Big trouble on island paradise
It's A little slice of island paradise nestled snugly off Mackay, at the doorstep to the Great Barrier Reef. For the 40 or so locals who live on Keswick Island, 32km off Mackay, this is their "forever'' home, a magical part of the world renowned for its aquatic and natural wonders.
But that all changed in April last year when the state government handed over a long-term lease of the island to Chinese-based company China Bloom Pty Ltd.
The corporate structure now means that China Bloom has the head lease over the residential and commercial precincts and local residents are sub-lessees. After the Chinese company took over the 99-year lease about 18 months ago, things got very different for locals.
Most of the drama centres on access to the island, the erection of illegal structures and facilities allegedly bypassing local government and state laws. According to locals, there have been attempts to block visitors, with some helicopter and all private and commercial aircraft access denied. Helicopter round trips cost $2400 - it's cheaper to fly return to Paris.
Locals say the public barge ramp is closed to residents and a non compliant, illegal boat ramp is being offered as an alternative.
They have tried to get locals to fill out a form notifying the head lessee before intended travel to the island.
They say a private aircraft owner was given 24 hours to remove his plane from the island after the takeover. He had flown in and out safely for the past decade. Signs have gone up barring the public from the island's most popular beach.
Whistleblowers say residents are denied the opportunity to use their homes as AirBnBs, small businesses are denied approval to operate, beaches are blocked, visitors are harassed, and even long-term renters of Aboriginal descent are being slugged with a $100,000 bond if they want to purchase a home.
A local action group, the Keswick Island Progress Association (KIPA), has written to the Chinese owners of China Bloom, the state and local government and local federal MP George Christensen.
The Chinese paid an undisclosed amount, believed to be multi-millions of dollars to the previous owner for the 99-year lease, which now has about 80 years to run. The Department of Natural Resources administers the lease.
KIPA say beach excavation work has disturbed turtle nesting areas and this has been reported to the Mackay Regional Council and the Department of Environment and Science.
The Chinese company's local development arm claims there are few turtles on the island but local residents recorded more than 20 nestings last year.
Also contentious is a house built for one of its employees without Mackay council approval. The council is investigating whether a show cause notice for illegal building work should be issued.
The Chinese say the island has just five permanent residents.
At a recent residents' meeting, the minutes showed 49 people attended, all landholders.
The fear among locals is that the Chinese are "trying to push us out and develop the island exclusively for rich Chinese''. Tourism activity since China Bloom took over has been reduced to zero. Locals say gates are locked, preventing access to national parks, in contravention of a recent court ruling.
Mr Christensen said he was trying to get a meeting with the Chinese company's local representatives.
"It's all about access,'' said Mr Christensen.
"The belief among locals is that they (the Chinese) want to drive down the price of properties, thereby making it inaccessible and then take it over completely.''
A representative for the Chinese company was contacted for comment.
He said that most of the claims from residents were wrong and referred me to a PR company, which did not respond to questions by the time of publication.
This should not be happening in Queensland. This island is owned by the Queensland government. It has assigned a 99-year lease to a company that ultimately on-sold it to a Chinese company.
In the Palaszczuk government cabinet reshuffle, a new portfolio was announced and go-getter Meaghan Scanlon has become the Minister for the Environment and Great Barrier Reef.
Her department has ultimate control over the property. She needs to intervene and sort this out for Queenslanders, who want their little slice of paradise protected.
Originally published as Big trouble on island paradise