Private Member’s Business – Agriculture

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Mr PITTI’m dressed up for dams, would you believe! We’re here in the Federation Chamber, it’s late evening and we are talking about critical water infrastructure. Quite simply put, as the previous speaker has said, if we want Australian agriculture to reach $100 billion in gross product value, then we need to almost double our existing agricultural production. Right now, it’s around $60 billion, and obviously there’ll be changes into the future, given the current state of the nation in terms of drought. If you think about that, if we want to almost double what we have now, that means we need twice as many activities. That means we need to ensure we have a reliable water supply.

I made a few notes earlier. As a former producer I thought about what it was that was important to me when I made decisions, and it was risk, reliability, confidence and wealth. I think they are the critical decisions that every businessperson, whether they are in agriculture or not, thinks about before they make an investment and before they determine how much risk they want to take with their money, their assets and the future of their family. Right now, we need to ensure that that risk is as low as possible, and to do that you need reliable water supplies for agriculture and towns. We know that we are in a crisis state in a number of areas right across the country. We can’t do anything about that—that is the position we are in. But we can provide hope and confidence to those individuals, those communities, those states and our nation if we continue to build big infrastructure projects. Whether that is water storage or connective infrastructure or irrigation projects, it doesn’t really matter, because all of those things add into that decision matrix—risk, reliability, confidence and wealth. In Queensland right now, our growers—my local community—are struggling with all four aspects. I note the Prime Minister’s announcements on the weekend of $1 billion for water infrastructure in New South Wales. The New South Wales government is willing to fast-track—not shortcut—approval processes in that state to make sure this infrastructure actually gets built. We have allowed bureaucracy to become the reason for inaction, and that simply cannot continue.

In Queensland, my home state, we have a Labor government which is determined to build nothing. In fact, in recent weeks they have announced they will reduce the dam wall height of our youngest dam—it is just 10 years old or a little older—by five metres, reducing its storage capacity by 85,000 megalitres. To do that, they are letting out 110,000 megalitres of water in that storage down the river, and the political spin is that this is great news for drought-stricken farmers. As you know, Deputy Speaker Hogan, and I and others know, you quite simply can’t take water at the time it runs past your gate and make efficient use of it. So this is complete spin. This week’s spin is that there is a safety issue, but it is unstated and unsubstantiated. No-one will tell us what the issue is. Our community deserves an answer. This dam was built and opened in 2016 with great fanfare by former Premier Peter Beattie—300,000 megalitres of storage. It’s a big capacity dam in our region. It provides over 90 per cent water reliability to the growers in my area. As a result of that infrastructure, they have invested in tree crops—macadamia and avocado; long-term, high-level, high production, high-value products—because they had a reliable water supply.

After these changes are made and if we end up with less water and less reliability, that will mean less wealth for our local community and fewer opportunities in the future. That dam had 100,000 megalitres of unallocated water. That is the future wealth of our community. I say again to the state Labor government in Queensland, if there is a safety issue with the Paradise Dam, tell us what it is. Be up-front. Our community accepts that there are challenges and that things change all the time. If you are in agriculture, you get it. One of the things you learn in agriculture is resilience. Tell us what the safety issue is. Be up-front, walk up to a camera, tell us what it is that needs to be addressed and how you are going to fix it and give us a commitment to return that storage capacity to that facility so we can continue to have confidence in our local community. Without it, I have had reports already of a fall in the value of our local agriculture land. That is unacceptable. Quite simply, the state is taking away our wealth. Right now, if you look at the Rookwood Weir, if you look at the announcements made in the western part of the state and if you look at what they are doing in Paradise, the taxpayer will be spending almost half a billion dollars to have less water storage than they do today. I think that is unacceptable, that is criminal and that is disgraceful—$500 million of taxpayers’ money to give us less storage than we have right now.

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