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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
North Queensland Water Infrastructure Authority

North Queensland Water Infrastructure Authority


CHAIR: Good morning to you all. Senator McCarthy is going to start with questions. Do you have an opening statement? I am quite remiss this morning.

Dr Wallbrink : Thank you so much. Yes, we do have an opening statement. The former CEO of the North Queensland Water Infrastructure Authority, Mr Richard McLoughlin, recently retired. I have been appointed from my usual role within the authority as the chief science adviser to act as the interim CEO for a period of three months. I look forward to returning to the science adviser role when the process to appoint the new CEO is complete. The department is managing the process for the ongoing role. The position was recently advertised in the print media. I think it was in the Australian, the Financial Review and the Townsville Bulletin at least as well as the online media. I think that went live on the weekend on Saturday.

In terms of projects, we are close to finalising a bilateral schedule with the Queensland government to undertake preconstruction activities associated with the Big Rocks Weir project near Charters Towers. The business case development for the Hughenden irrigation and Hells Gates Dam projects are on track for milestones and delivery. The authority currently has three positions based in Townsville and three positions based in Canberra. I am happy to answer any questions that the committee might have.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Dr Wallbrink.

Senator McCARTHY: Thank you for that. I will go through some of the staffing positions. Firstly, were there any announcements in the budget related to 2021-22? There was no additional funding for water infrastructure in North Queensland. Is that how you saw the budget?

Mr McRandle : Thank you for the question. There was no additional appropriation for funding of projects managed by the North Queensland Water Infrastructure Authority. There were some broader project announcements made by the government for projects managed under the National Water Grid, which will appear at estimates on Friday.

Senator McCARTHY: What is the total budget for NQWIA?

Dr Wallbrink : I think it is around $20 million.

Senator McCARTHY: Is that more or less than the October 2020 estimates?

Dr Wallbrink : I think it is the same.

Mr Squire : For 2020-21, the total budget of the organisation is $3.306 million. That represents no change from the budget last year, although in last year's budget there was an additional appropriation given to the authority of $3 million over two years to undertake work associated with the Upper Burdekin irrigation scheme research project.

Senator McCARTHY: How much is allocated over the forward estimates?

Mr Squire : Over the forward estimates, we have a budget for 2021-22 of $3.3 million. For 2022-23, our budget is $2.3 million. At the end of 2022-23, the budget for the authority ceases.

Senator McCARTHY: How much is allocated to staffing?

Mr Squire : Of the $3.3 million for next year, it is around $1.5 million allocated for staffing, with around $1.8 million allocated to suppliers.

Senator McCARTHY: Is this more or less than the previous budget in terms of staffing?

Mr Squire : It's around the same. For the previous budget, it was $1.49 million.

Senator McCARTHY: For staffing?

Mr Squire : For staffing. It was around $1.49 million. For the coming 2021-22, it is $1.5 million.

Senator McCARTHY: So the agency is funded beyond 2021-22?

Mr Squire : Yes. The agency is funded to 2022-23.

Senator McCARTHY: How many employees of the agency are presently based in North Queensland by a head count? I think you said three positions?

Dr Wallbrink : Correct.

Senator McCARTHY: And three in Canberra?

Dr Wallbrink : Correct.

Senator McCARTHY: There were four in Canberra in March. What happened to that fourth position?

Dr Wallbrink : That was the retirement of the CEO.

Senator McCARTHY: So there will be four again once you get the new CEO?

Mr McRandle : The advertisement went out last Friday in major press and online. The advertisement notes that the location of the position could be in Queensland rather than the ACT. But that will be a decision formed based on who the successful candidate might be. We are certainly open to having a Queensland based role for the CEO. But that will be something that needs to be worked out post recruitment.

Senator CANAVAN: Hopefully it will be in North Queensland. You would think so.

Senator McCARTHY: Are you applying, Senator Canavan? In March, you said that there were three full-time positions in Canberra and two and a half in Townsville. What is the status of whether it is full time or part time?

Dr Wallbrink : In North Queensland, there are 2.5 FTEs. In Canberra, it is effectively 2.8 at the moment.

Senator McCARTHY: How much did the North Queensland Water Infrastructure Authority spend on travel in 2019-20 and 2020-21? How much is expected to be spent in 2021-22?

