Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Senator Canavan. What is the government doing to develop long needed water infrastructure in the too-long neglected area of Northern Australia?
I thank Senator O'Sullivan for his question and recognise, again, his passion of developing agriculture in this country, of developing our water resources and developing Northern Australia in particular. Those in this chamber with an interest in Northern Australia and Northern Australian development would know that Northern Australia represents 40 per cent of our country's landmass—almost half of our country—but it represents 60 per cent of our rainfall. Sixty per cent of the water that falls in this country falls in Northern Australia, yet many of the river systems and catchments there in the North are not as developed as those in southern Australia. There is huge potential to build dams to store more water. When you put water behind a wall, it is effectively like putting money in the bank, because sometime in the future you can release that water and use it to grow agriculture, use it to create jobs and use it to benefit our nation.
The CSIRO tells us that up to 17 million hectares in Northern Australia could be suitable for agricultural production. That is an enormous amount of land when you consider that the land under irrigation right now in Australia—mostly in southern Australia—is only around two million hectares. We will not irrigate all our 17 million, but even a fraction of that would substantially increase the land under irrigation in this country.
That is why we, as a government, are putting investment into our water resources. It is why, for the first time in more than a quarter of a century, we have a government committed to developing the water resources of Australia by putting aside half a billion dollars to develop water infrastructure right across Australia—including in southern Australia, but at least $200 million in Northern Australia—and also a $2 billion fund to help state and local governments to invest their part of these investments.
There are exciting projects all around the country. Projects like Rookwood weir could be a major deal to Central Queensland. We want to get on with the job and get this moving. We want to create jobs. We want to make sure this country has future opportunities to develop its agricultural sector and develop its water resources.
I thank the senator again for his question. The government believes that Rookwood weir is a major project to get ahead for Central Queensland. We put $130 million towards it. We agree with Mr Peter Beattie, who roughly 10 years ago said that they would build the Rockwood weir by 2011. He said at the time, 'We're building the future and we're going to do it by 2011.' Of course, that time has come and gone, but we are committed to doing it. Gladstone could be drought proofed thanks to Rookwood weir. Another Labor leader was in Gladstone last week. He said his priority was jobs, jobs, jobs, but then he was asked whether he was going to support Rookwood weir. He said we need to make sure our business case stacks up. It is Back to the Future Bill. He will not back Peter Beattie. He will not back this government. He wants to do more studies rather than get on with the job of creating jobs in this country.
It is not just the Rookwood weir, as exciting as I think that project is in the Fitzroy River catchment area, which is, after the Murray-Darling, the country's second largest catchment area. There are other projects in that river system such as the Urannah Dam, for which we have put money aside for planning works. There is the Burdekin catchment further north of that, where there are three projects for which we have put money aside for further planning works. There is the Mitchell River in the cape, which has enormous untapped potential. Of course, we will need a state Labor government willing to support Indigenous communities in the cape that want to develop their land and irrigate. There are the gulf rivers—the Flinders and Gilbert rivers—for which we have put money aside for the CSIRO to develop. Again, we are waiting on the state government to issue water licences there. There is groundwater around the Darwin region in the Northern Territory, and there is more work being done by the CSIRO in Western Australia on raising the dam wall on the Ord and on options with the Fitzroy River in the West Kimberley. This is a government that is committed to developing our resources and to building dams, and it is very exciting for our country.