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Wednesday, 6 February 2013
Page: 226

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (09:35): In the couple of minutes I had at the end of the session discussing the Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012 last night, I indicated that the contributions that had been made by my colleagues clearly looked into all aspects of the bill and I think my colleagues have done the chamber a service in their forensic examination of the issues in this particular bill. I want to take the opportunity to demonstrate why in the past, and this bill shows this clearly, we have not dealt with and managed water as perhaps we should have, and I want to highlight the opportunities that are available in Australia for the sustainable use of water in our country.

It would not surprise too many people that my interest in water is particularly directed to Northern Australia, where more than 60 per cent of Australia's water run-off occurs. Less than five per cent of the surface run-off of that water is currently put to use. The total water run-off in Northern Australia in three key drainage divisions in 2004-05 was 152,500 gigalitres, whereas the total water use for agriculture in all of Australia was about 12,200 gigalitres. I repeat that: 152,500 gigalitres run-off, but only about one-twelfth of that, about 12,000 gigalitres, is used for agriculture in Australia.

There are many who, when looking at Northern Australia, say, 'We should pipe it down from the north; we should build channels to bring it down.' But I am one of the school that says we should be using water where it falls. The CSIRO have done a lot of work in looking at the soils across Northern Australia. There is no doubt, as I have demonstrated, that there is plenty of water in Northern Australia. It is a very regular supply of water, it is much more secure than water in the south of Australia and, if you believe the climate change alarmists, it is going to continue to be the case—that is, more secure in the north, less secure in the south.

CSIRO have found that there are about 17 million hectares of land in Northern Australia that have been assessed as potentially suitable for agriculture on account of their arable soil. I am not one to suggest we should be farming some 17 million hectares with irrigation across the north, but it is clear that there are opportunities in the north—bearing in mind that only two million hectares of land is today used for agriculture in Australia and there is, I repeat, 17 million hectares of land that could be irrigated and utilised in the north of Australia.

As the coalition's spokesman on Northern Australia, I have obviously had a long interest and been across a lot of Northern Australia. I also did that when I was privileged to be a member of the Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce in the time that it was so admirably led by my colleague Senator Heffernan. That task force really opened the eyes of many people in South Australia to the opportunities in the north. Not so long ago I visited a place called Gogo Station near Fitzroy Crossing in Western Australia, and we were told—I and my colleagues who were there—that there were tens of thousands of hectares on this station alone with suitable soil for both wet season and irrigated agriculture. That station has already conducted successful trials growing sorghum and other stations in the area produce hay. There is real opportunity for growing practically anything. In my state of Queensland I never cease talking about two very good but not terribly well-known off-storage water arrangements on the Flinders River and the Leichhardt River, where water is taken out at times of flood and is stored, and then there are massive agricultural activities. At the Flinders River, at Silver Hills, various crops have been grown successfully. At Lorraine Station on the Leichhardt River, cattle fodder is grown, making the cattle operations on that station so much more attractive. In addition to that, the mighty Burdekin Falls Dam, clearly on the Burdekin River, not far from where I live, has revolutionised agriculture in the lower Burdekin district and has provided a secure supply of water to the large and growing northern city of Townsville. There is opportunity for increased water usage out of the Burdekin. A lot of studies have been done, most recently by Stanmore, on harnessing the water at the Burdekin Falls Dam for hydropower. It may need an increase in the dam wall, but there are opportunities to provide clean and green energy from hydropower. The Tinaroo Dam in North Queensland is underutilised. It provides opportunities for increased agricultural production.

The world's population is growing exponentially each year and there are many billions of people who go to bed every night hungry or underfed, and Australia has the opportunity—and, indeed, I think the obligation—to use its resources to provide food for the world. Senators have heard for a long time how the growing middle class in the subcontinent, in China and the rest of South-East Asia, will mean that Australian agricultural produce will be more and more in demand. Clearly, the interest shown in the second stage of the Ord scheme confirms this.

