Thursday, 14 November 2019
That the Senate acknowledges that the construction of a Bradfield-type scheme in Queensland would create far-reaching, positive outcomes in regards to water security, economic growth, the environment and job numbers, for all Australians.
Extreme drought has always been, and will always be, part of our Australian climate due to our landscape and environmental conditions beyond our control. We are a dry nation, so there is an overwhelming need for leadership in Australia on the issue of water. In particular, we need action that secures future water supplies by doing the most obvious and practical thing: building more dams and other water infrastructure. The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is an absolute mess, with water locked up for environmental flows and irrigators unable to access water because they don't own licences. They have not enough money to pay for them, and water licence owners are holding on to their stock until prices rise. Corporations, overseas entities, businesses and wealthy individuals are buying water licences even if they have no direct relationship to the land or to farming. It is the view of One Nation that it should be illegal for non-farming entities to hold water licences. Water should not be treated as a commodity that is available only to the highest bidder, thereby shutting out operators and farmers who cannot afford the high prices. It's opportunistic, it's counterproductive to the needs of Australia and it's actually immoral.
Many of our leaders seem to have given up on the issue of water. Their actions speak louder than words, with increased immigration and population numbers but no dams or water infrastructure. Why? If you make a commodity scarce, you can get a high price for it. It's no different to gold. We are here in this parliament to fix the tough problems, but our biggest problems in the nation are due to government policy, intervention, mismanagement or incompetence. Towns in New South Wales like Dubbo with 40,000 people, Armidale with 25,000 people and Tamworth with 62,000 people are forecast to run out of drinking water by mid to late next year, according to recent government projections. Stanthorpe in southern Queensland, which I visited recently, is about to run completely dry. I was pleased to join the 'Let's Send Them a Truck Load' water convoy to Stanthorpe in late October to help deliver 10 truckloads of water—close to 220,000 litres—to this needy community. I congratulate Rachael Eddy, who organised the convoy, for doing such a great job. It was a great effort by all concerned.
So I am today again repeating my belief that a hybrid Bradfield Scheme would prove to be a nation-building project. It would help make a big dent in addressing our growing water needs as well as building pride in Australia that we are a nation that confronts its problems head-on. This is a project that I have repeatedly raised in this chamber and publicly for many years. I have been ridiculed as being crazy and told that the project is too costly and too ambitious. I ask those with that view: would you have had the same opinion when the Sydney Harbour Bridge or the Sydney Opera House were under discussion? No vision, foresight, solutions—or brains, for that matter. Well, finally, the Bradfield Scheme has moved to the forefront of public debate because Australian people are crying out for it.
The LNP in Queensland, eager to score points before the election next October, has also announced it would build the Bradfield. It seems like a sudden change of heart, as both the Liberals and the Nationals voted against the idea when I called on the government to immediately allocate $10 billion to commence the construction of the much-needed hybrid Bradfield Scheme. The Queensland Labor government also now seems to be keen on the idea and has spoken with the Prime Minister about a smaller version of the Bradfield.
It was a surprise when Labor senators voted against my motion yesterday that recognised both Queensland LNP and Labor support for the Bradfield and asked the government to take the necessary steps to ensure that construction could begin as swiftly as possible. Queensland Labor senators Murray Watt and Anthony Chisholm opposed the motion. I think it's time both of them grew a backbone and showed some intestinal fortitude by starting to make decisions in the Senate for the benefit of our state. They probably need to liaise with their Queensland government counterparts so they can sort out their official party position on the Bradfield Scheme—or maybe it's a case of 'out of sight, out of mind' for Senator Watt: it's easy to forget the everyday Australian when you're preoccupied with catching waves at Surfers Paradise. Unfortunately, as is all too common, politics also seems to have raised its ugly head, with the Prime Minister quoted as saying:
We're committed to building the water infrastructure Queensland needs. We just need a State Government that we can work with to get these projects moving.
It seems working together on this important project is less important than saving face politically. It has become quite common now for Labor, Liberal and Nationals senators to vote against good ideas if those good ideas happen to come from One Nation.
