Tuesday, 3 August 2021
I rise to tell a tale of two cities; it is the best of times and the worst of times. In this tale of two cities, I want to talk about two towns in central North Queensland, the towns of Emerald and Collinsville. Around 50 years ago, in the 1971 census, Emerald had a population of just 650 people. Collinsville had a population of 2,000. Collinsville has a proud history as a coalmining town, and most of the workers in that town would have been employed in the coalmines.
Fiftly years ago, Emerald was really just a rural town servicing the cattle industry. Some mines around there have been built since then but the big change was the construction of the Fairbairn Dam in 1972. In 1972, the Fairbairn Dam was built outside Emerald in the Fitzroy Basin. It is a huge body of water, over 1,000 gigalitres; over two Sydney Harbours can be stored there. Even though it is a bit low at the moment, it still provides substantial water to the town of Emerald; to cotton, grain and citrus farms; and to the coalmines and power stations in the region as well. Today, 50 years on, Emerald's population is 13½ thousand people. It has grown by almost 20, thanks to the construction of that dam and the resulting economic activity that it generated.
Unfortunately, Collinsville, over the last 50 years, has had its population halved to 1,000 people, as efficiencies, particularly in the mining industry, took away jobs. There haven't been other industries built in Collinsville to supply all those jobs. There is a big solar farm there, I should say, at Collinsville, but it only employs a few people—security guards.
Dams, in contrast, create thousands of jobs. The whole point of building a dam is to store up water behind it. That is like putting money in the bank. That water behind the dam wall gives confidence for investors to come into a town. It gives confidence to farmers to put in centre pivots, to put in channels, to invest money in their farms because they know they are going to have water security in the future to grow food and to have an income stream to pay back those high capital costs that come not just from the construction of the dam but the construction of the related infrastructure on-farm to take advantage of that water. That's why we've had extra people move to Emerald, that's why we have a vibrant town there—thanks to that dam—and that's why we want to build a dam at Collinsville, too. We want to build a dam at Collinsville for the people of Collinsville, to give them a brighter future, better opportunity, and to provide a nation-building project for our whole country.
I was up at Collinsville last week with Michelle Landry, the member for Capricornia, and the member for Dawson, George Christensen. The project, the dam we want to build, the Urannah Dam, is in the member for Capricornia's seat but it will also significantly benefit constituents in the member for Dawson's seat, as well. We went and saw Marisa at the local post office—a lovely lady. It is more than just a post office for Collinsville; it is the general store and meeting place. It is the vibrant hub of the community, and Marisa was over the moon with the announcement we were making to support the Urannah Dam project and to get that going. It will be great for the town and that's why she is a big fan of it.
What we announced there last week was a further $12.7 million in funding to help bring the Urannah Dam project to a shovel-ready phase. That builds on the $10 million the government has already provided to the project to help finalise its business case, which shows it stacks up. This additional funding will now help the proponents, Bowen River Utilities, to finalise their design, go through the rigorous environmental approval processes that we have in place and make sure that we can start this project within the next couple of years. This is another step in taking this project forward, and I'm confident this is going to happen.
There will be more to do here. There is more to do. It's a billion-dollar project and it involves more than just building a dam. It involves a 1,400-megawatt pumped hydro power station that will help backup the solar power and renewables that are going into the area. As I mentioned, there's a solar farm at Collinsville, but at night time, of course, that doesn't work. So having this pumped hydro facility, which can backup the power needs of North Queensland for about eight hours, will be very useful overnight. It's a big project—1,400 megawatts. There will also be a related irrigation project associated with the dam that will open up 20,000 hectares of new agricultural land. The project also involves the construction of a pipeline to Moranbah, a town that's had intermittent issues with town water supply. This dam will provide Moranbah with excellent water security and really help fix up those water issues in the long term.
The water will also help underpin supply for coalmines in the area, helping to expand that great industry. There is a lot of confidence. We went out to the coalmine, and I might give another speech about that because Michelle, George and I were very happy to have our photos taken there at Collinsville. We put them up on social media and let everybody know we were there, unlike Labor leaders in this place who come up to North Queensland and do a secret visit to a coalmine. No-one knows he was there—there's more evidence that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon than there is that Anthony Albanese came to a coalmine in North Queensland in the last couple of weeks. Why doesn't he do it? Why doesn't he put pictures on his social media page? I think it's because he's a little bit embarrassed about workers. Mr Albanese is a little bit ashamed of being seen next to an actual worker, because that might not go down well in his inner-city Sydney electorate. But the real deal here is how we as a government are getting on with building things that support economic activities, jobs and workers in this nation.
As I mentioned, to finance this billion-dollar project will be a big ask. There is private capital ready to go. I know the proponents will be seeking a request from the government's National Water Infrastructure Development Fund, and we've got the money there to help them out. I'm a strong advocate, given that this project stacks up, that we see it funded and build another dam in Queensland.
I want to finish on the fact that this builds on the government's initiative to build more dams around Australia and get dams back on the agenda. When we came to government seven years ago no-one was talking about dams and no-one was building them. We hadn't built one for a generation. We are now building projects right across Australia, right across Queensland, to open up new farmlands and create jobs everywhere. It is fantastic to see the Rookwood Weir project just come out of the ground. It took a bit of dragging and kicking and screaming with the Queensland Labor government, but we put money on the table back in 2016, again with Michelle Landry a tireless advocate for water infrastructure in her region and Ken O'Dowd also a big advocate for it. They tirelessly fought for this, and now this project's happening. There are people there—we know there are people there because, unfortunately, they had a coronavirus case the other day which stopped the project for 14 days, but it will get going again—and the wall will be poured very soon, next year. We'll have water being stored back up against that on the Fitzroy River. And it's a really big river. The Aboriginal word for the Fitzroy River, Toonooba, means 'big water'. It's a lot of water.
The water in the dam will be 20 metres high, and it will back up for about 50 kilometres. It's a long distance, pretty much from the top of the ACT to the bottom in terms of water—the top of Gungahlin to the bottom of Tuggeranong and probably a little bit further than that. That'll open up all that country along the Fitzroy River for extra irrigation opportunities and more jobs. A lot of macadamia investors have already bought water. It's a very exciting time in Central Queensland to be involved in agriculture and the development of new farmlands because of all the investment coming from the federal government—the Liberal-National government—in dams and the ability to store more water. That's what I want to see our country do. That's what I get excited about—that is, when we build new things. We built our nation on the back of projects like this, like the Snowy Mountains hydro scheme, like the Perth to Kalgoorlie pipeline—a major waterway—like Burdekin Falls Dam in North Queensland, like the Ord development—
Senator Dean Smith interjecting—
like Lake Argyle—thank you, Senator Smith—over in Western Australia. I don't want to leave them out. There is so much more going on over there too. I'm sure Senator Smith could let us know all about that. It's fantastic to see what this government is doing, to see new economic opportunities being opened up in our nation through dams. This is thanks to the hard work of the local members pushing these projects, working with proponents. We're getting it done and we're creating more jobs and more opportunities for all Australians.
Senator Canavan, I just want to note standing order 193 'Rules of debate'. I just remind you, even though you are an experienced parliamentarian, that it is highly disorderly to make any imputation of improper motive against members or officials of the house.