I am delighted that the West Australian government has proceeded with the second stage of the Ord. I look forward to seeing massive infrastructure and job creation opportunities there as a result. I am also pleased that, with the change of government in the Northern Territory, the Northern Territory is now very keen to be part of the third stage of the Ord River scheme, which goes across the border into the Territory. The Ord scheme was a visionary project of the Menzies government—something that we have regrettably seen little of in the last seven years, or in the Hawke-Keating governments. There has been no vision forward for Australia. The Ord scheme has been criticised, but there is evidence that it is coming into its own. It will show that Menzies' vision in creating this opportunity for development and growth and food in the north-west of Australia was justified. As I have travelled around the north I have spoken to traditional owners, and I am delighted that the Northern Land Council is talking about opportunities for Indigenous people with the expansion of the Ord project into the fertile lands of the Northern Territory.

My point in raising these things as I speak about this bill on the Murray-Darling is that we did make mistakes regarding the Murray-Darling. With respect, I suggest that a lot of them was through overallocation by governments—principally Labor governments in New South Wales, determined to curry favours in that particular state. It is quite clear that Labor governments were quite a adept at doing that in various ways.

We did make mistakes in the Murray-Darling, there is not doubt about it. Australia is now clever enough to learn from our mistakes and use science and technology to harness this huge resource we have in Northern Australia. For a couple of decades now, mainly before what is occurring now—the fall of the Greens political party and the Greens movement—there was this mantra that came out right across Australia, 'no dams, no dams, no dams'. In fact, if you even mentioned the word 'dam' you were accused of lying; of saying swear words. I use 'dam' in the sense of a water storage and not in the other sense that it is used. The Greens political party and their allies had, over a period of three decades, convinced or bullied Australian governments into ignoring dams. In fact, after Senator Heffernan left the chairmanship of the Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce and was replaced by appointments from the Labor Party, that task force was specifically told by the Labor government not to look at—not to look at!—dams. You could look at anything else in Northern Australia, but you were not to look at dams. Why? Because Labor governments in Queensland, in Western Australia and federally were there only because of second preferences from the Greens political party and the Greens political party did not want anyone to look at dams. Governments in those two states, when they were controlled by Labor, and the federal government, were keen to look at Northern Australia and how it could be developed, but they did not want to even mention the word 'dams'.

I am delighted that Tony Abbott was determined to change that culture in Australia. More than a year ago he set up a dams task group, of which I was fortunate enough to be a member. That group has travelled widely right throughout Australia looking at where dams could be built sustainably and without impact on the environment. We have had an enormous number of submissions—from, I might say, even the Greens political party themselves—which have all been taken into account. Tony Abbott will be saying more about that some time between now and the next election.

The purpose of that task group was to make Australians understand that the word 'dam' is no longer a dirty word. The results of the task group's investigations will clearly show that a majority of Australians understand how important dams are, not just for water storage, agriculture and irrigator use but also to help with flooding and to prevent damage that occurs when rivers run wild.

It is also interesting to note that a couple of Ramsar listed wetlands, up in the Western Australian region, are there because of the Ord River dam. I have always waited to hear the Greens explanation of this; they are totally opposed to the Ord River dam. But because of the Ord River dam, the wetlands created by that dam have actually received World Heritage listing in the Ramsar list of wetlands.

There are opportunities; we did make mistakes in the Murray-Darling and because of that we have the legislation that is before us today that is needed to try and sort out the mess. My colleagues from this side, in their contributions to the debate, have pointed out where things could be done better, whilst the Labor Party have about as much interest and expertise in water management as they do in financial management—I think everyone would accept that is zero, zilch. In the future, we want to avoid debating bills like this in the parliament through the clever, scientific and sustainable use of the water with which we are so highly blessed in Northern Australia. I look forward, today, to when there will be a government in charge in Australia who will understand what an asset we have there and what good we can do for the hungry and the poor of the world by properly and sustainably exploiting the assets that we are blessed with to provide better resources for the peoples of the world. Mr Deputy President, in relation to this bill, of course, I follow my colleagues in their comments and their indication of our voting position on the bill.