Mr Squire : We actually provided that answer with regard to travel in a previous estimates. I'm happy to drag it out again. I can say that, as at the end of April 2021, the authority has spent $27,904 on travel and accommodation.

Senator McCARTHY: How much is expected to be spent going forward for 2021-22?

Mr Squire : It depends on the arrangements of the new CEO as to how that funding is spent. It would probably be in the order of $40,000.

Senator McCARTHY: You say you have provided that information previously. I think I wasn't here for the previous one. I will ask you to table again those previous ones, thank you. Does the agency have a conflict of interest register?

Dr Wallbrink : Yes, we do.

Senator McCARTHY: Are staff required to make a conflict of interest declaration?

Dr Wallbrink : Certainly, yes.

Mr Squire : Yes.

Senator McCARTHY: How many staff have declared a perceived or actual conflict of interest?

Mr Squire : Zero.

Dr Wallbrink : How many have declared an interest or a conflict? I think the answer is zero.

Senator McCARTHY: Declared a perceived or actual conflict of interest?

Mr Squire : Nil.

Dr Wallbrink : The answer is nil.

Senator McCARTHY: Zero?

Dr Wallbrink : Yes.

Senator McCARTHY: I will go to the Bradfield Scheme. I understand that the CSIRO have written a report on the Bradfield Scheme. Is that correct?

Mr McRandle : That is a project that is being managed out of the National Water Grid Authority. Again, on Friday, at the cross-portfolio estimates we could answer more questions on that. While I am here, it is correct; CSIRO has been commissioned to do a study of Bradfield's original concepts and further variations on that theme as part of work that the government has committed to.

Senator McCARTHY: When was that report completed?

Mr McRandle : The report is still being completed. It hasn't been finished yet. They've done it through a number of stages, looking at the 1938 and 1941 variations and then some of the more contemporary models on variations around Bradfield's original concept. The work will be completed around the middle of the year at this stage. The National Water Grid advisory body has been asked by the Deputy Prime Minister to bring their views forward to the government on the Bradfield question. That will—

Senator McCARTHY: Sorry, bring forward to?

Mr McRandle : So after CSIRO complete their final phase of work, that will be considered by the National Water Grid advisory body. They will—

Senator McCARTHY: And then to the government?

Mr McRandle : provide that advice to the government.

Senator McCARTHY: What is the status of the additional project that was assigned to the authority in May 2020 to investigate further potential irrigation opportunities in the Upper Burdekin Basin?

Dr Wallbrink : That is a project now titled the Western Queensland irrigation and agricultural scheme. That effectively is looking at various elements of the Bradfield Scheme that is complementary and related to the CSIRO project.

Senator McCARTHY: When do you expect it to be completed?

Dr Wallbrink : The due date for completion is December this year, 2021.

Senator McCARTHY: Did Deb Frecklington or anyone from the Queensland LNP request that the authority be assigned this additional project of the Bradfield Scheme?

Dr Wallbrink : Not that I'm aware.

Senator McCARTHY: How many reviews of the Bradfield Scheme have been undertaken since it was first proposed?

Dr Wallbrink : I believe there was a review in 1984 or a review and a slight update. The two bodies of work that we've just discussed will represent probably the most recent look at the scheme overall or aspects of the scheme.

Senator McCARTHY: How much has been spent on the Western Queensland irrigation and agricultural scheme assessment project to date?

Dr Wallbrink : The total budget is $3 million.

Mr Squire : Out of that we've spent approximately $1.45 million.

Senator McCARTHY: So those figures are not correct?

Dr Wallbrink : The total project value is $3 million. Expenditure to date is—

Mr Squire : It is $1.45 million.

Senator McCARTHY: What is the total amount expected to be spent on this project? You said $3 million. You expect it will be that?

Mr Squire : Yes.

Senator McCARTHY: Does it exceed the contract amount for the tender with GHD?

Mr Squire : No. It won't.

Senator McCARTHY: Is the government aware that Dr Daniel Connell, a research fellow at the Australian National University, is reported as having said the Bradfield Scheme would only be possible with massive government subsidies that far exceed the value of what would be produced? Does the government agree, Minister?

