A few years ago the government outlined a visionary white paper to develop northern Australia and, in that white paper, we committed to look at the water resources of three water catchments across the north: the Mitchell River in the cape, the Darwin catchment in the Northern Territory and the Fitzroy River in Western Australia.
Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:45):
My question is to the Minister—
Senator Cameron interjecting—
Senator IAN MACDONALD:
for Resources and Northern Australia, Senator Canavan, and I ask the minister if he could advise the Senate on any recent developments regarding northern Australia's water resources and how these can help unlock northern Australia's economic potential. And, further, for the assistance of the Labor Party—
Senator Cameron interjecting—
Senator IAN MACDONALD:
members, could he explain to the Senate, for Labor Party members' benefit, where northern Australia is?
I remind all senators: I have demanded silence during questions.
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) (14:45):
I thank Senator Macdonald for his question and recognise his longstanding interest in long-term planning for our north. I might deal with his latter question first. I think if I asked anyone on the other side to put up their hand if they live in northern Australia, you'd have no-one—no-one at all! But, over on this side, we do have Senate representation in the 40 per cent of our landmass that does make up northern Australia.
A few years ago the government outlined a visionary white paper to develop northern Australia and, in that white paper, we committed to look at the water resources of three water catchments across the north: the Mitchell River in the cape, the Darwin catchment in the Northern Territory and the Fitzroy River in Western Australia. The CSIRO has had 100 of our best and brightest scientists working on this for the past 2½ years, and they have reported that there is great potential across those three water catchments, and that potentially nearly 400,000 hectares could be irrigated across these three water catchments. That would mean an additional 15,000 jobs across northern Australia and more than $5 billion in annual economic activity for Australia. This is great news for our country—that we can, if we have the vision, do long-term things for the benefit of our nation. They have used the best science to look at this.
This is 400,000 hectares. To put that into context, we only irrigate just over two million hectares today, right across Australia. So 400,000 extra hectares in the north is an enormous increase in our agricultural potential, just across three water catchments. That is why the AgForce CEO, Michael Guerin, says that an objective analysis like this from our respected national science agency really drives home just how much potential there is for agriculture to grow and create jobs in Far North Queensland. That's a vision that we share. I know that's a vision that Senator Macdonald shares. We need all of this parliament to share a vision and a plan for northern Australia.
Senator Macdonald, a supplementary question.
Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:47):
I thank the minister for telling us that very exciting news on the work that CSIRO has done, and I further ask the minister if he could tell the Senate about government initiatives that have already delivered on much-needed water infrastructure.
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) (14:48):
The CSIRO's work is just one part of our drive to develop the water resources of Australia and particularly of northern Australia. The coalition already has allocated $2.6 billion to invest specifically in water infrastructure. We've made available $580 million from the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund, and there is a $2 billion water infrastructure fund within the Regional Investment Corporation as well. Of those funds, $230 million has already been allocated or has funded projects in northern Australia specifically, including a $176 million commitment to the Rookwood Weir on the Fitzroy River in Central Queensland, which can deliver over 2,000 jobs. That is something we committed to do at the last election, and, finally, we've got the Queensland government—two years or so on from that—committed to that as well. So that will happen. Jobs will be delivered in Central Queensland. That will double agricultural production and will take this nation forward.
Senator Macdonald, a final supplementary question.
Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:49):
I ask the minister, finally, what are the consequences of failing to take advantage of northern Australia's vast water resources?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) (14:49):
We can probably best see what the consequences of not acting are by looking back on what we've done in the past and what that has achieved and delivered for our nation. The last major dam built in northern Australia—I know Senator Macdonald would know it very well—the Burdekin dam, was built under a coalition government in Queensland. There was a federal Labor government at the time. Bob Hawke, the former leader of the Labor Party, on the opening of that dam, said:
For almost a century the dream of a dam upon the Burdekin River has inspired generations of people with the promise of new prosperity for North Queensland. Today we mark the realisation of that dream the completion of the Burdekin Dam and the formal opening of a new era …
That used to be the Labor Party. Last week, when the CSIRO's report came out, do you know what the Labor Party said: 'It was a thought bubble.' In their words, it was a 'thought bubble'. After 2½ years and 100 scientists working on it, the Labor Party dismissed it as a thought bubble. Bob Hawke wouldn't have done that. Welcome to the modern Labor Party.