Northern Australia represents about 40 per cent of our nation's continent in terms of landmass but it accounts for 60 per cent, or two million gigalitres, of the rainfall that falls across Australia in any year. Of course, its water resources are largely undeveloped compared to the rest of Australia.
Senator McDONALD (Queensland) (14:56):
My question is to the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia. Minister, can you update the Senate on how the Liberal-National government is demonstrating it is on the side of Australians who rely on the development of water infrastructure in northern Australia?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia and Deputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:56):
Thank you, Senator McDonald, for that question. I recognise your longstanding passion to see the development of northern Australia, particularly northern Australia's water resources. You were passionate about that before you came into this place. You will be a great addition to this place and that cause. The government itself is also very passionate about seeing those vast water resources of northern Australia developed. Northern Australia represents about 40 per cent of our nation's continent in terms of landmass but it accounts for 60 per cent, or two million gigalitres, of the rainfall that falls across Australia in any year. Of course, its water resources are largely undeveloped compared to the rest of Australia. CSIRO estimates that up to 17 million hectares could be irrigated in northern Australia. To put that in context: across the whole country right now—in the Murray-Darling and everywhere else—we irrigate only just over two million hectares in any one year. So there is enormous potential in northern Australia.
The federal government, as part of our plan to develop northern Australia, is putting aside $700 million to invest in water infrastructure projects because, when you capture water, you can use it later to create jobs, grow food and help our nation develop. That's why we're putting $176 million towards the Rookwood Weir, which will be the second-biggest piece of water infrastructure in the Fitzroy Basin and help double agricultural production there; $182 million for the Hughenden Irrigation Scheme; and $54 million for the Big Rocks Weir, the first stage of the Hells Gates project. In the election we announced $20 million for more business cases and preconstruction works for the Urannah Dam and the Lakelands Dam as well. There is lots going on here.
We also have lots more potential. CSIRO last year did a groundbreaking study for us. It was the first of its kind in the world. More than 100 of its best scientists were looking at frontier catchments in the Mitchell region, Cape York, the Darwin catchment in the Northern Territory and the Fitzroy catchment in Western Australia. They found that 387,000 hectares in just those three catchments could create 15,000 jobs. We're getting on with the job of creating those jobs because we're on the side of developing our water resources.
The PRESIDENT: Senator McDonald, a supplementary question.
Senator McDONALD(Queensland) (14:58):
What is the current status of the Rookwood Weir project in Central Queensland?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia and Deputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:59):
I did mention the Rookwood Weir project in answer to the first question. It is near where I live in Central Queensland. It is a massive project that could help double agricultural production in the Fitzroy catchment. The Fitzroy catchment is the second-largest water catchment in eastern Australia after the Murray-Darling. It has huge potential to grow and develop. It is great news that last week the Queensland government finally announced some works on this project, announcing a tender for some roads that need to be upgraded around the project. The federal government has had money on the table for Rookwood Weir since 2016. They were first off the rank here. We've had money there for three years now. We were just waiting and waiting and waiting, and now it's starting to drip-feed out to the people of Central Queensland. Maybe the election result had something to do with that. But we're hoping that, soon, we'll see water stored there and the wall poured—maybe next year, hopefully, if the dry season holds up—and we'll get a weir there that can create jobs and grow food in Central Queensland for all Australians.
Senator McDonald, a final supplementary question.
Senator McDONALD (Queensland) (15:00):
What are the economic benefits of developing water infrastructure like Rookwood Weir for northern Australia?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia and Deputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (15:00):
Our agenda to develop northern Australia is not just for those in northern Australia. It will help all of our nation, because when parts of our nation develop and grow the rest of the country benefits as well. That's what happened when we built the Snowy hydro scheme: the whole country benefited even though the investment was down there. That's what happened when the Pilbara opened up to iron ore exports in the 1960s and 1970s. The whole nation benefited from that, and the development of northern Australia will also help the whole of Australia benefit and develop too.
We know that when you create more economic opportunity you create more jobs, and when you create more jobs you create more families in Australia who can support themselves, and if you have more families that can support themselves it's a better future for the children and grandchildren in this country. That's why we're developing these water resources. It's not about building the dam; it's about building the opportunity that helps all Australians grow and develop and have a more positive future for our country. All of these projects will help do that, and they are only the start, given the vast array of water resources and good quality soils in our north.