Water, water everywhere and nary a drop to drink a taste for new dams in Northern Australia, 7th June 2011.


Thanks for your very warm Rotary welcome. Its always a delight for me to be with people, genuine people who do things for other members of the community.
I am no stranger to service clubs myself. I was a member of Apex for many years when I was a few years younger than I am now.
I guess theres a natural progression for Apexians to graduate to Rotary membership but I chose politics rather than Rotary.
Cynics sometimes argue that politicians dont make good Rotarians because they cant live up to the spirit of Rotarys Four-Way Test.
Those socially challenged among you who have nothing better to do than watch parliamentary proceedings on TV would never believe that any politician, apart of course from myself, could ever tell the truth, could ever be fair, could ever build goodwill about anything or be beneficial to anyone about anything.
The theme of my talk today is dams and water a subject that has been in the headlines over this year because of flooding in Central and South-East Queensland and Victoria, and of course heavy rain associated with Cyclone Yasi which hit our region.
And while we have had plenty of water in recent times as we do in cycles of climate little of it is preserved to drink or indeed to produce the food that keeps us alive (and the 80 million new mouths that come into the world every year that need to be fed as well.
Rotarians, as you know, we live in the driest inhabited continent on earth; droughts, fire and flooding rains are integral parts of the cycle of life in this very great country of ours.
As a continent, we do have one of the lowest rainfalls in the world and about three-quarters of our landmass is classified as either arid or semi-arid.
Up here in the North, we enjoy bountiful rainfall during the annual wet season.
Millions of megalitres of this clean, fresh rainwater pour out into the ocean through the Norths major rivers the Flinders, the Gilbert, the Herbert, the Burdekin and the Fitzroy Rivers in North Queensland ; the Fitzroy and the Ord Rivers in north-west WA and the Daly, East Alligator and McArthur Rivers in the Northern Territory.
I saw some staggering figures on this topic recently: the combined mean annual runoff from three of the largest undammed rivers in the North namely, the Herbert, Gilbert and the Fitzroy Rivers is some 8,800 gigalitres. Thats equivalent to an average of 16 full-tide Sydney Harbours in any given year.
Almost a quarter of Australias total runoff flows out into the Gulf of Carpentaria each year.
So, gentlemen, we dont really have a rainfall problem what we have in Australia is a water management problem.
It would seem logical to me, therefore, that we should build dams on our major rivers (a) to store water for those inevitable dry spells; (b) as a flood mitigation exercise; and (c) to provide reliable irrigation for grazing and cropping.
It would also seem logical to me to use this water as a source of clean, zero-emissions hydro-electricity just as we did with the mighty Snowy River Scheme.
Interestingly, we started building dams in Queensland in 1866 when the Brisbane City Council funded a modest reservoir on Enoggera Creek. In the following 135 years from 1866 to 2001, we had built a total of 113 dams or reservoirs including the Ross River Dam here in Townsville in 1971, the Eungella Dam near Mackay, Lake Moondarra in Mount Isa, Lake Tinaroo at Atherton and the Burdekin Dam near my home town of Ayr. That works out to a little over one dam a year over the past 135 years.
But in the last 10 years, only two dams have been built the Paradise Dam on the Burnett River and the Wyaralong Dam near Beaudesert.
Thats one dam built every five years despite a 21 percent increase in Queenslands population and a significant expansion in industrial activity.
The decline in dam building coincides with the exponential rise in the power of the anti-dam lobby, particularly the Loony Left who are totally opposed to building new dams.
With the extreme Left of Australian politics now controlling the Federal Government, it is therefore safe to say there will be no new dams on the radar.
Coalition Leader Tony Abbott was quite right when he said Australia had developed a dams phobia. The word DAMS has become the four-letter word we dare not speak.
But Im pleased to say Tony Abbott has vowed to take direct action to reverse this negative trend and has set up a Dams Task Group will look at ways of harnessing Australias water assets in the national interest. I, as Shadow Coalition spokesman for Northern and Remote Australia, have been asked to serve on this body.
I led the group on its first inspection of potential dam sites last month. It was fitting that the groups first visit was to Richmond, Hughenden and Georgetown where we inspected the proposed Mount Beckford Dam site on the Flinders River, the OConnell Creek Diversion plan and the Gilbert River dam proposal near Georgetown.
We also overflew the mighty Burdekin Dam and will be looking at that more closely later this year. As well, we will be having another look at the Hells Gate, Koombooloomba and Urannah Dams also.
A key part of our investigations will be to ensure that any dam sites we identify must be cost-efficient. That means that dams should only be built when they can effectively serve a purpose - either to avoid the billion-dollar damage bill that flood mitigation could have saved, or to water suitable lands to grow crops that people want and need in places when they can be efficiently transported, or to supply clean power.
At the last election, we committed $500 million towards increasing Australias water harvesting capacity including through new and expanded dams. The Task Groups fact-finding project will enable us to engage with the general public and will form the basis of the water policy the Coalition takes to the next election.
Most of Australias major rivers are in the north of the continent, in relatively close proximity to the economic powerhouses of China and India and if, as predicted by the climate change industry, the Murray-Darling Basin is likely to collapse as a major food source, we do need places to secure the food supply for Australia and for many other hungry parts of the world.
There are a number of what I believe to be viable water conservation projects that are currently stalled by the Queensland State Government fear of losing the Greens second preferences.
There are least two in the North: The OConnell Creek Overflow and the Green Hills Dam on the Gilbert near Georgetown.
Unfortunately, the Nathan Dam on the Dawson River near Emerald, vital for flood mitigation and to provide water for local mines, needs Federal and State Government leadership to bring it into being.
I am pleased to see that Stanwell Corporation Limited is nearing a final investment decision on the merits of a hydro-electricity project at the Burdekin Dam along with possible upstream gas investments.
But the tangle of red tape continues to grow. You could be forgiven for thinking the Queensland State Government was trying to stifle development rather than encourage it. Developers and primary producers have had to grapple with tree clearing legislation, native title issues and now the ill-thought-out Wild Rivers legislation that most of the indigenous people living in the Gulf and the Cape dont want.
The Wild Rivers legislation was drafted over a cappuccino in West End with members of the Wilderness Society so that Labor could secure the support of the greenies.
If we fail to grasp this nation-building opportunity by continuing to do nothing for fear of upsetting the radical greenies, Australia will no longer be able to lay claim to being the lucky country.
Australias short 220-year history as a nation is defined by the exploits of great men and women who looked beyond the horizon and were undaunted by the doomsayers.
That same spirit should now be a guiding light for politicians of all persuasions as we look to arm our nation with the infrastructure that will ensure we realize our full potential. And that our future generations need never again be worrying about having nary a drop to drink.
Can I finish by again paying tribute to the wonderful practical work done by Rotarians not just here in Townsville, but the world over.
Hundreds of thousands of people have benefited from the work of this particular club the Rotary Club of Townsville since it was chartered in 1926.
We can thank your club for the Bush Childrens Home at Rowes Bay, the Traffic Training Centre in Currajong, the hundreds of thousands of dollars raised for the Good Shepherd Nursing Home and other North Queensland charities not to mention Rotarys many life-saving projects such as Bowelscan and Polio Plus that the club supports.
I also commend Rotary for the wonderful work the organisation performed during Cyclone Yasi.
I thank you on behalf of all North Queenslanders.

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