Senate debates

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Matters of Public Interest


1:52 pm

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Democrats) Share this | Hansard source

In the brief time available before question time, I would like to speak once again on an issue of great importance to my state of Queensland, particularly the region I reside in—south-east Queensland. The water policies of the Beattie Labor government in Queensland have been a matter of great public debate and controversy and criticism over recent years. I have certainly been one of those critics.

I would like to start by praising the somewhat belated decision of the Beattie government to proceed with full recycling of purified waste water, or indirect potable reuse of water as it is sometimes called. It is unfortunate this decision was not made a couple of years ago, perhaps around the time that Toowoomba City Council was putting forward the idea. If it had and action had started then, then the water would be available about now and we would have less of a crisis mentality around decisions relating to water in Queensland.

It is one that I and the Democrats in Queensland have been campaigning for as a lower environment risk option for a long time. Economically, it is a more sensible option than some of the other approaches that are being put forward and pursued by the Beattie government. I do acknowledge that and I do congratulate them for doing that.

In doing so, I urge other state governments to follow suit in places where it is appropriate. Recycling is not economically viable in all locations because there are costs involved, energy consumption is involved and there is pumping of the water back to the reservoirs involved. So it does depend on the relevant locations of various places, but where the economics stack up then it should be pursued. It does stack up in many areas in the southern states. Complete lack of political courage was the only real reason behind the reluctance to proceed down this path, which is very disappointing. Basically we are seeing state governments deciding to take options that are far more expensive and have a greater environmental impact purely because of the lack of political will involved. I voice support for not just Mr Beattie but also Mr Howard, who has made a number of positive statements about the importance of pursuing the full recycling of water.

Having made that positive comment, I would nonetheless like to repeat some of my strong criticisms about the state Labor government with regard to its continued insistence to proceed with dams at both Wyaralong and Traveston, just south of Gympie. In doing so, I would like to draw this to the attention of the Senate and the new minister. Minister Turnbull has responsibility for this issue, both as the environment minister, who will be making a decision down the track under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act about the impact on endangered species of the Traveston and Wyaralong dams, and also as part of his broader responsibility as the minister responsible for water resources.

We have a lot of money now being put in at the federal level through the National Water Initiative and other means to ensure proper water resource security. In that circumstance, there needs to be much closer attention paid by federal ministers and the federal government to the decisions being made by state governments. When state governments are making decisions, as the Queensland government is, that are clearly ridiculously expensive, that are high risk, that are immensely destructive socially as well as environmentally—that, in a nutshell, are stupid decisions from the point of view of water security—then the federal government needs to be aware of that and take account of it accordingly.

I would like to draw the attention of the minister and the Senate to the executive summary of a report that was released yesterday by the Mary River Council of Mayors—that is, the mayors and local councils that are upstream of the proposed dam on the Mary River at Traveston Crossing as well as those downstream. We should not forget about the downstream impacts. They might not be flooded out downstream, but they are certainly going to have other impacts. That executive summary of the review of water supply and demand options for south-east Queensland, the draft report, was released yesterday. It was done by the Institute for Sustainable Futures through the University of Technology in Sydney. The executive summary stated:

… a clear conclusion of the study was that the proposed dam at Traveston Crossing on the Mary River is neither necessary nor desirable as a part of the portfolio for ensuring supply security—

that is water supply security—

to the year 2050. The objective of urban water planning is to ensure that availability of water meets the demand for the planning period at the least economic, environmental and social cost.

The fact is that the proposed Traveston dam is at the other end of the spectrum—of the highest economic cost, the highest environmental cost and the highest social cost. When people say, ‘Don’t build this dam; don’t do this action,’ it is an appropriate question to ask, ‘What’s your alternative?’ The report and the councils should be congratulated for going to the trouble of providing alternatives.

This report lists a number of alternatives which, in their view and their assessment, have the potential to save over 190 gigalitres per annum of water by 2050 at an average unit cost of $1.15 per kilolitre. By comparison, the Traveston Crossing scheme will supply, if the rainfall estimate is accurate, which is always a big if, approximately 150 gigalitres per annum—that is 40 gigalitres less—by 2050 at a unit cost of approximately $3 per kilolitre. So we have 40 gigalitres less per year at a unit cost of more than double—$3 per kilolitre rather than $1.15. Further, the proposed alternative put forward here would reduce greenhouse gas emissions relative to the Traveston Crossing scheme by more than one million tonnes per year.

So there are alternatives that are lower risk, lower unit cost alternatives that are not rainfall dependent. It is about time the Queensland government recognised this. I call on them to put a halt to pushing people in the local area to have their properties resumed. The social damage is already going ahead, even before the decision has been made by the federal environment minister as to whether the dam should proceed. There should at least be a moratorium on resumptions until the fate of the dam is clear.


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