$20 million Grantham backpacker complex signed off
A $20 million backpacker and farm worker accommodation complex set for Grantham was signed off today by the Lockyer Valley Regional Council and one of Australia's largest developers.
Construction on the site off Philps Road will start in a matter of weeks, with the 75-acre complex designed to cater for just over 600 workers at a time once completed.
Louis Bickle of the Katarzyna Group said discussions of a project of this kind were first held with former Lockyer Valley Mayor Steve Jones, who saw a desperate need for a hub that can provide high quality, safe and compliant accommodation for the region's seasonal workers.
"The new mayor and the committee (also) saw the need for this and followed his instructions and here we are," Mr Bickle said.
"What we believe is that farm workers need a decent place to sleep, they need decent food to eat... and they need a good place to socialise.
"Those three essential items are going to be the fabric of these buildings."
The first stage of the development, which will allow 300 to be housed, should be completed by Christmas of this year with the second stage, which will add another 304 beds, to be undertaken in due time.
Mr Bickle said the complex would be the first of its kind in the country to be undertaken and it will feature cooking facilities, a bar, recreational areas, shuttle bus access as well as an eco-friendly ethos.
"It's obvious to everybody that you need this... I don't know how many shires there are in Queensland, but this is basically the first one that has realised it has got to happen," he said.
"This area feeds most of Australia... somebody's got to pluck it or get it out of the ground. So this is a major demand centre for labour.
"Maybe six weeks will be a reasonable time to say we're going to put the first pick in the ground."
Lockyer Valley Mayor Tanya Milligan said there was no secret that the valley's workers had been calling out for something like this to come to fruition.
"For a very, very long time our region has been looking for safe, reliable and appropriate accommodation for our backpackers here in our region," Cr Milligan said.
"I think it will certainly make Grantham buzz in a real positive manner... it will certainly be a catalyst for more great things for the area."
With the 457 visa being abolished this week by the Federal Government, Cr Milligan wanted to assure changes will not hamper the potential of the project and the future of seasonal workers in the region.
"Conversations that I've had with two of our multicultural people and also with some of the feedback from the farmers... it won't have any effect which is good for us," she said.
She hoped, as overseas workers flocked to the state-of-the-art complex, they would carry word of the benefits of working in the Lockyer Valley back home.
"We want people when they're sending vlogs home to their family (to say) that they've had an awesome time here in the Lockyer Valley," she said.
"They are talking to their family members, their friends, about what their experience is like."
Having a central hub that workers cherished would help create a consistent workforce for local farmers like Derek Schulz, who hires around 40 workers during peak season.
"Some of them get treated very harshly where they are, which is just not fair," Mr Schulz said.
"We need to look after them, the more we can give them, the more we can show them and the more we nurture them, the better off the whole valley will be for it."
Keeping workers happy would benefit both parties, meaning they're more likely to stay on a farm for several months, rather than a couple weeks as can often be the case, with both reaping the rewards.
"It's a great thing if we can get the three months out of the people... we know that we're comfortable there for three months," he said.
"They will be happy, we'll be happy and the whole system will just really snowball ahead."