Exclusive: Moreton Island barge bid update

Published 5:30pm 21 September 2022

Exclusive: Moreton Island barge bid update
Words by Kylie Knight

Three expressions of interest processes in the past four years and $4 million on the table has not been enough to secure a barge from the Redcliffe peninsula to Moreton Island (Mulgumpin).

State Member for Redcliffe Yvette D’Ath spoke exclusively with Moreton Daily this week about why the government has decided to “end the process”.

The move follows three attempts to find an operator to invest in infrastructure and run the service as a commercial business.

“I’m very, very disappointed but understand we can’t keep going around and around in circles, if there’s no new proponents coming forward,” Ms D’Ath said.

The news will also be hugely disappointing for residents on the Redcliffe peninsula, greater Moreton Bay Region and northside of Brisbane who have been calling for the resumption of a barge service since the Combie Trader stopped running in 2008.

Ms D’Ath said the State Government had exhausted all avenues to find an operator who met the criteria, was willing to invest in the necessary infrastructure and could run it as a private enterprise.

The bid came close, with a proponent invited to enter into a contractual arrangement with the government.

Minister Mark Bailey said negotiations with the preferred proponent have now withdrawn due to changed market conditions, including the rising cost of fuel.

“The preferred proponent has now withdrawn their proposal for the project, which is sad to see after such a long body of work,” Ms D’Ath added.

“It was, as I understand it, because of the unpredictability of the economic climate and the rapid increase in costs including construction and running costs, fuel costs.”

How we reached this point

The process started in 2018, when the State Government announced it would commit $4 million and offer up Crown Land to establishing a barge service from the Redcliffe peninsula to Moreton Island (Mulgumpin).

“We went to an EOI process where they weren’t able to find someone who could meet the criteria and was willing to put in the additional infrastructure that would have been required if it was to be at Scarborough because the $4 million would not have covered the full cost,” Ms D’Ath said.

“It covered a significant amount but, as we said, the operator would probably have to put the ramp in and just the physical infrastructure of booths and whatever else. There wasn’t a provider willing to do that at that time.

“So, in 2020, we went out for a another EOI. This time we opened up the whole peninsula and said anyone willing to run a service from either public or private land could put in an offer and the $4 million was still there. My understanding is that process fell over because the proponents’ circumstances changed such that the negotiations were with different entities and so the department believed they would have to go out to open market again.

“That was 2021 and through that process, up to this year, the new EOI process did lead to an invitation to offer.”

Exclusive: Moreton Island barge bid update

Is the concept dead in the water?

If someone knocks on the door in the next six months and says I’ll run a barge, is the $4 million definitely off the table?

“I’ll never say never. Once the $4 million is spent, it’s definitely gone. What I would say to any proponent out there, or operator who is interested, is that they have to be willing to commit their own resources into this.

“Government is not going to underwrite the commercial side of the business. We will provide the capital infrastructure funding initially, as we said we’d always do, up to the $4 million but they have to be willing to buy into that and be sure that it’s viable.

“If someone says they can do that and are willing to, by all means, knock on my door tomorrow and I will advocate for them again.”

What happens to the $4 million?

“The $4 million will be reinvested into the Redcliffe peninsula through the Scarborough Masterplan and it’s being developed currently. I’m pleased about that, it means the $4 million still stays here, it still helps strengthen our local economy and build opportunities for us,” Ms D’Ath said.

"Scarborough Boat Harbour is one of eight state-owned and operated boat harbours on the Queensland coast. It hosts dry standings and wet berths, plus two public boat ramps.

“While I would prefer to be delivering a barge service, I am pleased this funding will be made available to meet the needs of the community through the Scarborough Harbour Master Plan which is on track to be completed in mid-2023."

Ms D’Ath said she did not have fixed ideas on how will the money would be used in developing the Scarborough Masterplan.

“The masterplan process is still continuing, so I don’t want to pre-empt what that could be used for because that’s what the whole process is about … finding out how do we activate the area, how do we support the businesses in the area and, I hope, promote more tourism as well but understanding its core business is a port or precinct,” she explained.

“The door’s open to anything, whatever comes out of this masterplan at least we know there’s $4 million to invest back into the area.”

Sharing community disappointment

“I’m extremely disappointed as the local member. I wanted to use the service myself, but the government has done everything they possibly can including having three expressions of interest processes,” Ms D’Ath said.

“Ultimately, it was up to business. I know some said it was never going to happen … I think the important thing is there was a proponent, there was an invitation to offer. If there hadn’t been changes in circumstances, we would probably have a barge operator to announce right now but we can’t wait around for ever for when those circumstances might change or when someone else comes forward.

“I’ve been pretty fortunate, as the local member, to deliver on the things I’ve said I would deliver. I delivered on the rail line, delivered on a major expansion to the hospital, delivered on our school infrastructure … it’s hard not to be able to deliver on something.

“We promised the $4 million and we promised the process. We couldn’t promise a barge because it was always going to be that someone had to be willing to do this. We promised we would do everything possible to get a barge service operating and I am just devastated not to be able to deliver that.”

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