Opportunity for Fitzroy Basin

Tonight I would like to speak about the enormous opportunities that would exist for our nation if we were to develop the water resources of the Fitzroy Basin. Enormous opportunities exist in the Fitzroy Basin in Central Queensland.

All of us in this chamber would know of, have heard of, and would understand, somewhat, the importance of the Murray-Darling Basin. It is a food bowl for our nation. It has been of great public policy interest in the past decade, and it is something that has been inquired into and looked at many, many times. It is part of our history as a nation.

Few people would know much, if anything at all, of the Fitzroy Basin in Central Queensland. There are two Fitzroy Basins in Australia—there is another in Senator Bullock's state in WA. The Fitzroy Basin in Central Queensland is the second biggest water catchment in our country. The Murray-Darling is the biggest—we all know that—but the second biggest in our country is the Fitzroy Basin around Rockhampton. More water flows out of the Fitzroy River south of Rockhampton and south of Yeppoon than any other river system on our eastern seaboard. It is the largest water catchment on our eastern seaboard, and it has enormous potential and opportunity to develop our nation and to develop a new regional economy in our country.

In the Murray-Darling system, if you add up all the major storages and dams in the system, those dams and storages have the capacity to store around 80 per cent of the annual average flows of water in the Murray-Darling Basin. There are about 33,000 gigs of that. Eighty per cent of those can be stored in dams or storages in that system. I should say that is 80 per cent as a consequence of the development that has occurred as a nation: we built dams, we got ahead, we built the Snowy Mountains scheme and we did other things in the Northern Basin to store water—offstream storages and other options. The nation has benefited greatly from all of the development.

In the Fitzroy Basin, less than 30 per cent of the average annual flows can be stored in dams or storages, which of course means that it is a much less regulated system, which of course means it is much harder for us to harness the opportunities that exist in that system currently. I believe that there is enormous potential for us to do more of that and invest in that region so that we can capture and store more of this water—put it behind a wall or in a tank and store it for later use—because water in a dam or in offstream storage is money in the bank. It is the equivalent of putting money in the bank, because at some point in the future you will use that water to grow food and help underpin the development of industry or simply the growth of towns and communities, and that is certainly needed in Central Queensland. I want to talk about all of those aspects.

Two weeks ago, the member for Capricornia, Michelle Landry, the member for Flynn, Ken O'Dowd, and I hosted a Fitzroy water workshop in Rockhampton to discuss the options for better use of water and to discuss the need for more water in the region. I want to thank the community of the Fitzroy Basin proper. People from all over the place—from as far down as Theodore, out from Emerald and also, of course, from Rockhampton and Yeppoon—came to that meeting. We had about 130 people there. It was a very successful discussion. I also want to thank the minister for Northern Australia, Mr Josh Frydenberg, who was able to be at that forum as well to hear about the enormous opportunities that exist in this part of Northern Australia.

There are detailed proposals in place for water storage in this region and there are specific needs for more water as well. Down on the coast, around Yeppoon, the Livingstone Shire Council needs more water to underpin the development of its community and town. It is a fast-growing and beautiful community on the coast. Gladstone, further south down the road, needs more water to develop its industry. It is a hub of aluminium smelting and other industries, like fertiliser production, and it has traditionally been a high user of energy, but, wherever you want to use energy, you usually need water as well, and they will be restricted in the future if new water sources are not found. In Rockhampton, where my office is, while traditionally they do not run out of water, there is a risk that in dry years Rockhampton could be facing water storages and new storages could help them manage that risk and ensure that the substantial city of Rockhampton does not face a drought in water supply.

On top of all those things in the towns, cities and industries, there is of course enormous potential for agricultural production in the Fitzroy Basin. It already is an enormous agricultural producer for our nation. More cattle live, breathe and ultimately, unfortunately, sometimes have to do die in the Fitzroy Basin than in the Northern Territory. There is more cattle in that little region, in the Fitzroy Basin, than in the Northern Territory. It is the most productive cattle producing region in our country, but it has enormous potential for additional production and turnover, particularly through the development of more grain, more cotton and consequently more feedlots to increase throughput in that region. That will mean more jobs in the meat processing facilities that are resident in Rockhampton. There is great potential in this region.

In the time left available to me I want to spell out some of the detailed proposals that are on the table at the moment in the region and options for development. There are four main potential options at the moment, although there will be many more in the future. Four have been worked up into some level of detail. I appreciate the input we had from SunWater, the Queensland government water supplier in regional areas, who was generous enough to present to the water conference about the options. First of all, near Rockhampton is a weir called the Eden Bann Weir. It could be lifted higher to store more water and it would deliver around 80,000 megalitres a year—quite a substantial amount. Further down the road is the proposed Rookwood weir—it is not a weir at the moment—and it has the potential to generate similar amounts of water per year. Those projects would largely be for the towns and communities that I mentioned and the industries in Gladstone. There would also be some boutique and opportunistic agricultural opportunities, particularly with horticulture, in that region.

There are other projects in other places. There is the Connors River Dam, which is north of Rockhampton, in the north-east of the catchment. It receives the most rainfall in the catchment and is probably the most productive dam that is under consideration. It has already received federal and state environmental approvals—a very important aspect to developing these projects, particularly when you are talking about an area that is in the Great Barrier Reef catchment area. It was close to being built. Indeed, people on the ground were starting the early works on the dam. It was principally going to be used to supply coalmines in the Bowen Basin and possible future mines in the Galilee Basin. However, with the coalmining downturn, some of those customers have left and the mine is not proceeding as is. But there are opportunities to rework that proposal to expand agriculture, particularly at the Isaac and Mackenzie rivers—there are very productive and fertile plains close to the rivers—and irrigation in that area could potentially produce more broadacre and high-value crops like cotton, grain and others.

Much further south in the Basin, near a place called Taroom, west of Harvey Bay, is a project called the Nathan Dam. Some in this place may be familiar with the Nathan Dam. It has been spoken about for almost 100 years. It was first raised in the Queensland parliament in 1926, if I am correct, and it has been an ongoing saga. A few years ago, I believe it was the Beattie government—and I give credit to the former Queensland Labor government—that put it back on the table to expand cotton production largely in the region. It was worked up as a proposal. As part of the environmental approval process, 850 boggomoss snails were found on the site and the federal department of the environment at the time said that the proponents would need to see if the snails could be relocated before the project could continue. Subsequently, they found 18,000 snails nearby and said, 'We know that they can exist and there are plenty of these guys. Surely we can go ahead.' But not so fast—

Senator Payne: "A snail's pace?"

It is going at a snail's pace, Senator Payne. That joke has been mentioned before but it is worth repeating. Some environmental officials are now saying that those 850 snails are an important subspecies that needs protection as well. I think we need to get over this dam phobia in our nation and get ahead and build some things. I look across the chamber and see Senator Gallagher, who was a chief minister of a state which massively expanded a dam here in the ACT. I believe it was the Cotter Dam.

Senator Gallagher: "And then it rained."

Then it rained, did it - or it did not rain? We may need to take some hints from her, because we certainly need that kind of drive in Central Queensland.

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