Senator Reynolds: I'll have to take that one on notice, Senator McCarthy.

Senator McCARTHY: Has the project considered the cost of the Bradfield Scheme?

Dr Wallbrink : The NQIAS? Not as yet.

Mr Squire : No.

Senator STERLE: No? Two bob each way?

Mr McRandle : I might jump in there. There are a few studies. There is the work that the North Queensland Water Infrastructure Authority is conducting, as they've discussed. There is the work that we're commissioned of CSIRO, which is looking at the technical aspects around the feasibility of the Bradfield Scheme. There is also work that the Queensland government has commissioned just prior to the last state election, where Professor Garnaut and a panel are working through the economic modelling of Bradfield. We're all working together to collaborate and share our views as that work is done. I think we'll probably need to see where the Queensland government lands on the Garnaut report, our own technical study around CSIRO as well as the work of North Queensland Water Infrastructure Authority to bring together, I think, a truly comprehensive picture of what may be possible up there and what the cost-benefit assessment would be.

Senator McCARTHY: Thank you for that, Mr McRandle. I will put these questions, though. What are the potential productivity gains of the scheme and do they outweigh the likely costs? Has the project considered that? How is this being measured?

Dr Wallbrink : This is in terms of the project that is NQIAS? It is looking at aspects of the Bradfield Scheme, particularly capturing water between the Tully and the Herbert and the Upper Burdekin and potentially transferring that into the Flinders. There will be an economic assessment of that.

Senator McCARTHY: What about the ecological impact of the scheme, if implemented?

Dr Wallbrink : The hydrology and the potential of the movement of water is being undertaken in anticipation of the current regulatory environment. So that means the existing water resource plans in the Flinders, Tully and the Herbert and the Upper Burdekin systems. That will involve compliance with the necessary EFO conditions, or environmental flow conditions.

Senator McCARTHY: If constructed, will the scheme be consistent with the National Water Initiative?

Dr Wallbrink : The plans are constructed with NWI principles. It is the brief of the project to assess the scheme within the context of what is compliant.

Senator McCARTHY: Will an explicit assessment of the project against the NWI criteria be released to the public?

Dr Wallbrink : That particular question has not been put to the project. As I said, almost by definition, it will be a part of the assessment process.

Senator McCARTHY: Dr Wallbrink, I take you back to my question earlier about whether Deb Frecklington or anyone from the LNP requested that the authority be assigned this additional project of the Bradfield Scheme. You said no.

Dr Wallbrink : Not to my knowledge.

Senator McCARTHY: Not to your knowledge. Could it have been made without your knowledge?

Dr Wallbrink : I'm sure things happen without my knowledge.

Senator McCARTHY: Could this be one of them?

Mr McRandle : We will seek a response on notice for you on that. We're not aware. Neither I or Dr Wallbrink is aware of requests from Ms Frecklington in Queensland, but we're very happy to go back and see if any request has been made.

Senator McCARTHY: Or anyone in the LNP.

Senator Reynolds: I think that is very wise. It is hard to answer something that you aren't aware of.

Dr Wallbrink : Thank you.

Senator McCARTHY: You could check on that, though, couldn't you?

Senator WATT: I want to ask a follow-up question on that. How did it come about, then, that this additional project was referred to the authority? Was it at the request of a minister or the minister's office? Did the department come to it of its own volition?

Dr Wallbrink : I believe it came from the minister's office.

Senator WATT: Is that Minister Pitt?

Mr McRandle : No. The Deputy Prime Minister.

Senator WATT: Was that request made directly by the Deputy Prime Minister or by his office?

Dr Wallbrink : I don't know the answer.

Mr McRandle : Given that Dr Wallbrink is interim CEO with the retirement of the previous CEO, it might be best if they take that on notice and come back with advice about how that was commissioned.

Senator McCARTHY: In checking that and taking that on notice, could you also provide any documentation that may have been sent to you in relation to the request for this by the Deputy Prime Minister?

Dr Wallbrink : We'll take that on notice.

Senator McCARTHY: Thank you. I take you to the National Water Initiative, which is a bit further on. In the 2021 estimates, Mr McLoughlin was asked whether a project was consistent with the National Water Initiative, to which you replied:

Yes, it would be consistent with the National Water Initiative. Everything we do dictated by me, in fact, must be.

