Tuesday, 11 May 2021
Queensland: Water Infrastructure
As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I want to relate my travels through the Flinders catchment area, which is the fourth-biggest river flow in Queensland. There is rich soil, vast grassy plains with no trees, and water: abundant water, regular water, yet untapped. The potential is being wasted. I felt excited, supported, encouraged and inspired by the people I met in North Queensland, but I also felt worried and disappointed because of the atrocious state and federal governments that are cruelling that area. My needs in the people were met entirely: commitment, competence, dedication. But that was matched, sadly, on the other side of the scale by the inability of the state and federal governments to meet their needs for support and good governance.
We went to look firstly at the Bradfield Scheme, to do our due diligence. We've done it at the Murray-Darling Basin; now we've done it in the Flinders. The Bradfield Scheme is a visionary scheme to turn the waters that are flowing to the east, and being wasted, to the west and into the Thomson. We wanted to look at the Murray-Darling Basin catchment, which we have, and also at the Flinders, and this was a chance to see the Bradfield Scheme source and then to go across the Flinders. What we saw as we flew up the coast was naturally wet area in the tropics, the coast, Ingham and Tully. We then swung west over the Tully midstream and all the way down the Burdekin River to the Burdekin Falls Dam. We then turned west and went back across the Flinders catchment area, through Charters Towers, Hughenden, Richmond, Julia Creek and Cloncurry. We touched down in Cloncurry to fuel and then went north to Normanton, where there are huge, vast plains, and then back south-west to Townsville, where we'd started.
We then spent a week driving on the ground, listening to people, getting the lie of the land and the people. What impressed us was the locals with vision, real vision, complemented by energy, knowledge, competence and practicality. It was very inspiring, as I've already said. And there was plenty of water. They all said: 'We don't need the Bradfield Scheme water here. Let it go to the Thomson, as the original visionary plan from Bradfield suggested.'
In particular, I was impressed with the Richmond council; John Wharton, who is, I think, Queensland's longest serving mayor—25 years if my memory is correct; and his very young but very competent CEO, Peter Bennett. They have a plan and a project, the Richmond agricultural project, that the locals are on board with. It's very simple: no dams, just water diverted to 8,000 hectares of irrigable and rich, fertile soil. With agricultural production come people and with people come services. Instead of Richmond bobbing around at 900 people, we can get it back up to 3,000, maybe even 8,000, people. It could be a really vibrant area in the north.
We also visited Hughenden, where the same recipe is being followed: water captured not in a dam but in weirs and diverted into storage areas or underground water. We saw Jane McNamara leading her team there, and Daryl Buckingham, who's had experience in the Murray-Darling Basin and who's transferring it to the north. We also visited HIPCo, Hughenden Irrigation Project Corporation, with Shane McCarthy. The council-sponsored projects there, as I said, follow the same recipe.
We then went to Julia Creek on the ground, and we went to Etta Plains, where we saw a very dynamic young Lucas Findley, from Findley Farms, escaping the Murray-Darling Basin and the devastation of the regulations, the bureaucracy and the poor governance in the south. And we saw something fresh.
I could go on, but time will catch me here. What they're all waiting for is good governance, which the state government and the federal government are not providing. The state government won't allocate water allocations. They can't do anything without that. Ironically, the state government talks about capturing carbon dioxide, which the evidence shows is not necessary, but crops absorb carbon dioxide, and dams create crops that will absorb carbon dioxide. If they were fair dinkum, they'd do it. Ironically, the challenges up north are land tenure, water and energy. While they're looking for it up north and have it in abundance, they can't use it, because the same policies are destroying governance in the south.