STATEMENTS BY SENATORS - Water


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (13:43): Today I want to speak about opportunities for water storage, water reticulation and water management, particularly in the northern part of our country, which receives more rainfall than any other part of Australia and, indeed, more rainfall than many parts of the world. Regrettably, there are all too few dams in the north. The last that I can recall being built in the north, and really anywhere in Australia, was the Fairbairn Dam at Emerald, which was built by a Liberal government back some decades ago. Then there's the Burdekin Dam near where I live, again initiated by the Fraser Liberal government some years ago. The Tinaroo Dam in the far north was a little time before that. But, since then, there has been very little activity on water storage and reticulation anywhere in my state of Queensland and not much across the Top End, apart from, of course, the outstanding example of the Ord River dam. Again that was an initiative of the Menzies government more than 50 years ago.

The coalition government federally, following its north Australia white paper initiatives, in developing northern Australia has been trying to get the Queensland state government interested in some water storage proposals in the north of the state. The drought that is gripping parts of south-west Queensland and western New South Wales these days shows the absolute necessity, urgency and critical nature of getting managed water facilities in our country where we have access to this huge rainfall.

The CSIRO have just completed major inquiries into three water storage proposals across the north of Australia—one at the Mitchell River, one around Darwin and one at the Fitzroy River in Western Australia. CSIRO, never known for the lightness of their work—they always do everything in a very detailed fashion—have spent some years, at federal government expense, I might say, investigating these three proposals. Just a couple of weeks ago they put out the results of their investigation and they are all very, very positive. I look forward to the Queensland government, who, of course, own the streams and rivers—they're the only ones that can do anything—reading these reports from CSIRO and doing something positive to harness, store, use and manage the water that is available in northern Australia.

Apart from these three sites across the north, there is a lot of other interest in water facilities. Pursuant to the coalition government's northern Australia white paper and the money that was allocated following it to water investigation proposals, the coalition government has instituted feasibility studies in relation to the Nullinga Dam west of Cairns, the Urannah Dam west of Bowen and just south of Ayr, where I live, the Cave Hill dam out near Cloncurry and the Mount Isa area and also the Big Rocks Weir on the Burdekin River near Charters Towers, which is part of the Hells Gates proposal north-west of Townsville. These feasibility studies have been funded by the Commonwealth government, with not a cent put into them by the Queensland government, I might say. The Hells Gates feasibility study, I understand, was made available to the Queensland government some months ago now, but it still hasn't been released publicly by the Queensland government. Why, you might ask, do the Queensland government have anything to do with it? They haven't put one cent into the Hells Gates proposal but regrettably, under our Constitution, as I said before, if it happens within streams, rivers or any water within the state then it is the constitutional responsibility of the Queensland government. So, regrettably, all of these proposals have to go to the Queensland government, who sit on them, no doubt working out how they can take some political advantage of initiatives that the Commonwealth have introduced.

I wanted to also mention the Tully-Millstream proposals that were around quite a lot almost 30 years ago before they were shelved by a Labor government at the time. The Tully Falls comes off the Atherton Tablelands near Tully, just south of Cairns, and the water goes through the Koombooloomba Dam and then falls dramatically to the Kareeya power station, with a very small turbine at the end of it that's been operating for decades already. There were proposals to increase the activity in that Tully Hydro scheme and this would have given northern Australia and Northern Queensland, in particular, guaranteed baseload power from a renewable source—water—with no carbon emissions whatsoever.

Of course the Labor Party, because they are controlled by the Greens and exist in government in Queensland only because of Greens preferences, refuse to do anything about it. But there have been a number of proposals. The old Tully Millstream proposal has been updated, and a proposal was put forward by the then member for Hinchinbrook, Mr Andrew Cripps, who was a very effective member for Hinchinbrook in North Queensland and an excellent minister for natural resources—probably the best Queensland's had in 20 or 30 years. He put forward a very detailed proposal for upgrading that old in-river hydro scheme. There is another proposal around, instituted by a number of dedicated North Queenslanders and a group called the Queensland Electricity Users Network, of which Ms Jennifer Brownie is the coordinator. They've looked at the old Tully Millstream proposal and have made calculations and done a lot of engineering work at their own expense on how the Tully Millstream could be converted into a pumped hydro scheme. It would involve a small location, a small collection pit, in the Tully River, at the bottom of the falls, where the water could be captured and then pumped up the hill—again, at night-time, when there isn't such a big demand for electricity—into Koombooloomba Dam and then released back down during the day, between 4 pm and 6 pm, when electricity use in the north is at astronomical levels.

Unfortunately in the north now we have to rely on transmission lines from way down south. We're subject to monopoly control by a Queensland government-owned business entity that makes a squillion dollars out of users in the north, particularly business users, who are not subsidised. This Queensland government business entity makes a squillion dollars at the expense of people in the north, particularly businesses, and the Queensland government pockets the money, because they can't manage money; they're broke and they use the taxpayers, the electricity users, to address this. But this idea of a pumped hydro ticks all the boxes. It provides baseload power. It provides power that is renewable. It provides power that has no carbon emissions, if you're worried about those. It is cost-effective. And we are hoping that the federal government—because the Queensland government won't do it—might do a concept study into pumped hydro at Tully Millstream and, if that looks good, do a full feasibility study in the hope that when all this expert evidence comes out the Queensland government might at last ignore the Greens, who control them, and actually do something for water storage and for more-reliable electricity, particularly in the north of our state.

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