Friday, 17 November 2023
Questions without Notice
Queensland: Emu Swamp Dam and Pipeline
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Senator Watt. Minister, why is the Australian government no longer proceeding with construction of the Emu Swamp dam and pipeline located near Stanthorpe in our state of Queensland?
Thank you, Senator Roberts. I welcome a question about Queensland infrastructure from a Queensland senator on the other side of the chamber. It's a shame people like Senator McGrath didn't manage to get a question up about these important issues. Senator McGrath, of course, is just reduced to interjections, rather than asking serious questions about these matters.
You don't want to hear that? You don't want to hear about your failures on infrastructure? If you've heard what I've had to say this week, Senator Roberts, you'll know that the infrastructure budget that we inherited from the coalition was hopelessly overblown. There was a budget blowout of $33 billion.
I rise on a point of order. This is actually a good example of the type of point of order that I made before. Senator Roberts asked a question about a particular infrastructure project, the Emu Swamp dam. That should not then be a licence for the minister to go off talking about infrastructure projects in general, or the former government in general. It was clearly a question specific to a particular project, and the minister should be drawn to answer on that project.
On the point of order, I can recall many times when coalition ministers went much farther than 41 seconds in before they even got close to the question. I'd remind you of Senator Brandis. We all remember Senator Brandis when he was sitting in this chair.
Senator Roberts, I was explaining the basis for the decisions. The particular project that you're talking about that won't be proceeding is a road to a dam that is not proceeding. This government thinks that it's a good idea, if you're spending infrastructure money on a road, that it should be a road that leads to something that is actually happening and exists. That dam was a promise that was made by the former coalition government that never had the funding, wasn't properly planned and is not proceeding. Senator Roberts, I know you're someone who cares very much about the appropriate use of taxpayers' funds. You would agree, I'm sure, that it's not a good use of taxpayers' funds to build roads that lead to dams that don't exist and won't exist.
But, Senator Roberts, I'm sure you'd also be pleased to have heard me talk about some of the projects in Queensland that are getting funding and that are only possible because of those sorts of decisions about the responsible allocation of funding. Because of that we can now fund the cost increase in the Rockhampton Ring Road project with an extra $348 million in addition to the money that the federal government had allocated. I know Central Queensland is an area that you're interested in, Senator Roberts. By cutting projects that won't exist and that aren't needed, we can fund other things like that. (Time expired)
Your government cancelled the Emu Swamp dam. This water infrastructure would have created 700 jobs, 250 jobs during construction. Your government decision has axed these jobs—gone. Why is the Albanese government hollowing out the bush?
Senator Roberts, I have to reject the premise of your question. Far from the Albanese government hollowing out the bush, especially when we're talking about infrastructure projects, the very announcements we made yesterday not only guaranteed funding for dozens of regional and rural infrastructure projects but, in many cases, actually increased the funding for those projects. We have the opposition saying that there are cuts. I fail to grasp how giving the Rockhampton Ring Road $348 million more money is a cut. To me, that seems like more money, rather than less.
It is the case that there are some projects—some in the cities, some in the bush—that we have decided cannot proceed because there is no funding for them, there is no business case for them, or their costs have blown out so much that they are simply unaffordable. But at the same time, by making those sorts of decisions, we can fund things like the Rockhampton Ring Road. We can fund things like the Charters Towers industrial precinct access.
During the recent drought, Stanthorpe had to resort to water tankers to keep residents supplied with drinking water. The previous government set about fixing that failure of government with this modest dam proposal, Emu Swamp, of just 24 gigalitres. Now your government is axing this project. What are the growing number of residents in the area going to drink?
As I've already explained, Senator Roberts, unfortunately for the good people of the Southern Downs, the Emu Swamp dam project and pipeline didn't have a proper feasibility case and didn't have a proper business case. What it did have was a promise from a coalition who had no intention of delivering it.
As I said, Senator Roberts, there were problems with that project because all it had from the former coalition government was a hollow promise without proper business cases or feasibility cases, let alone actual funding. But at the same time, we are funding a range of water infrastructure projects, including in regional Queensland like the Paradise Dam, an extra $600 million. Senator McGrath used to have a bit to say about that until we committed $600 million more. The Cairns water security project is getting more money. Darwin is getting more money for water supply, as are many other communities.
We are making responsible decisions about funding water infrastructure which actually can be delivered and have business cases attached to them, not just making promises based on colour-coded spreadsheets.