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Queensland: residents say they have been bullied by supporters of the proposed Mary River dam.

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Tu esday 17 April 2007

Queensland: residents say they have been bullied by supporters of the proposed Mary River dam


PETER CAVE: A Senate inquiry is considering water supply options for drou ght-ravaged south-east Queensland.  


It's been told that older residents have been bullied by proponents of a controversial new dam and told they should sell their properties and move into a nursing home.  


Well the greater Brisbane water supplies main source is now less than 18 per cent full, and the Premier Peter Beattie says the dam on the Mary River is critical to securing the region's future water supplies.  


But there's strong opposition from the residents who've used today's hearings to argue that the dam is economically, environmentally, and socially destructive.  


The committee Chairman says the inquiry is not a political exercise and won't be biased. 


But even before it began Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce seemed to have made up his mind. 


From Gympie, Kathryn Roberts reports.  


KATHRYN ROBERTS: In south-east Queensland's Mary Valley region, residents are united in their quest to fight a State Government plan to build a new dam on the Mary River at Traveston Crossing. 


It was standing room only at the Senate committee hearing in Gympie today, which is considering the dam proposal and alternative water supply options. 


For those giving evidence, it's their chance to be heard. 


Kevin Ingersole from the Save the Mary Group says the Queensland Government has walked all over local residents.  


KEVIN INGERSOLE: Nobody really expects the government to turn against them personally, and that's what the feeling is in this valley - that the Government is targeting us. 


KATHRYN ROBERTS: 600 properties will be acquired by the State to construct the dam in the drought declared Cooloola Shire.  


The Save the Mary Group has given evidence that the dam will destroy the habitat of several threatened species, including the Mary River Cod and the lungfish, as well as affect environmental flows along a river system which discharges into the Great Sandy World Heritage Area. 


Ecologist Dr Lyndon DeVantier explained the importance of the lungfish. 


LYNDON DEVANTIER: This fish goes back well before the dinosaurs. Its genetic heritage is crucial to all kinds of studies that will come through in the future. If we are not extremely careful, we're going to lose a whole swag of important species in this catchment. 


KATHRYN ROBERTS: But there were also personal stories from those who say they'll lose their homes and their livelihoods if the dam goes ahead. 


KATHRYN ROBERTS: 72-year-old Gillian Boyer says she's not being offered nearly enough financial compensation to buy an equivalent property. But even then she doesn't want to leave. 


GILLIAN BOYER: I think the Government and Mr Beattie doesn't realise that we're not talking about houses and bricks and dirt, we're talking about homes. And there's a enormous difference between the two. And when you rip a home away from people you're ripping half their soul. 


KATHRYN ROBERTS: She says older residents are particularly distressed. 


GILLIAN BOYER: And the over-70s have, I think, been given a very rough deal by the Government. I've been messed around for 12 months and I know of other people who've had the same sort of treatment. 


We've even had absolutely rude and unkind treatment like, 'Don't you think it's time you went and signed in on an old folks home.' 


KATHRYN ROBERTS: The committee's Chair, Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan is promising an inquiry free from bias. 


BILL HEFFERNAN: This committee has a history of not playing politics. And so in the instance of this dam, we are here, the Commonwealth's responsibility is in the area of the environment. But we are here to make sure that on the table are put all the details, all the arguments. And then I think the information that's put on the table will speak for itself.  


KATHRYN ROBERTS: But some of his committee members have other ideas. 


Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce: 


BARNABY JOYCE: Quite obviously this is a decision that has come about because these people have had the temerity never to vote for a Labor Government since about 1956. Now that is not the fair premise on why you should build a dam.  


What we have is an absolutely extraordinary waste of money.  


The money that we're about the waste here you could give everybody in Brisbane a rainwater tank which would actually possibly help them alleviate the fact that they're going to run out of water next year.  


But instead we're going to spend in the vicinity of $6 billion all up once we've moved the highway, put in the dam, put the piping works in, resume the land - $6 billion on 150,000 megs of water, which, when you think about it, Ivanhoe Dam's 1.3 million megalitres of water.  


There are other sites where you could put in a million megalitre storage and these are proximate to the area, which no one would have a concern about. 


KATHRYN ROBERTS: Are the National and Liberals at odds over this issue? 


BARNABY JOYCE: Well I'm at one with the people of Queensland who don't want this. 


KATHRYN ROBERTS: Do you think there's some concern amongst your Liberal Party colleagues that going against a proposal like this may be seen as anti-dam in south-east Queensland? 


BARNABY JOYCE: On the contrary there are other proposals for dams, there's a dam in northern New South Wales, maybe that's a good idea. We've even come up with other suggestions of other dam sites. It's not anti-dam at all.  


It's anti-wasting money. It's anti just walking over the top of people. It's anti making decisions based on the fact that the only thing that's going in favour of this decision is that these people haven't voted for Labor Party since 1956. 


KATHRYN ROBERTS: Even if the inquiry reveals the dam is not based on sound science, it doesn't have the power to stop it proceeding. 


The Federal Government, however, could veto the project under Commonwealth environment legislation, but the Queensland Government is confident that won't happen. 


State Government officials will present evidence to the hearing in Brisbane tomorrow.  


PETER CAVE: Kathryn Roberts reporting.