the drive to hold owners accountable for Queensland’s ‘abandoned’ resorts

Across the Great Barrier Reef, cyclones have left tropical island paradises closed and abandoned, filled with ruined infrastructure and damaged environments.

Now the state government is considering how to force the owners of these “abandoned” island resorts to pay bonds, insurance, fines or otherwise guarantee repairs, while environmentalists join calls for foreign owners to foot the bill.

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The Queensland Transport and Resources Committee convened a parliamentary inquiry into the economic and regulatory frameworks for Queensland island resorts on 21 February 2022. The report was presented in March, following a year-long series of public hearings and written submissions from conservationists, tourism boards and operators, traditional landlords, municipalities and private citizens.

The committee found that “the abandoned and run-down Great Barrier Reef island resorts undermine the ability of Queensland’s tourism industry to recover from the significant loss suffered by the Covid-19 pandemic and that there was little incentive to revert, repair or otherwise remove the aging, damaged and dilapidated infrastructure found on many of these islands.”

During the investigation, the commission heard that the Brampton Island Resort, leased by United Petroleum, had been overtaken by weeds; that the infrastructure had not been maintained and that “the buildings have now been left to decay to such an extent that … renovation or reconstruction will be very costly”.

The South Molle Islands, which were destroyed by Cyclone Debbie, have been sold to the Chinese owners of Daydream Island Resort, but “the still damaged buildings remain in place,” the Whitsunday Conservation Council said.

Lindeman Island, sold after cyclone damage to Chinese-owned White Horse, was now “in a state of decay,” the council said, describing it as “completely derelict” and possibly containing asbestos.

Singaporean firm Well Start announced last week it would buy Lindeman, subject to foreign investment rules, and pledged to reinstate it.

The government has given Hong Kong billionaire Benny Wu an ultimatum to fix Double Island, ABC reported. The inquiry heard that inspections of the site had shown that waste was accumulating, coastal erosion was taking place and the site was “in no condition to provide any sort of facility for tourism”. He also heard that Cairns Regional Council continued to receive public complaints about the state of the island.

The Whitsunday Conservation Council said island resorts are subject to the whim of nature and climate change, meaning more violent cyclones. “Remote corporate ownership” does not help to engage with local communities, traditional owners or “take an interest in the local environment,” the council said.

The committee’s report recommended a number of ways to make sure taxpayers weren’t hit by sanitation bills, including writing off non-compliant tenants, tougher penalties and fines, or new laws to require landlords to pay bonds and make sure that the state is not responsible for the expenses.

The Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland said the companies should set up bonds or insurance to ensure the rehabilitation of the islands. Company president Des Boyland said the government should also make sure it doesn’t lease locations “with high conservation values ​​that need to be protected.”

Boyland said the damage started as soon as the island’s resorts were developed. “You have to keep vehicles away from the beaches; many sea creatures live in the sand,” she said.

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“The fact that they are there; they’ve cleared the areas to begin with infrastructure and when you open it up, you’re opening it up to weeds, erosion of the natural ecosystem. You’re exposing certain areas, you’re exposing wildlife that has no protection. They invariably destroy habitats, nesting cavities.

Resources Minister Scott Stuart said the government was “considering carefully” the inquiry’s recommendations.

“The Queensland Government is committed to the responsible development of our island localities for the jobs and business opportunities they create in regional Queensland,” he said.

“The Resources Department continues to work with tenants and key stakeholders to facilitate redevelopment and rejuvenate our island resorts.”

Guardian Australia attempted to contact the tenants of the island resort.

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