Port Hedland
Port Hedland town council sign. Photo – Charlie Gunningham.
  • The iron ore town of Port Hedland has been shrouded in red dust for years
  • A WA government scheme to buy back 400 residential houses is progressing slowly
  • The scheme will not be extended to commercial properties in the town

The hand-painted sign slung above the local pub warns all that enter – beware the red dust. It might not be the only thing to be wary of in the local watering hole, but that’s another story.

Out in the main streets, red dust is everywhere. Shrouding buildings, signboards, shopfronts, rooftops and walkways, you can’t get away from the stuff.

Glancing out towards the port itself, the reason is obvious. Massive stockpiles of iron ore line up to be sent along conveyor belts to awaiting ships.

With iron prices at a record US$200+ a tonne, the mining majors are shipping a million tonnes or more of the stuff every day, mainly to China.

All this has fuelled a boom in the local economy and kept the Australian economy going through the pandemic. Together with government stimulus packages, low interest rates and pent up demand, the housing markets have boomed in 2020/21.

Port Hedland aerial
Aerial view of the port and town, showing deep red iron ore stockpiles. Image – Canva.

Buy back

The downside of this for Port Hedland is that there are very limited places to live, and for those living in the Port town itself, roughly 26,000 people, especially in the western side near the port, red dust is everywhere. But, it’s home.

In mid-2020, the WA government announced it would buy back 400 residential properties, for a total cost of approximately $200 million. The properties would then become state property.

Each residential property owner would be offered a 35% premium on the indexed value of their property, as at August 2019, plus $20,000 in transaction costs.

Typical house prices in Port Hedland fell from more than $1 million in the last mining boom to less than half that amount last year, but have since been on the rise again.

Port Hedland – 6721

The government wanted to stress that this was a voluntary scheme, and that new land would be made available to the east of the port, in new developments.

Meanwhile, some residents are not that happy. Feeling like they are forced out of their homes, to an area where few properties are for sale, has hardly led to a stampede of transactions.

As of this month, only a dozen or so contracts had been signed, so the government is running well short of its 400 target. With one year of the three-year scheme already up, time will soon be running out.

However, earlier this month the ABC reported that the Hedland Maritime Initiative (HMI), who are administering the scheme, had said 68% of “eligible property owners” had been “engaged in the process”.

Ports and Planning Minister Rita Saffioti also told the ABC that the scheme was “on track” and that although “not everyone is 100% happy… there will always be people who sell early and others [who] consider it over time, … as happens with most acquisitions.”

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