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Thursday, 28 May 1987
Page: 3499

Mr LINDSAY(1.15) —The Burdekin Dam in north Queensland deserves its place in Australian history. There has probably been no other project which has stretched out over the century and which has been so littered with broken promises and political betrayal. But now the Burdekin Dam is a reality. Construction is almost complete and the dam is about half full of water. Its construction is testament to the vision and leadership of the Hawke Government, an authentic Australian government. Its construction is an enduring affirmation of faith by the Hawke Government in the future of north Queensland.

It is almost 100 years since men first documented their dreams of damming the waters of the Burdekin River. Ludwig Leichhardt discovered the river in 1846 and named it after one of his benefactors, a Mrs Burdekin of Sydney. The first dam was proposed 43 years later in 1889 in a report prepared by the renowned engineer, Mr W. H. Mackinnon, who proposed a large dam on the Burdekin river for irrigation purposes. This report heralded a campaign to bring the project to reality which has lasted almost 100 years. The designer of the Sydney harbour Bridge, Dr. J. J. Bradfield, included the Burdekin Dam in his 1945 inland construction scheme, which was a plan to channel the coastal rivers of Australia into the inland.

But it was a Labor government that in 1945 set up a joint Commonwealth-State ministerial committee to investigate northern development, and which in turn selected, for further evaluation, a development proposal based on a dam at the Burdekin Falls site. And it was a Labor government in 1974 that made the first Commonwealth funds available for water resources development in the Burdekin region-namely, a grant of $3m towards the cost of construction of the Clare Weir, which was regarded as a pilot scheme for any future large scale development. At the same time, that Labor Government initiated a Federal-State investigation costing $1m into the potential of the Burdekin basin. Then, in 1983, it was the Hawke Government which honoured a commitment to fully fund the construction of the Burdekin Falls Dam. In September 1983, tenders for construction of the Burdekin Dam were called. Leighton Contractors won the contract and poured the first concrete a year later. Construction of the dam wall was completed on 13 March 1987-a year ahead of schedule. Construction was uninterrupted, as there was no real wet season for years and there were few industrial disputes.

The dam is a mass concrete structure, 876 metres long, including a spillway length of 504 metres, rising some 37 metres above the river bed. The designed storage is 1,850,000 megalitres, inundating over 22,000 hectares of land. The Burdekin Dam will be the largest water storage constructed to date in Queensland. The Burdekin Dam could, in the near future, be enlarged to a capacity of 8,500,000 megalitres, making it the largest water storage on the Australian continent, with potential to support a 500 megawatt hydro-electric power station at the site. The catchment area is 114,220 square kilometres, or about half the size of Victoria, with the irrigation yield of water projected at 850,000 megalitres. Saddle dams and ancillary works will be completed later this year.

The total cost of the work is estimated at approximately $129m. The cost is fully funded by the Hawke Government by way of grant. The Commonwealth's financial commitment to the Burdekin Dam project currently represents over half of the funds allocated to the States for water resource development and management under the Federal water resources assistance program. This commitment demonstrates the priority which the Hawke Government accords to the Townsville-Thuringowa region and to north Queensland. The completion of this dam represents not only the culmination of one of the greatest engineering projects in Australia but also the fulfilment of the legitimate aspirations of the people of north Queensland. Above all, it will provide wealth and stimulus to the growth of the cities of Townsville and Thuringowa. Future development of the cities of Townsville and Thuringowa will be unlimited. I am certain that water from the Burdekin Dam will give life and sustenance to an eventual population of more than one million people living in the Townsville-Thuringowa region.

