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Tuesday, 26 November 1974
Page: 2732

Senator WRIEDT (Tasmania) (Minister for Agriculture) - I move:

Thatthe Bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Devitt)- Is leave granted?

Senator Wood - No.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENTLeave is not granted.

Senator WRIEDT -The purpose of this Bill is to authorise a grant of $3m to the Queensland Government towards the cost of constructing a weir on the Burdekin River near Clare in North

Queensland. The Burdekin River basin, to the south and west of Townsville, is situated in the dry tropics of northern Queensland. It is the largest undeveloped river basin in Australia close to well-developed infrastructure with an annual basin discharge estimated at 8.6 million megalitres (7 million acre feet). Only about 3.6 per cent of the total runoff is at present committed for industrial, urban and agricultural use.

Eungella Dam on the Broken River, with a storage capacity of 131,000 megalitres ( 106,000 acre feet) and Gorge and Blue Valley weirs on the Burdekin River with a combined storage of 12,600 megalitres ( 10,200 acre feet) are the only existing surface water storages in the basin and their assured yield is fully committed. In conjunction with unregulated flow in the Bowen and Burdekin river systems, the storages provide an annual water supply for irrigation in the lower Burdekin of 83,000 megalitres (67,500 acre feet) after allowance for supplies totalling 12,300 megalitres (10,000 acre feet) for Collinsville town and power station, Goonyella coal development and stock and domestic water supplies. In addition provision of part of the unregulated flow in the Burdekin is required for delta aquifer recharge by the North and South Burdekin Water Boards to maintain sugar production in the Burdekin delta.

Associated with the vast and as yet relatively undeveloped water resource is a flood plain of considerable potential for intensive agriculture. The basin possesses highly productive sugar, rice and beef cattle industries, numerous alternative storage sites on the Burdekin River and its tributaries and significant mineral deposits.

Rainfall is the major limitation to agricultural production in the area and supplementary irrigation would secure the efficient production of a large range of crops, thereby considerably enhancing the flexibility of the agricultural economy in the region. Sugar yields on the already established cane farms in the region are among the highest in the world, a long-grain rice industry has made good progress over recent years, and the potential for establishing a viable soybean industry has been demonstrated at the Millaroo Research Station under simulated commercial conditions. Other possible enterprises of economic significance are seed beans, horticulture, maize and cattle production.

The Federal-State Burdekin Project Committee, established in 1973 on the initiative of the Australian Government, is at present assessing the potential for development of resources of the basin for industrial, urban and agricultural development, for power generation and for flood mitigation. A request from the Queensland Government for financial assistance for the Urannah Dam-Clare Weir proposal was first made in 1971 and renewed to the present Government with a high order of priority. The Department of Northern Development, with assistance from State departments and the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation, carried out a comprehensive appraisal of the proposals. The economic evaluation of Clare Weir and its associated development indicates a sound return to private and public investment on the basis of conservative assumptions on commodity prices, especially in relation to the current state of the international sugar and grain markets. No unfavourable environmental consequences are expected from the Clare Weir development and the project could bring considerable improvements in social infrastructural facilities in existing smaller centres.

The development which would be based on the availability of water from Urannah Dam is still subject to further investigations and will be considered when a final report becomes available. Although the main function of Clare Weir is, at a later stage, to regulate releases from a major storage on the Burdekin River system, it is large enough to make a significant contribution to the stability of flows in the lower Burdekin River. The Clare Weir site is located on the lower Burdekin River, 5 1 kilometres- 3 1.5 miles- from the river mouth and some 8 kilometres- 5 miles- upstream from Clare. The structure is designed to minimise siltation. It will be a concrete gravity weir founded on alluvium with an upstream concrete cut-off to bedrock. Collapsible steel shutters about 2 metres in height will be installed to provide the required storage of 15,500 megalitres- 12,600 acre feet- and to allow the passage of major floods in the river. In conjunction with unregulated flows, the weir would assure a supply of some 25,000 megalitres- 20,000 acre feet- for agricultural use on some 2,000 to 3,000 hectares-5,000 to 7,500 acres.

Clare Weir is estimated to cost $3.4m and the associated pumping, reticulation, drainage and other ancillary works $ 1.2m. Escalation over the construction period would probably bring the total cost to $5. 8m. Clare Weir represents the first significant step in a partnership with the State in the development of the Burdekin Basin. While the program of studies in progress under the supervision of the Burdekin Project Committee might eventually indicate a range of development options to meet the needs of industry, agriculture, mining, etc., Clare Weir would be an essential regulatory component of any plan for using water released from a major storage on the river system for agriculture along the lower Burdekin or for reticulation to urban and industrial areas along the coast.

Clare Weir can, in fact, be rightly regarded as a pilot scheme for future development of the vast resources of the Burdekin Basin. The full development of the resources of the Burdekin Basin will be of a long-term nature with considerable national significance for industrial and regional development. It is now over 25 years since the first bold concept of a development plan for the Burdekin Basin was conceived and had the support of the Chifley Government. Clare Weir will now provide the first impetus from an Australian Government in this direction. I commend this Bill to honourable senators.

Debate (on motion by Senator Cotton) adjourned.

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