Is the National Water Initiative dictated by Mr McLoughlin?

Mr McRandle : I'm not sure that's the interpretation he would want of what he was saying in response to that question. The National Water Initiative, as I'm sure you are aware, is an agreement between the states and the federal government. It is guidelines managed by the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment on behalf of the Commonwealth. We consult with that department on our projects to look at the question of compatibility or consistency with the National Water Initiative. I am interpreting Mr McLoughlin's response to you on this. I think the work that the North Queensland Water Infrastructure Authority is doing is being done in a way that is consistent with the NWI.

Senator McCARTHY: How does the agency ensure that all projects are aligned with the NWI?

Dr Wallbrink : In the development of the business case, which is effectively our core business, we ensure that the NWI principles are considered in terms of the different aspects of the case, such as the cultural heritage assessment, environmental EIS statements and compliance with the relevant water plans and so forth.

Senator McCARTHY: Does the agency publish an assessment of all projects against the NWI criteria? If not, why not?

Dr Wallbrink : We don't publish formal compliance. As I said, almost from first principles, the business case is undertaken within the broader premise of being NWI compliant.

Senator McCARTHY: How can the public be assured that work undertaken by the agency is in line with the NWI?

Mr McRandle : I think the work of the North Queensland Water Infrastructure Authority to date that has been completed has been published on their website, so there is full transparency around that report. The elements of NWI are implicit in the work that they've commissioned for those business cases. If there was a decision on any of those projects to move to the construction phase, there would be some further work, including environmental approvals and so on, before construction could start. So I think there would be further steps to be followed. What I would say at this stage is that the work that North Queensland Water Infrastructure Authority have conducted, when it's been completed, it has been published I think on their website consistently.

Senator McCARTHY: Will the agency agree to publish an assessment of each project against the NWI criteria? Is that what you are saying there?

Mr McRandle : What I was saying is that the work completed to date and published is the commissioned work, which is the business case analysis and the technical feasibility studies. There will be elements in that around the NWI guidelines. But if there were a decision to move forward to a construction phase to put capital into projects, there would need to be some further work, including around environmental approvals on these projects. That would include aspects of compliance with the NWI.

Senator McCARTHY: How much of the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund has gone to North Queensland Water Infrastructure Authority projects?

Dr Wallbrink : At this stage, my understanding is that it is $24 million for the Hells Gates business case development. It is $30 million allocated towards Big Rocks should it proceed past the preconstruction—

Senator McCARTHY: So $30 million for?

Dr Wallbrink : Big Rocks. I believe there is $10 million to Hughenden as a part of the business case development there.

Mr McRandle : This may assist you as well. The North Queensland Water Infrastructure Authority is budgeted to cater for its staff costs, travel and some overheads. The programs of work that they undertake, such as business cases and moving into construction phase in the case of Big Rocks Weir, which both Queensland and the federal governments have committed to, would be funded out of what you refer to as the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund, which was renamed in the budget the National Water Grid Fund.

Senator McCARTHY: Yes.

Mr McRandle : You will see both those terms around for a little while. The National Water Grid Fund is the source of funding for the feasibility studies, business cases and construction projects. Dr Wallbrink's agency is largely funded for staff, travel and those sort of supplier expenses.

Senator McCARTHY: I will come to that. What is the authority's relationship with the department officials working under the National Water Grid?

Dr Wallbrink : Can I understand the question?

Senator McCARTHY: Do you have meetings to discuss priority projects? If so, where are those meetings held? Who attends those meetings?

Dr Wallbrink : Well, I have a meeting with the deputy secretary every week at that level. I also meet with the assistant secretaries. I have certainly given a briefing to the work group staff around that.

Mr McRandle : Again, it may assist to know that the North Queensland Water Infrastructure Authority staff that are Canberra based are co-located on the same floor in the same building as the National Water Grid Authority, so there is a very close day-to-day working relationship along with regular scheduled meetings.

Senator McCARTHY: What projects, aside from Hells Gates, Big Rocks and Hughenden is NQWIA working on?