Queensland Labor does need to make amends after it proved itself to be absent on the issue of water and announced that the Paradise Dam, south-west of Bundaberg, would have almost one-third of its capacity progressively released, due to concerns about the dam's integrity. The dam's integrity has been in doubt since 2009, but they chose to release life-saving water now, at the time of one of our worst droughts, without any notice. Those releases of 100 megalitres per day are still underway as we speak and will continue for some weeks to come. To add insult to injury, the released water is offered for free to farmers, which sounds like a wonderful gesture; but it appears to be quite hollow, as the farmers don't have crops in the ground. At a time when many parts of Australia are suffering serious drought, most of the water will probably just flow into the ocean—madness.
But wait! There's more! The Victorian Labor government is the king of defeatism on the water issue. In The Australian in September, Victorian Labor said it won't build any more dams because so-called climate change 'means not enough water will flow into them to make them worthwhile'. Does anyone else see the problem here? We have a state government that was elected by the people to find solutions to difficult problems, yet, when confronted with this water crisis, it has decided to throw its hands up in the air and say, 'We give up.' The story said:
Water Minister Lisa Neville says water in the state's rivers will halve by 2065, citing this forecast in her refusal to build even one dam, even though over that period the state's population is expected to double.
Good luck to the people of Victoria; I think you're going to need it!
Unfortunately, there is another force at play with respect to water, in this country and globally. The United Nations is directing the situation by promoting alternative methods of so-called water management. Its version of water management has only helped to make the problem worse, supported by Australian governments over the past 26 years. The UN has published ideas about protecting sources of water, including the fencing of rivers and the implementation of allocation decisions through demand management, pricing mechanisms and regulatory measures.
You can soon expect farmers to be forced to fence the waterways on their properties. They will be forced to pay for water in their own dams. And the next step is ordinary Australians being forced to pay for the water that flows off their roofs and into their own water tanks. These are the ideas that are now biting hard into Australian society, because successive governments haven't had the guts to stand up to an unelected global body that just wants to control this vital resource.
But it actually gets worse. The UN also pushes for the delegation of general water management to local authorities, private enterprises and communities, and, where appropriate, for the establishment of independent regulation and monitoring of freshwater. These suggestions, made in 1992, have slowly infiltrated into the way Australia deals with water. It has also worked to restrict access to water for ordinary Australians, for farmers who are trying to maintain Australia's self-sufficiency in food production, for industry and for local councils. We are now experiencing the effects of the acceptance of these suggestions by successive Australian governments from the UN.
It is my view that this attitude of allowing water to be locked away from everyday Australians and controlled by entities other than government—bought and sold like any other commodity—actually goes against the Australian Constitution. Section 100 of the Australian Constitution tells us:
The Commonwealth shall not, by any law or regulation of trade or commerce, abridge the right of a State or of the residents therein to the reasonable use of the waters of rivers for conservation or irrigation.
I have been saying this for years. My understanding of the Constitution is that the government has no right to deny farmers of the right to take water from rivers, but it has never been legally challenged.
The answer for Australians is better water management, and less government and corporate interference. We need more dams and pipelines in Queensland. We absolutely need a project based on the innovative Bradfield Scheme. It is beautiful in its simplicity. An adaptation of the original idea would help deliver water to the driest parts of Queensland and hopefully other states. The LNP and Queensland Labor have come around—although that may have something to do with the upcoming election. In a nutshell, the Bradfield Scheme suggests building new water storages in the high-rainfall catchments of Far North Queensland and then pumping it to the dry areas of western Queensland. The water is then free to flow into the Murray-Darling river catchment and eventually into New South Wales and Victoria, and then on to South Australia. It's simple and sensible, in my view, and very much needed right now to support and safeguard water supplies into the future.
There have been numerous suggestions for the sources of the water in such a scheme, including a number of rivers in North Queensland. But a favoured water source now—if Labor is to be believed—is the Hells Gate Dam, proposed on the Upper Burdekin near Charters Towers. The dam is proposed at a cost of $5.35 billion. This is stage 1 of the Bradfield Scheme. I'm glad that a project I have been promoting for many years—even as a policy platform in the last two elections—is now getting the attention it deserves.
I will briefly refer again to Minister Neville in Victoria and her failure to understand the idea of capturing water. We get plenty that is ready for capture up in North Queensland. The newspaper quotes are saying: 'New dams do not create any new water. They simply take it from somewhere else, either from farmers who currently rely on it or from the environment.' Is she for real? She is correct in that the world has only a finite amount of water, but I think it's wrong to suggest there is not more for us to utilise.
