Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said a reconstruction program after flooding and a cyclone ravaged the state will cost A$6 billion ($6 billion) and take at least two years to complete.
Rebuilding will create jobs and stimulate the economy of Australia’s third-most populous region, Bligh, 50, said yesterday in an interview at her Brisbane office. “It will have a stimulatory effect on the economy,” Bligh said. “We are already seeing substantial recovery in some areas.”
Six weeks after Cyclone Yasi struck a state already inundated by floodwaters over an area as big as France and Germany combined, some 86 percent of the road network has reopened and 94 percent of mines are partly or fully operational, she said. While flooding damaged crops and washed away 19,000 kilometers of roads, Yasi smashed homes and ripped through banana and sugar crops. At least 36 people were killed.
“How long do I think before we see these communities and local and state economies functioning at full capacity -- I think we would probably need to say at least two years,” Bligh said. “A$6 billion of rebuilding and reconstruction is a lot of work.”
Queensland produces 80 percent of Australia’s coking coal and represents almost one-fifth of the national economy. Support for Bligh has risen in opinion polls because of her handling of the disasters ahead of an election in the state due before June 2012. Her Labor party will vie for a record sixth term.
Bligh’s mastery of detail won her public plaudits as she held press conferences every two hours late into the night during the natural disasters, outlining weather warnings and flood levels. The mother-of-two slept in evacuation centers and traveled across the state as water and gales damaged almost 30,000 homes.
Born southwest of Brisbane in Warwick, Bligh is a descendant of HMS Bounty Captain William Bligh, whose crew mutinied in 1789 and who later was appointed governor of New South Wales.
Bligh, who studied English literature and social science at Queensland University, entered parliament in 1995.
She held several posts before becoming Queensland’s first female education minister. In 2005, when the deputy premier unexpectedly resigned, she replaced him and also was named minister of finance and of state development and trade. Bligh became premier in September 2007.
Bligh yesterday reflected on the March 11 earthquake in Japan that may have killed 10,000 people, shut down factories and sparked the risk of a meltdown at a nuclear power plant.
“What’s coming out of Japan is of a scale that is so catastrophic I couldn’t even pretend to get my own head around it and offer advice,” Bligh said. “The one thing that we learned very powerfully during our own experiences is just how important information is and how critical that was to people’s ability to prepare well.
“In Japan their government had no warning and no ability to plan and prepare, it’s of a scale that is very daunting,” she said. “The quiet resilience of the Japanese people is already showing through and that will be the greatest resource that country will be able to rely on.”
Bligh said events in Japan would set back the case for developing nuclear power in Australia, which holds 40 percent of the world’s uranium and supplies 19 percent of the global market for the atomic fuel.
“Australians always have been very cautious about nuclear power and I think they’re right to be -- one because of the safety issues,” Bligh said. “This is a debate that has been largely theoretical for some time and there isn’t any investor out there wanting to offer nuclear power in an Australian context simply because it is not cost effective.”
Bligh said she would not lift Queensland’s ban on uranium mining.
In Australia, BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP)’s Olympic Dam, Energy Resources of Australia Ltd. (ERA)’s Ranger mine and the Four Mile project, a venture between Alliance Resources Ltd. and Quasar Resources, are seeking to tap increased demand for uranium as countries turn to nuclear power to curb greenhouse emissions.
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