Dr Wallbrink : There is the Western Queensland irrigation project that we just discussed before. There are two other projects. One of them is a supply chain readiness project, which aims to assess, if Hells Gates were to proceed, the readiness of the industry, effectively, or the Townsville region to be able to proceed. That is in terms of concrete, steel, transport and the workforce and what the gaps might be in that readiness to proceed. The other project is a scan of effectively other projects across sectors—the mining sector, energy sector, resources sector. It looks at other big initiatives happening in the Mount Isa to Townsville region that might be either a competitor or a collaborator in terms of supply chains. That is so we can put that together into a mix of advice to government when the business case goes forward around Hells Gates in April next year.

Senator McCARTHY: Does the authority undertake any work relating to the modernisation of existing water infrastructure?

Dr Wallbrink : No. It does not.

Senator McCARTHY: Why is that the case?

Dr Wallbrink : It is not within our brief as laid out.

Mr McRandle : You will appreciate that it is not a large team. It is a small team of around six staff. The Deputy Prime Minister commissions them to undertake certain studies. The studies that have been outlined today are the ones that they currently have been asked to complete.

Senator McCARTHY: How many feasibility studies and business cases are afoot? How are they funded?

Dr Wallbrink : There is the Hughenden irrigation project. There is the Hells Gates project. They are still underway. In terms of feasibility studies, there was also a business case for Big Rocks Weir. That was submitted in August or September last year. There was a feasibility study for a pumped hydro scheme that is being developed as part of the Hells Gates larger business case. That was submitted in January or so of this year, I believe.

Senator McCARTHY: I might go into a bit more detail when I come to each of those projects. Does the authority utilise funding outside the National Infrastructure Development Fund or grid?

Dr Wallbrink : No.

Senator McCARTHY: Are any urban water supply options other than water storage projects being explored?

Dr Wallbrink : In terms of Big Rocks Weir, there is an urban supply for Charters Towers as part of that business case. Beyond that, no.

Senator McCARTHY: In the March 2021 estimates, the agency said that you are undertaking a project via external procurement to help de-risk and provide advice on supply chain issues associated with the Hells Gates Dam project. What is this project formally called?

Dr Wallbrink : That was the project I described a few minutes before.

Senator McCARTHY: How much has been allocated to that project?

Dr Wallbrink : In terms of the total budget, I think it is $1.3 million. The administration is being run by AEC. Thus far, we would expected $113,000.

Senator McCARTHY: What kind of risks have been identified?

Dr Wallbrink : We're not at that stage. We're in the information gathering phase. We're still designing work packages.

Senator McCARTHY: What kind of supply chain issues is this project seeking to resolve? This is going on from evidence in March. It is just following on some questions in relation to your answers then.

Dr Wallbrink : I was not there in March. The dimensions of the supply chain project effectively ask: if Hells Gates were to proceed, what would be the necessary parts of the supply chain that would have pressure applied on them to serve up and complete the project? That is looking at all aspects of the physical construction of the dam itself as well as an irrigated infrastructure network downstream. Some road alignments, bridge raising and so forth is also required in terms of the inundation area.

Senator McCARTHY: In the March estimates, the authority said it is exploring potential new irrigation based opportunities in regional, northern and western Queensland. What other opportunities have been identified?

Dr Wallbrink : That is the Western Queensland project.

Senator McCARTHY: Which you have already spoken about?

Dr Wallbrink : Yes.

Senator McCARTHY: I will go to Hells Gates for a moment. Let's talk a bit more about the feasibility study there. I understand that there is one into Hells Gates to be completed in 2022. Who is conducting that feasibility study?

Dr Wallbrink : That is the major business case. That is being overseen by Townsville Enterprise Limited. They've subcontracted SMEC, KPMG and GHD.

Senator McCARTHY: Is that on track?

Dr Wallbrink : It is.

Senator McCARTHY: How much money has been allocated to Hells Gates? I think you said $1.3 million.

Dr Wallbrink : The total business case development is $24 million. I believe we're at about $10 million at the moment. That is the total cost of delivery of the business case. We're at $10.9 million expenditure.

Senator McCARTHY: That is to be completed in 2022. Have you got a date in 2022?

Dr Wallbrink : I believe it is 15 April.

Mr McRandle : Probably just April.

Senator McCARTHY: How much is it for the business case for the Big Rocks Weir subproject?

