State pouring $30m into Great Keppel Island after Rinehart backs out of resort plans

State pouring $30m into Great Keppel Island after Rinehart backs out of resort plans

Great Keppel Island

The Queensland Government is injecting $30 million into an upgrade of Great Keppel Island as part of a masterplan aimed at restoring the southern Great Barrier Reef island to its former glory as a world-class tourism destination.

The masterplan, drafted following extensive community feedback, is targeting a sustainable tourism development comprising new eco resorts, tourism precincts and a village centre, as well as improved access around the island through new boardwalks and walking trails.

The move follows the collapse of a reported $20 million-plus deal by Australian mining billionaire Gina Rinehart to acquire the island’s leasehold in 2022.

Rinehart had planned to build a world-class beach club on Great Keppel, an iconic destination for Aussie holidaymakers in the 1980s, but her withdrawal from the acquisition has sparked concerns over the commercial feasibility of such a tourism venture.

She was among a raft of rich listers targeting Queensland's tropical island resorts in recent years.

After the Rinehart sale fell through, the state government initiated a community consultation program to deliver on a masterplan for the island in the hope of firing up future private investment.

Work is already under way on a new wastewater treatment plant and amenities blocks at a cost of $10.1 million.

A further $500,000 has been allocated for technical studies, including options to improve maritime access, as plans progress for a new $5 million gateway precinct for visitors.

Some $5.5 million has been allocated for upgraded boardwalks, walking trails and signage, while $150,000 for the Woppaburra Land Trust will be used to conduct a feasibility study for a cultural centre on the island.

“The community has been made promise after promise by private developers who never followed through, so the government has stepped in to work with the community to develop a tangible plan that’s going to deliver real change,” says Queensland’s Minister for State Development and Infrastructure Grace Grace.

“The Great Keppel Island Concept Master Plan presents a clear and concise vision for the island’s rejuvenation, which has the potential to deliver huge economic benefits for Central Queensland.

“It lays the foundations for a future pipeline of construction and tourism jobs, with flow-on benefits for the supply chain and our homegrown businesses.”

Grace says the government is investing in the island with a view to attracting private-sector investment back to the island.

Local state MP Brittany Lauga says while Great Keppel has seen “a revolving door of developers with grand plans” for the island over many years, there have been “no local links and no follow through” on these proposals.

“I firmly believe Great Keppel's best days are ahead of us,” she says.

“Work has already started with preliminary safety assessments completed and a detailed assessment for remediation works well under way given the complex mix of public safety, health, and environmental risks on the old site which includes a former quarry.

“Signage has been installed, fire and pest management plans are being developed, and a tender to install safety fencing is due to be awarded in the next few weeks.”

Livingstone Shire Council Mayor Adam Belot supports the plan, particularly proposed improvements to accessibility via a jetty or on-island barge ramp.

“The concept master plan identifies a number of immediate priorities that must be undertaken to secure the viability of existing operators and underpin future growth, including replacing the existing wastewater treatment plant and improving public amenities,” says Belot.

“With funding from the Queensland Government, council is well advanced on a business case for these works, which we anticipate will be presented at the June ordinary council meeting for consideration by council. 

“We look forward to working with all stakeholders to progress this project and the implementation of other concept master plan objectives in the future.”

Local business advocacy group Capricorn Enterprise sees the state government’s $30 million investment as vital to drive further investment in Great Keppel Island.

“Capricorn Enterprise and key industry operators have consistently advocated for critical common user infrastructure, including sewerage, water, jetty, barge ramp and airstrip, to allow accessibility for all visitors for existing and future accommodation and experience development on Great Keppel Island,” says Mary Carroll, the CEO of Capricorn Enterprise.

“This master plan is the critical first step in ensuring that the necessary technical bodies of work can be expedited by government to pave the way to attract sustainable development as soon as possible for our destination to help achieve the state’s Towards Tourism 2032 targets.”

Carroll notes that a quarter of the Capricorn Coast’s tourism economy is generated because of Great Keppel Island, with expectations that this will increase to more than 50 per cent through the Great Keppel Island master plan.

The plan estimates that visitors to the island currently generates $49.9 million in revenue for local businesses, with the master plan implementation expected to add a further $95.9 million to bring total visitor expenditure to $145.8 million.

The master plan includes cultural, educational and nature-based experiences to encourage longer visitor stays on the island.

Valmai Smith, chair of Woppaburra Land Trust, took part in the concept master-planning process with support from Woppaburra elders and the community. 

“Upon reflection, being involved from the start to the final plan has been a journey over a few years,” says Smith.

“I’m hoping to see the concepts of the plan, such as the eco-friendly, sustainable infrastructure that is much needed, come to fruition.

“The rejuvenation of Great Keppel Island (Woppa) will benefit the Woppaburra people by caring for Country and maintaining our cultural and spiritual connection to the island.

“It will also create on-country employment and economic opportunities for Woppaburra people, and we look forward to working in partnership with other businesses, organisations and all three levels of government to realise these opportunities.”

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