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Monday, 8 October 1984
Page: 1358


Senator JONES —Has the attention of the Minister for Resources and Energy been drawn to a report in last week's Courier-Mail which reveals that the Queensland State Budget has approved $4.5m for a dam on the Mackenzie River near Duaringa which benefits the Bjelke-Petersen family company? Is he aware that the dam has never appeared on any list of priorities for water resource projects in Queensland, yet the residents of Karumba on the Gulf of Carpentaria have never enjoyed the basic benefits of a regular supply of fresh water to their town and are still awaiting the same amount of $4.5m needed to ensure a decent water supply for the people of Karumba.


Senator WALSH —Yes, I am aware of the Brisbane Courier-Mail report to which Senator Jones referred, which evidently was based on disclosures made in the Queensland Parliament by Mr Casey, the member for Mackay. The factual situation, in brief, is that the Queensland Government announced with its State Budget that it was constructing a dam on the Mackenzie River at a cost of just over $4m. Some 35 kilometres downstream from the proposed dam site a company called Ciasom Pty Ltd owns some 30,000 hectares of farm land. In that company there are 20 $1 paid-up shares, 15 of which are held by Florence Bjelke-Petersen, two by her son John and one by each of her three daughters-who are also, of course, children of the Queensland Premier.

Some 18 or 19 days before that announcement was made in the Queensland Budget notices appeared in the Queensland Government Gazette of applications, in two instances, to pump from the anabranch and the Mackenzie River and, in the third instance, for the installation of an 18-inch pump, I believe it was, in a water hole of the Mackenzie River itself. I am advised that a pump of that size would, in a matter of a few days, have emptied the particular waterhole in the Mackenzie River unless the river was flowing. The river does not flow at a significant rate all year round. Therefore, quite clearly, unless there was some means of replenishing the water in the hole for which the application to install the 18-inch centrifugal pump was lodged there would be no point in installing a pump of that size. Of course the construction of a dam somewhat upstream from the area in which the application to install the 18-inch pump was lodged would ensure there was water to replenish the waterhole for which the proposed pump was to be installed. It is a matter of speculation-although fairly pointed speculation-whether there was prior knowledge by people who lodged that application, the Ciasom company, of the fact that the Queensland Government proposed to construct that five metre concrete weir somewhat upstream on the Mackenzie River.

The other aspect of Senator Jones's question concerns whether an application has ever been made by the Queensland Government for funding for that weir on the Mackenzie River. The answer to that is an unequivocal no. In neither this year nor any previous year has the Queensland Government submitted any proposal for Commonwealth funding for the construction of that weir. However, the Queensland Government did, in its most recent application, have as priority number nine an application for a similar amount of money for a water supply for the town of Karumba, thereby implying quite clearly that in the Queensland Government's view Karumba should take priority over the weir which it now proposes to build on the Mackenzie River. I think the implication of that is fairly obvious; the Queensland Government, which just a few months ago gave priority to funding a water supply for Karumba, has now abandoned that priority and decided instead to construct a weir on the Mackenzie River which, coincidentally or otherwise, happens to provide the necessary water supply for the applications for pumping lodged by Ciasom Pty Ltd, the Bjelke-Petersen family company.

I suggest to Senator Jones that, as a conscientious senator representing the State of Queensland and therefore the town of Karumba, among other areas, he should suggest to the people of Karumba that they approach the Queensland Government with a view to having these funds diverted from the construction of the weir on the Mackenzie River to the supply of water for the township of Karumba, since that was the priority which, implicitly at least, the Queensland Government had given when it made application for Federal funding. I also emphasise two points in case they were not taken the first time. Firstly, I state unequivocally that no application has ever been made by the Queensland Government for Federal funding for the dam on the Mackenzie River but an application was made for the funding of a water supply for Karumba.

Finally, it does not encourage the Commonwealth Government to make provision for water supplies in any State if suddenly particular projects which will benefit particular people, which had not even been in the queue beforehand, can suddenly be bumped to the top of the queue, as was the case with the Queensland Government and the proposed construction of a dam on the Mackenzie River.