Locals are fighting Chinese lessees at Keswick Island after they claim access was reduced. Picture: Mark Fitz Photography
Locals are fighting Chinese lessees at Keswick Island after they claim access was reduced. Picture: Mark Fitz Photography

There’s a chance we could lose Keswick forever

JUST short of a year after Chinese investors bought the 99-year lease for Keswick Island off Mackay's coastline, access issues arose.

The Daily Mercury has been highlighting the situation on Keswick Island ever since, first noting signs at local gem Basil Bay illegally trying to restrict public access in March.

Developer China Bloom put up a sign prohibiting boats from accessing the popular bay, arguing it wanted a safe and hazard-free swimming area for guests and residents.


The sign at Basil Bay, installed by China Bloom. Picture: Contributed
The sign at Basil Bay, installed by China Bloom. Picture: Contributed


However, after the Department of Natural Resources questioned the developers, they agreed to remove the signage.

The government department, responsible for regulating land and water resources in the state, said China Bloom did not hold a lease over any of Basil Bay below the high water mark and the bay was for public use.

The result was a victory for the region's tourism industry, which relies heavily on the public's access to nearby islands.

A new full-time tour to islands off Mackay - including Keswick - is expected to attract thousands of tourists and precious tourism dollars once it begins in mid-2021.

But again in July, the Mercury reported how frustrated residents on Keswick were restricted from accessing their homes.


Locals are fighting the Chinese lessees of Keswick Island. Photo: Pauly Vella
Locals are fighting the Chinese lessees of Keswick Island. Photo: Pauly Vella

They argued China Bloom had forced them to fill out forms to access their own homes.

One resident handed the State Government a 250-page report, which he claimed was filled with information about China Bloom's alleged breaches of the Head Lease.

They claimed other areas of the island had been closed off to them, property values had dipped "incredibly" and tourists and visitors to the island had dropped considerably.

China Bloom did not return Daily Mercury calls for comment.

But a Department of Natural Resources Mines and Energy spokesman said it understood China Bloom was keeping a register of persons who were on the island at any one time as part of its safety management controls, for example, in the case of a bushfire.


Keswick Island. Photo: Contributed
Keswick Island. Photo: Contributed


About 80 per cent of the island is national park and the corporate structure now means China Bloom has the head lease over the remaining residential and commercial precincts, making local residents sub-lessees.

Again in November, we reported arbitration was the next step in the battle for residents.

But now, national media outlets have their eyes on the once idyllic tropical paradise.

Sky News presenter Peter Gleeson wrote a powerful piece for the Courier Mail arguing new Palaszczuk minister Meaghan Scanlon should intervene and sort this out for Queenslanders who want their slice of paradise protected.

Whistleblowers, he said, told him residents were denied the opportunity to use their homes as AirBnBs, small businesses were denied approval to operate, beaches were blocked, ­visitors were harassed, and even long-term renters of Aboriginal ­descent were being slugged with a $100,000 bond if they want to buy a home.

He too found his questions went unanswered before deadline.


Basil Bay, Keswick Island. Photo: Mark Fitz Photography
Basil Bay, Keswick Island. Photo: Mark Fitz Photography


A Current Affair has also highlighted the issue in the past week, with residents saying renters have been forced to leave the island and even the national park now has a gate with a lock to keep people out.

One resident said he felt like Daryl Kerrigan from the Castle fighting a David and Goliath battle.

Another says she fears the ultimate goal is to preserve the island solely for the Chinese tourist markets, making it lost to Mackay and Australians forever.

Now news.com.au have shone a light on plans to develop a tourist resort for 3000 people with no help from authorities over the access issues and restrictions on renters.

They too failed to get a response from China Bloom.

With diplomatic tension between China and Australia increasing almost daily, it's no surprise national media outlets have taken up the fight for these residents.

But the lack of response from the China Bloom, or its Australian agents Greaton, is concerning.

Are they not responding because resident fears are spot on?

Are we about to lose a slice of paradise off our coastline to a northern neighbour already trying to undermine our country and legitimise its own wrongdoings by highlighting our war crime shame?

While we face the embarrassment of what our soldiers are alleged to have done in Afghanistan, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman fanned the flames when he posted a staged image of a man dressed as an Australian soldier holding a bloody knife to an Afghan child's throat.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called repugnant and sought an apology while China has labelled the response to the tweet an over-reaction.

As I don't have a boat and I'm yet to explore the South Cumberland islands, I fear I will never view this source of Mackay pride.

Future generations could fall victim to this brewing tension and this island feud could be symbolic of wider issues at play.

If the lease arrangement has been breached as residents alleged, authorities should step in to right any wrongs before it's too late.

There's a chance we could lose Keswick to locals forever.

