You don't have to look very far to see that we're all headed for a tough few decades because of what's happened to our economy this year.

Debt is mounting at a historic rate as Melbourne emerges from lockdown this week, so the idea of paying it all back any time soon may sound farfetched.

However, that's exactly what Brisbane-based businessman Shane Condon believes is possible if our politicians "find their balls or ovaries" and back an audacious plan to rebuild Australia.

Dubbed Project Iron Boomerang, the $100 billion idea is to link the world's biggest iron ore fields in WA's Pilbara region with the Bowen Basin coal mines in north Queensland - a distance of more than 3300km.

The East West Line, approximately 3300km long, would link iron ore resources of the Pilbara Western Australia to coal resources in Queensland’s Bowen Basin
The East West Line, approximately 3300km long, would link iron ore resources of the Pilbara Western Australia to coal resources in Queensland’s Bowen Basin

It would be one of the biggest construction challenges in the nation's history, but Mr Condon - the Project Founder and Managing Director of Project Iron Boomerang - told news.com.au the economic benefits would be so huge they would transform every part of Australia.

"This will be the new world order," he said. "This will reinvigorate the industrialisation of Australia. It's just a matter of activating it and politicians having the fortitude to commit to it."

The basic idea behind it is that it would double the value of our two biggest exports - iron ore and coking coal - which are the crucial ingredients to make the first stage of steel.

Mr Condon says the current system is seeing us simply shipping these resources from WA and North Queensland to countries like Japan, China and South Korea and paying huge amounts of money to do so.

Because we're sending the resources straight from the mines, 40 per cent of what we're paying freight and logistics on is straight-up dirt. Then we have the enormous economic and environmental cost of bringing the empty ships back to Australia from ports all over the world.

The Pilbara’s iron ore is being loaded onto ships and sent to mainly Asian nations.
The Pilbara’s iron ore is being loaded onto ships and sent to mainly Asian nations.

Mr Condon believes this is highly wasteful, cost inefficient, unproductive and environmentally damaging.

The idea behind Project Iron Boomerang is to flip that all on its head by linking the resource-rich parts of our northern states by rail and making the first stage of steel here in Australia.

China is currently dominating the world's steel production - making roughly 52 per cent of it.

It's a huge slice of an extremely lucrative and highly sought-after pie as the world's population, particularly in developing nations, continues to skyrocket at an alarming rate. These nations need millions of tonnes of the stuff to keep building.

Despite China's global dominance, Mr Condon says Australia is "by far the best place in the world" to make the increasingly valuable commodity because our rich natural resources.

"There's nowhere else that competes," he said. "We're a Lucky Country, because we've got coking coal and iron ore, and nobody else has really got that."

He said the economic benefits to every part of Australia, including the big cities, would be huge if we were to untap our potential.

By doubling the value of our two biggest experts, he reckons it would inject $23 billion in taxable growth revenue into the economy - meaning we could pay off our pandemic debt in a matter of ten years on its own, once we start churning out first stage steel.

Iron Boomerang aims to double the price we get for our two biggest exports.
Iron Boomerang aims to double the price we get for our two biggest exports.

He says the project will also directly create up to 100,000 jobs by the time it's up and running which, if given approval, could be in just eight years' time.

The federal government is looking to rebuild the nation's economy because of the pandemic, and Mr Condon revealed to news.com.au that he is in some very high level talks about Iron Boomerang.

But it's not just the Prime Minister he has to convince. The project would need collaboration between the governments of Queensland, WA and the Northern Territory for it to get the green light.

"We need to get our fingers out of our backsides here because we're in a war against this pandemic economically. We're all worried about the future," Mr Condon said. "And when you're in a war you pull together, Liberal, Labor or whatever, to win the war, otherwise it's rape and plunder."

And, it's not just Australia that could benefit from making its own steel, Mr Condon claims we now have an "obligation to the rest of the world to do it".

The project would cost upwards of $100 billion.
The project would cost upwards of $100 billion.

He said China has effectively monopolised global steel production, but Australia is more than capable of competing with the superpower.

If realised, he says Iron Boomerang would create a sustainable and competitive means of reducing the cost per tonne of world steel produced, while reducing global environmental impacts.

"I've got nothing against China, but anyone or anything that monopolises any industry is unhealthy economically," he said. "And, we'll actually help China in stopping the pollution of its own people.

"We have a responsibility to do this. We must do it and it's a better world if it's done."

He says the biggest obstacle in the way is Australia's politicians, who he claims are too shortsighted to see the big picture.

Shane Condon, founder and Managing Director of Project Iron Boomerang, says Australia has an obligation to take on China.
Shane Condon, founder and Managing Director of Project Iron Boomerang, says Australia has an obligation to take on China.

"The problem is one we have all over the world which is that politicians only think in election cycles, whereas nations like China think long-term when they're developing visionary ideas," he said.

"This short term risk cycle is destructive to our future and our proper planning. The problem is one side has an idea so the other side doesn't like it.

"We would have never built the Sydney Harbour Bridge today in the environment we have both political and risk-taking. It would never get off the ground."

As the Queensland election looms in ten days' time, one party is throwing its support behind the Iron Boomerang in a big way.

 

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North Queensland First leader Jason Costigan - whose ideas include the creation of a separate North Queensland state - said the idea would be a massive win for the region.

He said the Iron Boomerang rail project would be the 21st century equivalent to the Snowy Mountains Scheme except that it would focus on Northern Australia.

He said he was amazed that neither of the major parties had revisited the idea in the lead-up to the October 31 poll, especially given the impact of COVID-19.

North Queensland First leader Jason Costigan is backing the idea in a big way. Picture: Evan Morgan
North Queensland First leader Jason Costigan is backing the idea in a big way. Picture: Evan Morgan

"I guess that just proves that the LNP and Labor doesn't understand the north or doesn't care about the north or probably both when you think about it," he told the North Queensland Register. "I believe we can go back to the future and resurrect that industry and deliver a vision for a transcontinental railway."

He said the idea had been bandied about in the late 1970s when mining magnate Lang Hancock floated the idea during Joh Bjelke-Petersen's time as Queensland Premier.

North Queensland First is contesting five seats in North Queensland - Whitsunday, Mirani, Burdekin, Townsville and Cook, four of which include rural areas.

Benjamin.graham@news.com.au

Originally published as Radical plan that could save Australia

As is Queensland’s coking coal.
As is Queensland’s coking coal.

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