The water that flowed out of the Herbert River and the Ross River, which contributed to Townsville's flooding earlier this year, and also along the Flinders River, would have been worth more to us if it had stayed onshore and been diverted south-west. The northern region would be an ideal area to source water for western Queensland. Townsville's annual rainfall is around 1,143 millilitres, which is almost double London's annual rainfall of around 628 millilitres. Further flooding in the north of the state is apparently going to increase by 130 per cent in the region by the end of the century, if you believe the climate change activists. That concerns me as well, as they can't even predict the weather three or four days ahead.
They should see the benefit of sourcing the water for the Bradfield Scheme from that area. Yes, building the Bradfield Scheme would involve hundreds of kilometres of pipeline, tunnels and pumps. But, before anyone expresses how harebrained and impossible the project would be, the South-East Queensland water grid shows how similar infrastructure can be built in a relatively short time. The project completed in 2008 includes 600 kilometres of pipelines designed to move water between areas that have higher rainfall and good supply to those with poor supplies in South-East Queensland. The need for the project was triggered by Brisbane experiencing a particularly dry season in 2004. While the project has had a chequered and controversial history, it proves that this type of infrastructure can be built; it is not impossible.
In the very same vein, the idea behind the Bradfield Scheme is not impossible. And here is a warning to anyone who thinks that it is a silly idea and we shouldn't bother: a businessman who does a lot of business in China says that China are ready to build it, that they can see the benefits and that they think Australia is mad for not doing it sooner. China, of course, are slowly buying up farmland in Australia. They are building up their own holdings until they have enough and then they aim to build the Bradfield, so that they can irrigate those large swathes of the land they own to grow food to send back home. Laugh if you want, but you have been warned.
I urge the Australian government to hurry and join forces with Queensland Labor to start getting the push along on this project. It must not be built or owned by foreign investors and must not be sold to the highest bidder. There must be legislation in place that will keep the Bradfield in government hands and owned by the people for their exclusive use. It was engineer John Bradfield who suggested the Bradfield Scheme in 1938. He was no madman. Mr Bradfield was also the engineer behind such icons as the Sydney Harbour Bridge—which I mentioned earlier—and the Story Bridge in Brisbane. His idea may not be perfect but it is a perfect starting point.
It's interesting to note that the New South Wales government is also apparently considering a similar mechanism for rivers in northern New South Wales, where investigations are mainly focused on turning the waters of the Clarence River inland via a network of pipes and pumps to feed it into the headwaters of the Border rivers system—another scheme I have advocated for. I wonder why there is no uproar about any so-called madness in this project.
One Nation have led the charge in what we describe as a hybrid Bradfield Scheme for Queensland, a concept that takes the ideas of Mr Bradfield, assesses and analyses them and then makes modifications that improve the scheme and make it more workable and successful. It's a good idea that would tackle another major nation-building project like this, creating employment. I am glad the LNP have finally listened to my suggestions. Let's hope they show the leadership that I have been talking about and retain this policy into the future. The need for action on water on a national scale is now desperate and it will never go away, even when we get enough rain to end this current drought.
One Nation, unlike Victorian Labor, is not going to give up. Imagine if we could generate the true political will to fix this water problem once and for all. That's why people need to vote One Nation. A hybrid Bradfield Scheme is practical and simple and it truly deserves proper investigation. Some say that it is too expensive to build, at $15 billion, and it is not feasible. But tell me how feasible it is when you don't have water. Senator Bernardi made a wisecrack about pumping water uphill and was saying that it's an expensive scheme. I ask Senator Bernardi: is it sensible to put possibly $50 billion, $70 billion or $80 billion into building 12 diesel-electric submarines—when we will get the first one in 2034-35 and the last one in 2050—that may be outdated?
The last one will be in 2050, at a cost of possibly as high as $70 or $80 billion to the nation. Is that feasible? I don't think so.
So it is a solution to build the Bradfield Scheme. It is a solution to the water crisis, as to which no-one seems to be even suggesting any concrete ideas. The people of Australia are looking to the parliament to provide leadership and to deliver answers on the water crisis. I encourage everyone, even the sceptics, to consider supporting the hybrid Bradfield Scheme—google it. It will help drought-proof Australia and will have positive impacts on Australia's water needs for more than a century to come. It might seem impossible, but we can do it.