At present the Townsville-Thuringowa Water Supply Board supplies water to the urban population of 110,000 people in the Townsville and Thuringowa local authorities. For the last five years the people of this region have endured an unprecedented drought. Available water storage levels are very low, and demand is severely restricted. A further wet season failure will be disastrous, adversely affecting the burgeoning tourism industry and other industrial development. The Townsville-Thuringowa Water Supply Board has sought the Queensland Water Resources Commission's recognition of the drastic curtailment of water supply to Townsville and Thuringowa cities, as necessary and sufficient to achieve both Federal and State grant funding of a supply pipeline to carry Burdekin water to the Ross River Dam, the principal water storage system in the Townsville region. It is essential that funding arrangements should allow the earliest possible completion of pipeline construction and commencement of supply. The situation is urgent. Water storage in the Townsville-Thuringowa region is disastrously low. A failed wet season in 1987-88 would demand natural disaster level measures for the supply of water to the Townsville-Thuringowa region.

Honourable members who have supported the development of one of the greatest construction projects of Australia's history will be astounded to learn that the Queensland Government has callously and brutally rejected the claim for financial assistance by the Townsville-Thuringowa Water Supply Board. The Queensland Government has decided to demand that the hard pressed water consumers and ratepayers of the cities of Townsville and Thuringowa pay a standing charge of an extra $35 a megalitre for any water that the cities take from the Burdekin scheme. This charge is in addition to an operating or a delivery charge which is estimated at about $28 for each megalitre delivered. It should be recorded that the Queensland Department of Local Government rating level survey shows Townsville city rating to be amongst the highest in Queensland. The capacity to pay further debt limitation costs by Townsville ratepayers has reached its limit. It has been calculated that if the Queensland Government gets its way, it would add more than $200 to the bill of every ratepayer in Townsville and Thuringowa.

The Federal Government has indicated that it is prepared to provide its share of funding for the scheme. The spanner in the works is the National Party State Government. It is the State Government's responsibility to provide water from the Burdekin Dam for the Townsville-Thuringowa Water Supply Board. It is then the responsibility of the Board to carry out the necessary water reticulation works. The Queensland National Party has no problem funding $10m to prop up a Gold Coast real estate developer and another $7.5m to help finance a film studio for a Hollywood movie mogul. Yet it has turned its back on the people of Townsville and Thuringowa who are seeking nothing more than a reasonable and reliable supply of water. The Premier's son certainly has no problems with water supply to his central Queensland property, but the 110,000 people of Townsville and Thuringowa have been left in the lurch. An excellent editorial in the Townsville Bulletin of 27 May 1987 said:

The State Government is without principle in its determination to charge Townsville residents for the cost of building the Burdekin Dam. There is no moral basis for the stand, nor logic to support it.

The Federal Government paid the full cost of the dam with a $129 million non-repayable grant. Now the State Government wants to recoup the amount ``for the taxpayers of Australia'', says Water Resources Minister Martin Tenni, by slugging Townsville and Thuringowa residents an extra $35 a megalitre for any water the cities take from the Burdekin, if and when a pipeline is built.

The charge would be hard enough to justify if the money was to go to the Federal Government and the charge was to remain only until the original establishment costs were paid for. But this is not what Mr Tenni plans. The $35 a megalitre will go into the State coffers and will remain in force permanently. The demand is outrageous and deserves a very clear rejection from the community.

In addition to the $35, Townsville and Thuringowa residents are being asked by the State to pay $28 a megalitre to contribute to the cost of operating an maintaining the down-river water distribution system and the cost of piping water from the system via a pipeline to the Ross River dam.

Under the State Government proposal the final cost of Burdekin water to Townsville and Thuringowa residents could be as high as $100 a megalitre compared with $18 a megalitre for current supplies from other sources. The Minister has offered to phase in the changes to ease the pain. Inequity phased in is still inequity. Mr Tenni should explain why the State is charging Townsville the cost of dam which has already been paid for by the Federal Government. And why is the money going to State and not Federal coffers? He should also explain why the Burdekin farmers will not face such a charge. To say that Townsville will benefit from new farms in the Burdekin and therefore should foot the bill is fallacious.

Figures supplied by the Townsville local authority representatives suggest that the State has already made significant savings on the construction of channel works in the lower Burdekin but there is no sign that these savings are being passed on.

Townsville and Thuringowa residents are being held at ransom by their State Government over an essential commodity: water. The State Government was elected to help Queenslanders, not rip them off.