OP ED – Time to let Commonwealth take lead on dams

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

It’s time. An oldie but a goodie when it comes to electioneering, but when it comes to critical water infrastructure for drought ravaged communities, time is up for all levels of government.

Words like ‘crisis’, ‘Armageddon’, ‘record breaking’ are all being flung around in the media but when it comes right down to it, we simply have to act.

No one cares about the State / Commonwealth divide, no one cares about the ideological differences between State Labor governments and centre right Commonwealth governments. The issue is about people, our regional towns and our Nation’s future.

It is a question of the long term survival of country people and their way of life. As a member of the Nationals party room, the only party that solely represents regional Australia, I’m saying it’s past time.

No matter where I go, in any part of the country, whether it’s a capital city or a regional area, everyone I talk to is saying the same thing: help them.

Help those farmers facing such a long drought. Help those businesses going backwards in the regions; help those kids being moved off farms and into cities.

While none of us can make the heavens open, we can give those drought stricken individuals hope.

Hope that government is not only saying we are doing everything we can, we actually are. Hope that in a future drought event the nation will be more resilient, due to decisions taken now.

Hope that we can get past ideological arguments and just do what is absolutely necessary. And that means making tough and likely controversial decisions.

In recent weeks we have seen a Victorian State Minister say no dams will be built in Victoria, because she thinks it won’t rain again.

In Queensland the long fought for Rookwood Weir has been downgraded in size making its viability questionable. And in one of the most disgraceful decisions I’ve seen in my 50 years on this planet by a state government, the country’s newest dam (opened in 2005), Paradise Dam near Bundaberg, will have its dam wall height reduced by five metres at a cost of up to $100 million dollars by the Queensland Labor State government, significantly and permanently reducing its existing 300,000ML capacity to 215,000ML.

That’s just a kick in the guts for the people of my region. Surely if it’s a safety issue it can fixed, and if this situation is temporary the State Government should say so.

It is time for the Commonwealth to take charge of delivering critical infrastructure and the first step in my view is to establish a new governmentowned corporation whose sole job is building dams.

The Australian Building Corporation for Dams can be an exact replica of the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) currently chaired by former Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss.

The ARTC is currently building the inland rail, and operates Rail tracks in South Australia and NSW. The previously announced National Water Infrastructure Loan Facility of $2 billion dollars was never taken up by a State or Territory government.

That type of finance can be used by the ABCD to build dams, just as the ARTC uses commonwealth finance to build railways. No more arguing, no more blaming other levels of government. If the states won’t build them, the Commonwealth will. In some of my former careers it’s an
approach known as the Nike criteria: Just Do It.

So how can this proposal be delivered in a timely fashion, allowing construction to start and not just be talked about?

Step one is to secure bipartisan support. Federal Labor needs to be on board.

Second, the public and the media need to support making tough decisions like this.

Third, regional members of parliament need to use their influence to deliver what is essential infrastructure for the people they represent. And Just Do It.



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