Courier Mail, The (Brisbane), 08/06/2005, pg. 6

A MASSIVE de-stocking of cattle from drought-stricken far western Queensland is pressuring transport operators to breaking point as they struggle with dirt roads that are disintegrating under the pressure.

Quilpie-based transport operator Paul Hansen, who runs Paul Hansen Transport, said 1300km of dirt roads in the Barcoo Shire were desperately in need of bitumen.

The cost of sealing the most critical roads would be $150,000 a kilometre and cost about $200 million but the expense would be justified, he said.

“The beef and oil industries need access to markets and they grind to a complete halt if there is as little as 25mm of rain on these roads,” he said.

Three triple road trains carrying a total of 450 head of Brahman-cross cattle from Keeroong-ooloo Station 60km south-east of Windorah to Cloncurry, struck a patch of bull dust between Windorah and Jundah, creating a huge dust cloud.

Quilpie driver Glen Butler said the roads were worse than when he began driving.

Drivers have to stop every hour to allow the dust to settle enough for the cattle to breathe clean air so they don’t choke to death on the dust.

Mr Hansen pays $450,000 a year in vehicle registration to the state government for his 30 trucks and buys $6 million in fuel a year, about $1 million of which goes to the federal government yet the roads are not being significantly maintained or improved.

“We are lifting out 1000 head of cattle at a time each day,” he said yesterday.

“There is major de-stocking from Quilpie to the New South Wales border and of the northern part of South Australia.

“Wear and tear on the trucks is costly with stones ripping tyres, bulldust wearing the brake pads, corrugations braking the springs and bulldust creating drag on the engines.

“We would like money to be spent to fix the roads rather than continual Band-Aiding.”

Mr Hansen said some operators were leaving the industry because transport companies in the far west had higher costs than those which operated only on sealed roads.

Copyright 2005 / Courier Mail