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Tuesday, 15 May 1973
Page: 2147


Mr MCVEIGH (Darling Downs) - Tonight I want to bring to the notice of this Parliament the position on the irrigation basin in my electorate which is an area commonly referred to as the Brookstead Basin. This is an area where the efforts of the Irrigation and Water Supply Commission of Queensland to investigate the recharge of underground aquifers have been frustrated because of lack of funds to carry on this urgent work. I understand that a submission, termed the Leslie Dam Stage 2 project, has been tendered by the Queensland Government to the Commonwealth Government for consideration for financial assistance under the national water resources development program. From advice received from my predecessor, the then Minister for National Development, Sir Reginald Swartz, the evaluation and assessment of the work was to be given the highest possible priority.

I trust that with the change of government the project has not been shelved, that it has not been pigeonholed in some department or other and that it will receive the high priority to which it is entitled. But the people have not been taken into the confidence of this Government. They desire to know what the position is now, whether they still have the top priority to which they are entitled. This priority can readily be established by an examination 0t the facts. In the Basin there are 1,100 holdings using irrigation or 10.7 per cent of the total number of irrigation holdings in Queensland. There is extra production and also associated costs are born by the primary producers in an irrigated area. This takes at least some of the gambling out of farming. No doubt this extra production is appreciated by governments as it is all readily salable produce injecting valuable dollars - not quite as valuable now as they were under our Government because the present Government decided unilaterally to revalue the dollar - into the economy by way of rail freights, road freights and export business.

The future potential of this area surely gives it the highest possible priority, even on a

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national basis, for financial consideration. The produce I refer to is cotton, soya beans, grain crops, maize, onions and tomatoes. The success of these crops has been in no small way due to the good husbandry of the farmers who have developed the technique, which has been copied overseas, of applying the theoretical to the practical. A large amount of money is injected into the Darling Downs towns and cities and into the general economy. The Sim Cecil Plains ginnery was built by the cotton industry. Employment has been created. There are chemical companies and fertiliser companies. There is increased demand for fuel and power and there is an all important stability in the local labour market. All these benefits have come from the extra spending power generated by the increased returns from crops grown under irrigation and the increased business activity in what is generally speaking a dry farming area. I emphasise this point by reading from the 'Irrigation Farm Year Book 1970-71':

Irrigation provides the one major stable factor in an uncertain future. Irrigation that is dependent on the volume and quality of the water supply available which can provide the one stabilising factor, under the direct control of the farmer, to make the diversification possible and profitable.

The area involved is some 80,000 acres but at the rate at which the underground water supplies are being depleted it is estimated that in 10 years it will be possible to irrigate only 20,000 acres from the underground supplies. This is a fall of some 50,000 acres, as 10,000 acres is irrigated from surface water. This will be a calamity of the highest order. The farmers concerned have ploughed into their enterprises about $7im in capital equipment, such as machinery, and irrigation channels. The latter obviously will be a complete writeoff if something is not done about recharging the aquifer. The equipment no doubt could be disposed of for a fraction of its cost. This is good country; there is a large diversification of crops, a climate suitable for growing both winter and summer crops, soils with water holding ability equal to any in the world, and experienced farmers willing to make and capable of making efficient and profitable use of this Investment for the benefit of the whole community.

At the present time there is a recharge trial planned in which a 1000-foot trench will be dug in the bed of an anabranch of the Condamine, the north branch, on which work is expected to commence in June - July of this year. On the basis of the results of previous trials it would appear that even if recharging proves successful it is certainly doubtful and probably not expected that it will be adequate to maintain the existing supply. This is why it is vitally important to treat this whole project in perspective and to view it within the backdrop of diversion of the Clarence River, construction of smaller weirs, the completion of stage 2 of Leslie Dam, and the recharging of the aquifer. At a time when the Darling Downs is crying out for more water, it is little consolation to remember that only a few months ago during the summer rains and we are in a predominantly summer rainfall area - many millions of gallons of water flowed to the ocean when some of it should have been harnessed for future months. What we are striving for is a two-pronged attack, more surface water and the development of a technique to recharge underground water storages. I ask the Government, therefore, to support research into these matters, matters which are very fundamental to the continued existence and economic stability of so many of my constituents, both employer and employee. 1 pay tribute to the officers of the various government departments in Queensland and to the Executive of the Condamine River Basin Irrigators Association, Mr E. W. Bloomfield, Chairman, K. R. Begbie, Secretary, and D. Stallman, Treasurer, and all other interested parties for their efforts in the past and their undying faith in the future. They have devised a scheme bold in its approach and imaginative in its concept, and it does not deserve to be frustrated in its implementation by pressures exerted by politicians or the furthering of pet policies by some departments. These gentlemen have had as their aim not the development of more irrigation in this particular area at this stage - the short-sightedness of the initial development on an ad hoc basis is now readily visible for all to see - but a stability of enterprises to the people and areas involving substantial investment in both property and enterprises in business activity built up in many centres following increased irrigation production and demands applicable to this. They are concerned about the diminution of underground supplies, particuarly as it is disastrous for non riparian land holders. They advocate, in addition to the construction of stage 2 of Leslie Dam, 2 regulating weirs, 2 diversion weirs and other control structures together with some improvements to the channel of the north arm of the Condamine River to facilitate regulation and provide more efficient use of regulated supplies along the Condamine River downstream to Sandy Creek, to Cecil Plains and diversion of water along the north arm of the Condamine River. They suggest the initial use of additional supply from the second stage of Leslie Dam to replace groundwater use on riparian properties along the Condamine. This is a concrete effort to bring about some reduction in demand on the over-developed and used ground water supplies.

The estimated cost of these works was $2.356m when it was originally costed, and it is probably now much more. It will certainly be much more with the feather-bedding that is going on at the present time by the minority government which is a sedulous and obsequious servant of the union bosses, because it is aware the unions will not re-endorse it for the next election. The question might be asked: Why is not the aquifer recharged by direct inflitration of rainfall and run-off on the soil surface, and why do positive steps have to be taken to replenish these supplies? Investigations have shown that overlying the upper aquifer is a layer of heavy black clay soil and clay sub-soil. The surface soils are self mulching and cause deep cracking as they dry out. Water entry while the soil is in this state is rapid and saturation of the surface soils is accompanied by considerable swelling which closes the cracks. Once saturated the soils exhibit very low permeability, which is typical of clay.

Recharging the underlying aquifers does not result from the direct inflitration of rainfall and run off on the soil surface. It is replaced by natural down valley flow through the alluvia of the Condamine River and its tributary streams and also to a greater extent from the flow of water in the river itself. This is where the research is to be channelled, and I hope the moneys designated will allow this investigation to be brought to fruition. It is a big program designed to benefit both rural and city dwellers. I fully support any moves that this Government will make to ensure that the underground water supply-

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.







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