Dr Wallbrink : As a subcomponent?

Mr Squire : We calculated the Big Rocks Weir component to cost around $2.3 million to $2.4 million of that $24 million that was allocated.

Senator McCARTHY: That is absolutely included in the Hells Gates Dam business case, right?

Mr Squire : Yes. It is.

Senator McCARTHY: How much water is available for this proposal under the current Burdekin water plan?

Dr Wallbrink : At the moment, there is no line item that says Hells Gates Dam irrigation in the existing water plan. I note that the plan was put together in 2007 and is due for refresh in 2023.

Senator McCARTHY: So when will the NQWIA know how much water is available for this project?

Dr Wallbrink : There are two aspects to that. Effectively, you're somewhat constrained by how much water is available in the Upper Burdekin system. It is a supply question. There is cost effectiveness in terms of the demand. It is how much of that water can be used effectively in an irrigation setting at a cost effective rate. There is meeting the environmental flow conditions in the basin. There is the request from other users in the basin, effectively. Burdekin Falls, Lake Dalrymple, Urannah Dam, and Big Rocks are all effectively applicants for water in the plan.

Senator McCARTHY: The authority commissioned GHD to do a concept review and cost estimate update of a previously analysed element of the proposed Bradfield Scheme involving the large-scale diversion of water from the potential Hells Gates dam of the Upper Burdekin River south to an assumed terminal storage in the immediate environs of Webb Lake. In that regard, has the government responded to that report and cost update?

Dr Wallbrink : We've received the report.

Mr McRandle : I think the report was published in late 2019. It didn't require the government to make a decision. It was there as an information piece to understand one element of a larger project. Until all the other elements are completed, it wouldn't make sense for the government to form a view about that distribution system to Webb Lake until it understands the other work around the Hells Gates Dam. As I mentioned earlier, the work we're doing collaboratively with the Queensland government will help inform positions not just of the federal government but also of the Queensland government.

Senator McCARTHY: So they didn't have to take any action in response to that report?

Mr McRandle : No.

Senator McCARTHY: Are there any plans for a project to effect this diversion in any way?

Dr Wallbrink : No.

Senator McCARTHY: What is the cost effectiveness of this project?

Dr Wallbrink : Which one in particular?

Mr McRandle : Webb Lake.

Dr Wallbrink : The Webb Lake project?

Senator McCARTHY: Yes.

Dr Wallbrink : I would have to go back to the report. When you say cost effectiveness, is it in terms of dollar per megalitre delivered?

Senator McCARTHY: That's right.

Dr Wallbrink : Can we get back to you on that?

Senator McCARTHY: Sure.

Dr Wallbrink : I could give you a number, but I'm not sure. I'm happy to provide the exact number.

Senator McCARTHY: What is the status of any additional work to look at diversions from the Tully or Herbert rivers irrigation pipelines or hydropower generation related to this project?

Dr Wallbrink : So in terms of the Western Queensland one, that is one that is relevant. In terms of the work that has been completed, we've got the water balance models, the hydrology models, for the Tully, the Herbert and the Upper Burdekin complete. I believe GHD is putting together the model for the Flinders system that will enable assessment, which I think is due towards the end of June, around what the water balance effectively looks like.

Senator McCARTHY: How much funding has the Commonwealth committed for the Big Rocks Weir project?

Dr Wallbrink : The headline figure is $30 million. We're looking to co-invest with the Queensland government $3 million each to fund the preconstruction activities.

Senator McCARTHY: Has construction started?

Dr Wallbrink : No. It has not. We're in the middle of working with the Queensland government to pull together the bilateral schedule.

Senator McCARTHY: When will it start?

Mr McRandle : At the moment, there is a schedule being developed, which is the way that all these projects get funded. There is a bilateral schedule under the national partnership arrangement with the Queensland government. We're hopeful that in the coming weeks we'll have a document that is capable of being signed. Because that project is in Queensland, and with the announcement of another project in the budget in Warwick in south-east Queensland, we're looking to wrap both those projects into the funding agreement and get them both signed by the relevant ministers at state and federal level. When that is done, that will set out the milestones, including the start of construction.

Senator McCARTHY: Thank you. I will go to the Hughenden project. What is the progress of the detailed business case for the Hughenden irrigation project?