Rae Wilson, Daily Mercury editor



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Reef in Critical Condition

As the Great Barrier Reef tourism industry prepares for the post-COVID boom, the reef has just been declared in "critical" condition, according to a sobering report just released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The IUCN is the global authority on nature. Its third outlook report marks the first time the IUCN has declared an Australian property as critical, which means its values are severely threatened and deteriorating.

The health of four other Australian World Heritage properties has also worsened; the Blue Mountains, Gondwana Rainforests, Shark Bay and the Ningaloo Coast.

Climate change is the key issue behind the deterioration of the World Heritage properties both here in Australia as well as globally.

The future of the reef is entirely dependent on the world quickly reducing carbon emissions to combat climate change.

Australia, with so much to lose, should be leading that fight but chooses to do as little as possible.

Both the federal and state governments continue to support the opening of new coal and gas projects as much of the rest of the world moves towards renewable energy.

Here in the Whitsundays, our federal and state members both support new coal mines and the building of a new coal-fired power plant, completely ignoring the threat of climate change and the needs of our tourism industry. Absolute insanity.

Perhaps we need to look across the Tasman for an example of real climate leadership.

New Zealand has declared a climate change emergency and committed to a carbon-neutral government by 2025, in what the prime minister Jacinda Ardern called "one of the greatest challenges of our time".

"This declaration is an acknowledgment of the next generation. An acknowledgment of the burden that they will carry if we do not get this right and do not take action now," she said.

Now that's how a government takes the lead on climate change.

Tony Fontes, Jubilee Pocket


When I was in The Greens, lefty/vegetarians used to claim methane was four times greater green house gas than CO2.

Now Labor has a plan to make it from CO2 and put it through Queensland's natural gas pipelines and used as energy. This project is touted as "green energy."

How is it when cows fart methane, it's a destructive green house gas, but when somebody deliberately makes it and sells it, it's magically turned "green?"

Humans are the greatest producers of methane on the planet through sewerage and waste. Why make more? Why not just collect what we produce and sell that back to us? I'd agree that was "green energy" then.

Frank Brown, Richmond


UK COVID death toll

With reference to the story about British actor Laurence Fox, the UK does not have the worst coronavirus death toll in Europe.

The UK does have higher death toll by number, but deaths per million population, show that Belgium, Spain and Italy are higher.

With Belgium 66% higher death toll than the UK.

Maurie Rose, Bellmere


New report into disability challenges

I welcome the Disability Royal Commission's interim report on its first 15 months of operations.

There are many lessons to be learnt from the evidence shared with the Royal Commission by people whose lives have been impacted by violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

Abuse is not inevitable for people with disability and must not be tolerated under any circumstances.

The report makes special note of the difficulties of reaching all people with disability who have experienced abuse.

For this reason, Endeavour Foundation continues to encourage all people with disability to contact the commission or an advocacy organisation that can help them in doing so, if they wish to speak out.

I acknowledge the courage of those who have already come forward and shared their experiences, and I applaud the commission's commitment to creating a safe, inclusive and accessible environment for people who wish to disclose abuse.

The interim report highlights many of the far-reaching challenges people with disability experience, from policy and funding constraints, sector practices and interfaces with other mainstream services to a lack of understanding and undesirable community behaviour.

We all must listen to people with disability who are speaking out in the Royal Commission, so our nation can become a place where people with disability feel safe, valued, and free to live the lives of their choosing.

Andrew Donne, Endeavour Foundation CEO


Injury claims

Farm work is one of the most dangerous professions in Queensland, due to the use of heavy machinery, chemicals, trucks, tractors and field work required.

Injury claims accepted by WorkCover insurers in the agricultural and forestry industry increased to 2268 in 2019-20 from 2195 the year prior, according to WorkSafe Queensland.

Many farmers think an accident is never going to happen to them but in my experience accidents can occur when even the most experienced farmers are present, who have been performing the same tasks for many years.

For this reason, it's important for an employer to not only put the right procedures in place to keep staff safe but also ensure they are implemented on a day-to-day basis.

The remote work farmers undertake can mean they are isolated from help, putting them at further risk.

Recent reports of farming accidents in North Queensland really put into perspective the importance of workplace health and safety.

Even if it's your own family business, it's not worth putting yourself or your family at risk.

I have represented farmers who have been injured by fires, quad bikes, trucks or tractors rolling, faulty machinery or while undertaking regular maintenance on machinery and vehicles.

When you're under stress, things can go wrong.

AgHealth Australia reported six farm deaths between January and June this year, as well as 44 injuries.

If you are involved in an accident, it's important to know you may have legal entitlements available.

Slater and Gordon Associate Sarah Singh, Townsville


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