Are we being strung along? Qld in the dark over billions we’ll spend before 2032

It’s hard to underestimate the potential impact of the $5 billion CopperString project, but then it’s also hard to know anything at all about it in real terms.


Mar 14, 2023, updated Mar 14, 2023
The planned Brisbane Live site, part of the Roma Street redevelopment, will be a key investment for the Brisbane Olympics - but most facilities are already built. (Photo; ABC)

The planned Brisbane Live site, part of the Roma Street redevelopment, will be a key investment for the Brisbane Olympics - but most facilities are already built. (Photo; ABC)

And that is the nub of what is going to be a huge issue for taxpayers over the next decade as we not only build massive infrastructure for the transition to clean energy but also for the Olympics.

The secrecy that exists behind the commercial deals the Government enters into has been a lamentable part of Queensland politics. We are kept very much in the dark about major projects and funding deals.

And it’s not just Labor. Campbell Newman wanted to throw $300 million at Adani’s coal rail line and there was nothing much to show for that. After that, Adani received a royalty deferral, the details of which were never released.

And, to be clear, there have been some good deals. Virgin probably would have headed south but for a Government funding deal and Dalrymple Bay Infrastructure is likely to be a good earner over the longer term. Vald could be another, but we don’t know the details of that, either.

We know next to nothing about CopperString except that it would cost about twice as much as originally forecast. There is no data on what the return on investment or any business case.

The detail we do know is that $500 million from the new coal royalties regime would be set aside for the project. That means coal effectively helps underwrite a project that boosts the prospects of renewable energy as well its counterparts in hard rock mining, like Glencore’s Mt Isa operations which will benefit from a better and potentially cheaper electricity supply.

Talk about galling. It’s like openly humiliating the coal sector.

We know the state wants or needs Federal Government funds but how much is unknown and what happens if they refuse to pay, as they did with the Gabba redevelopment. Let’s face it, why would they pay when Premier Palaszczuk has already said it would go ahead?

About $1.7 billion of transmission-related funding for part of the project was factored into the Government’s Energy Plan, but that is hardly detail.

The rest of the funding is likely to fall on Powerlink’s balance sheet so it will be outside the normal government debt in the budget.

We don’t know how much CopperString’s initial proponent, CuString, earned from the deal or what role it will have in the project going forward.

In terms of its benefits, the Government said there were wind and solar projects with the capacity of 13 gigawatts of renewable energy waiting in the wings around Hughenden to tap into CopperString.

We have no idea how many will actually go ahead or what they will pay to access the lines. We don’t know how much revenue CopperString will make or what risks taxpayers have been exposed to.

If half of those touted projects went ahead it would equate to billions of dollars in investment so we are not talking about a minor issue.

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If this was just about CopperString it may be acceptable but we also have to consider the massive amount of taxpayer money that will be used to fund the infrastructure for the Olympics.

How will we know whether we are being stuck with a massive white elephant like Wellcamp?

Beyond CopperString there are the billions of dollars needed for two pumped hydro, projects that are well short of finalised.

There is scant information about what they will achieve.

Of course, there is a social benefit from these projects, but that is never really quantified very well, either.

And any of those renewable energy project proponents that want to tap into the grid, or even have tapped in, lookout.

You don’t need much political cynicism to be looking over their shoulder at who’s coming for you.

At some point, renewables will be called upon to pay the piper for the rails run they have received.


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