Dr Wallbrink : That is due by the end of the year. Thus far, they've—

Senator McCARTHY: The end of this year?

Dr Wallbrink : The end of this year, correct. They have begun conversations or they have a cultural heritage agreement with the relevant Indigenous group. They've undertaken a preliminary demand assessment from potential investors around what the likely demand is. At this stage, that demand looks like it will exceed available supply.

Senator McCARTHY: Do you have a timeframe for when the cultural heritage agreement is going to be completed?

Dr Wallbrink : It will all be due for completion by the end of this year.

Senator McCARTHY: The agency commissioned Innovative Groundwater Solutions to undertake an independent evaluation of the sustainable extraction limits of the resource located under Glendalough station north-west of Hughenden. The purpose of the assessment was to better understand the scale of water availability and the potential to support the development of a Hughenden irrigation project. What are the findings there?

Dr Wallbrink : The findings, to crystallise them into a short outcome, in terms of the use of that aquifer were that there was no opportunity to extract additional volumes than was currently being extracted.

Senator McCARTHY: What about the status of negotiations with the owners of Glendalough station in relation to any extraction from the resource located under the station?

Dr Wallbrink : That is beyond our remit. In fact, there was no additional opportunity there. I'm aware there's no conversation to be pursued from our point of view anyway.

Senator McCARTHY: Mr Squire, you have a different look on your face. Is that a look of agreement?

Mr Squire : I absolutely agree. We were asked to undertake the work. The result suggested that there was far less aquifer based water available than was originally supposed. At the conclusion of that project, we've published the results. But we have left it there.

Senator McCARTHY: I will take you to Urannah Dam.

Mr McRandle : Urannah Dam is outside the scope of North Queensland Water Infrastructure Authority.

Senator McCARTHY: Well, then I won't take you there.

Senator STERLE: You'll be going on your own.

Dr Wallbrink : It's a Friday adventure.

Senator McCARTHY: Is that for you, Mr McRandle?

Mr McRandle : Yes. I don't have a lot of detail with me, but I'm happy to—

Senator McCARTHY: Why don't we give it a go anyway.

Mr McRandle : We'll try, yes.

Senator McCARTHY: How much has the government committed to the planning of the Urannah scheme altogether?

Mr McRandle : At this stage, the government has committed $10 million to the business case development. That work is currently underway. I don't have any figures in front of me to tell me what the expenditure to date is. Like all these projects, they're managed through a national partnership agreement, so our agreement is in fact with the Queensland government, which manages the transfer of funds on our behalf.

Senator McCARTHY: Of that work, how much is undertaken by the agency?

Mr McRandle : The work is being undertaken by—I can't remember exactly the name—Bowen Resources, which is effectively the proponent for the project. At this stage, the work on the business case is the focus. A decision on any capital investment to actually construct a project would depend on the outcomes of that business case and its assessment by both the state government, which would need to make the relevant water allocations, and the federal government.

Senator McCARTHY: You mention $10 million. What is the progress of that $10 million business case and approvals?

Mr McRandle : I believe that that work is on track. I would need to take on notice any further detail at this stage.

Senator McCARTHY: When is it due to be completed?

Mr McRandle : I believe it's—

CHAIR: I am not trying to put you off, but this isn't part of North Queensland Water Infrastructure Authority. These are good questions on an important project. I would prefer not to hear 'I believe'. Could we do this on Friday, which is when we're doing water? This is not part of the North Queensland Water Infrastructure Authority. This is the bigger water piece.

Mr McRandle : It is being managed by the National Water Grid Authority rather than North Queensland Water Infrastructure Authority. I just don't have the detail in front of me. As the chair suggests, I will take that on notice with a view to getting back on Friday with answers.

Senator McCARTHY: Chair, if that is the case, I have quite a few other schemes here. I am wondering if it is relevant now or for Friday.

Senator Reynolds: Do you want to run through them?

Senator McCARTHY: The Lakeland irrigation scheme and the Flinders and Gilbert River irrigation schemes.

Mr McRandle : These are projects that we can come to you on Friday with.

Senator McCARTHY: Has the agency done any research on the cumulative impacts of the current water infrastructure projects in North Queensland?

