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Monday, 22 October 1973
Page: 2414

Dr PATTERSON (Dawson) (Minister for Northern Development and Minister for the Northern Territory) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this Bill is to authorise a grant of $550,000 to the Queensland Government to assist in financing the construction of 2 weirs - one on the main stream of the lower Dawson River to replace an existing small weir, and another weir on an adjacent anabranch near Baralaba in the Fitzroy Basin of Central Queensland. Water resource development on the Dawson River at the present time is comparatively limited. There are 6 weirs on the river with a total storage capacity of 39 million cubic metres or, expressed in our earlier measure, 32,000 acre-feet. Water from these storages is already fully committed for mining, stock and domestic purposes, and irrigation.

The grant by the Australian Government for the 2 weirs will assist the State Government to provide water along the lower reaches of the river. The weirs will have a combined storage capacity of about 11 million cubic metres (9,000 acre-feet), and they are expected to yield an assured annual supply of 6.2 million cubic metres (5,000 acre-feet). After reserving a supply of water for stock, domestic and urban purposes, about 5.8 million cubic metres (4,700 acre-feet) will be allocated from a point about 22 kilometres (14 miles) above the river weir to the junction of the Dawson and Fitzroy rivers, and along the full length of the anabranch.

A grant of $550,000 was originally offered by the previous Australian Government in November 1972. That offer was accepted by the Queensland Government, but no legislative action had been taken by the time the present Government took office. Early this year the Government reconsidered the case for financial assistance to Queensland for the weirs and re-confirmed the offer of a grant of $550,000. The Queensland Government has accepted the offer.

Subsequently, however, the Queensland Government advised that, due to unusual geological features which had been discovered at the weir site on the main stream of the river, the estimated cost of the weirs had risen to $1,220,000. The State proposed that it would meet the balance of the cost of the project if the Australian Government would be prepared to endorse the offer it had already made of a grant of $550,000. The Australian Government agreed to this proposal. It is expected that construction will commence in the present financial year and that the weirs will be completed by the end of 1975.

The project area has a sub-tropical, subhumid climate with a fairly variable summer rainfall. Production and incomes vary considerably from year to year according to seasonal conditions. The main enterprise is beef production and the shortage of winter fodder is the principal factor determining stocking rates, timing of turn-off and limiting intensification of beef production. The provision of water will enable beef producers to overcome this restriction on their activities. It is estimated that the additional water available from the storages could be sufficient for some 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres) although annual acreage could vary considerably depending on the water requirements of the crops that are grown each year. There is a more than adequate supply of suitable soils although, in some instances, the cost to landholders of reticulating water to suitable areas out of flood reach could be considerable.

There is a wide range of production possibilities and the project will strengthen the basis for commercial agricultural activities and the area will benefit greatly through stability. Crops with sound production possibilities include lucerne for on-farm consumption by cattle or for sale, particularly during dry spells; oats for winter grazing; summer fodder crops; grain sorghum; soy beans; wheat; and safflower. The gross value at farm gate of beef and grain produced under irrigation using water made available from the weirs would probably be in the order of $450,000 annually. When the Government received the revised cost estimates I arranged for the Department of Northern Development to undertake a further economic evaluation. Copies of the report of this investigation are available. Projections of beef and grain sorghum prices used in this evaluation were supplied by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, and there was close consultation between my Department and the Bureau at all stages in the assessment of the economic impact of the project.

Environmental studies undertaken by the Queensland Government, based on similar irrigation development upstream along the Dawson River, indicate that the Baralaba project will result in a significant improvement in recreational, ecological, economic and general living conditions. The project measures up well to the criteria of this Government in respect of water resource development for agriculture. It is soundly based and will contribute significantly to stabilising production and incomes in an established agricultural area. I commend this Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Katter) adjourned.

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