brown said Singapore officials had already indicated they wanted to come to the Townsville area. “We don’t want this opportunity to slip through our fingers,” she said.
Senator Macdonald said he hoped to be part of a ministerial delegation going to Singapore in August for talks on the training partnership.