Dr Wallbrink : No.

Senator McCARTHY: Why is that?

Dr Wallbrink : Part of the Hells Gates business case will look at the totality for a range of anticipated water uses within the context of the existing water resource plan and any amended plan. It will have to, by its nature, encompass the other potential users within the basin.

Mr McRandle : This is something that we will take up with the Queensland government, which makes the water allocations. I think that question of the cumulative impacts is an important one. Until we get all of the project business cases lined up to do a comparison and look at the choices that the governments might want to make around investments and what the water allocation would be, we couldn't provide you any advice at this stage.

Senator McCARTHY: Is the agency looking into potential reductions in flow regimes across North Queensland?

Dr Wallbrink : The business cases would look to be compliant within the EFO conditions. That means that whatever reductions there are would be consistent within the stated EFO conditions within either the Flinders water plan—

Mr McRandle : That is the environmental flow.

Dr Wallbrink : They are the environmental flow conditions—and/or the Burdekin water plan, as it stands, or any revised plan.

Senator McCARTHY: Chair, you might have to come back to me.

CHAIR: Thanks, Senator McCarthy. I want to clarify the situation with the Big Rocks Weir. How much is the water allocation that is required for that project?

Dr Wallbrink : It is between 10,000 to 20,000 megalitres per year.

CHAIR: Is that water available in the Queensland water resource plan?

Dr Wallbrink : There is a line item within the plan that speaks to that. It is about 10,000 megalitres.

CHAIR: And that will provide water security for Charters Towers?

Dr Wallbrink : Correct.

CHAIR: So the federal government has provided $30 million and matched $3 million with the state government. That is what you said earlier.

Dr Wallbrink : For the preconstruction phase, correct.

CHAIR: Has the state government allocated water for the construction of this project? I seem to recall something before the last state election.

Mr McRandle : You are correct. There was an announcement around the time of the state election, where the Queensland government committed $30 million. But $3 million of that is allocated to preconstruction works. The remainder would then be available for the main works construction.

Dr Wallbrink : Subject to successful completion of the preconstruction phase.

CHAIR: Where are you up to with the preconstruction phase?

Mr McRandle : We need to get the funding agreement signed with the Queensland government. We're looking to settle the details around the milestones for that very soon. That would then free up the flow of funds that would allow the project to get underway.

CHAIR: So the preconstruction works have not yet commenced?

Mr McRandle : No. They are all covered under the funding agreement through the national partnership arrangements. So we need to get that settled. Then we've got a basis for getting that work underway.

CHAIR: The Queensland government has now referred this project to the Coordinator-General. Is that right?

Dr Wallbrink : They have. It has got full status, as I understand it.

CHAIR: How does that change the project from previously when it was being considered, given that the Queensland state government had made an announcement before the state election saying that they were going to commit $30 million to building this?

Dr Wallbrink : I would have thought it is a sign of good faith.

CHAIR: Excellent. How long do you think this process is now going to take to go through the Coordinator-General?

Dr Wallbrink : I can't speak for that process. What sits behind it, though, is an EIS process. I saw that it has also come under the wing of the EPBC Act. These things will take the time that they do. I think it is anticipated a minimum of 12 months, possibly 12 to 18 months.

CHAIR: From now? You think it will be another 12 to 18 months?

Mr McRandle : Usually an environmental impact statement under the EPBC Act will take that period of time because you have to go through each season to see what the different flora and fauna impacts are going to be. So it will be 12 months. I would assume it would be at least 12 months from the time it starts the assessment. That assessment will start as part of the preconstruction work. That is when the funding agreement is signed.

CHAIR: So we can't start that until the funding agreement is signed? What I'm trying to understand is when the preconstruction works will be able to commence. That can't happen until the bilateral is signed.

Mr McRandle : That's correct, yes.

CHAIR: And we don't have any visibility on that?

Mr McRandle : I will come back on Friday with a bit more information, if I can, around some of those questions you have.

CHAIR: There was an announcement to build this project from the Queensland Labor government. The community is desperate to have it built. It's only been waiting since 1982, I think the plans were done. It is moving apace. Traffic. Thank you. We look forward to seeing you again on Friday.

Mr McRandle : Thank you.