KATTER’S Australian Party MPs Bob Katter and Shane Knuth have cautiously welcomed news of works commencing on the flood-damaged Palmerston Hwy, but firmly stand-by their calls to construct a new freight route less prone to closures.
The Palmerston Hwy has been closed since December 17 following severe rainfall and flooding, shutting down the major freight link between the Mareeba and Tablelands regions, and the coast.
Hill MP Shane Knuth said on Wednesday he had been advised by the State Minister for Transport and Main Roads that works had commenced on the Palmerston Hwy to reopen single-lane operation including to heavy vehicles from mid-February.
“Yesterday Bob Katter and I met with frustrated business owners at Millaa Millaa and farmers at Mutchilba who were among the many users of the Palmerston Hwy painstakingly awaiting answers on its repair,” Mr Knuth said.
“Businesses are closed and growers and their transport companies are facing increasing costs all due to the closure of this major arterial route.
“While I appreciate the mid-February deadline set by the Government, this is a project I will continue to monitor closely and put pressure on the department to stick to its timeline as many motorists and businesses are being impacted by the closure.”
Among those businesses was Millaa Millaa cafe Barista in the Mist which has temporarily closed as traffic passing through the small village town has virtually ceased to flow.
Owner Heidi Blake said many of the town’s residents were frustrated with the closure as it was impacting their livelihoods including missing appointments.
Further west, farmers reported to the KAP MPs that their freight costs were soaring with transport companies forced to use alternative, slower and longer routes.
Mr Katter and Mr Knuth met with a number of lime growers at Mutchillba on Tuesday who reported they were being forced to pay $30 extra per pallet of produce, on average, equating to about $1500 in additional charges per truckload.
Mr Katter said governments needed to consolidate and offer compensation to farmers which targeted the rise in freight costs, which were undoubtedly linked to the closure of Palmerston Hwy.
“The message was pretty clear on the ground though, business owners, residents and farmers are all sick of these highways which traverse rainforest and close multiple times a year,” Mr Katter said.
“The Palmerston is vital to the economy of inland Far North Queensland and we need a government that can recognise that.
“It’s time for the tunnel. When there’s a traffic problem in Brisbane, straight away we see a new road or a tunnel. Where’s North Queensland’s tunnel?
“We need the Bridle Track Tunnel now – connecting Mareeba to southern Cairns with a travel time less than 30 minutes. That’s where our producers, both agriculture and minerals should be sending their heavy freight. Not down our beautiful rainforest drives which close every week.”