Northern Australia Minister Matt Canavan wants new dams to help develop the north of Queensland. Picture: AAP/Mick Tsikas
Northern Australia Minister Matt Canavan wants new dams to help develop the north of Queensland. Picture: AAP/Mick Tsikas

Get out of the dam way, greenies told

A QUEENSLAND super dam that would cost almost $1 billion and capture flooding rain from the north is being flagged as a viable drought insurance plan under the Federal Government.

The trigger for new cash cows and bumper crops - outlined in a landmark CSIRO report today - will spark a fired-up Resources and Northern Australia Minister Matt Canavan to challenge hippies throughout Australia to think about where their food comes from.

"They will pontificate from the salons of West End about the evils of irrigated agriculture in between mouthfuls of smashed avocado,'' Senator Canavan said.

"They should be politely ignored because they know nothing about farming, even though they still want to eat the best produce all year round."

In a sign the Nationals will ramp up demands for water infrastructure from Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Senator Canavan urged dams be "our next great national building initiative".

The move also points to a growing political divide between the federal Coalition and the Queensland Labor Government, which has refused to relent to Commonwealth demands that it build more dams.

The Northern Australia Waters Resources Assessments report has identified that supercharging water infrastructure across northern Australia in Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia could create 15,000 jobs and add $5.3 billion to the economy.

It finds four dams could be built in the Mitchell catchment, which flows from Mareeba, about 60km west of Cairns, to the Gulf of Carpentaria.

 

The Mitchell River catchment on Cape York Peninsula
The Mitchell River catchment on Cape York Peninsula

 

The Mitchell catchment has a mean annual rainfall of 996mm - double what Longreach gets.

If captured, the catchment has the potential to support 140,000ha of year-round irrigated agricultural development.

The proposed Pinnacles Dam would cost about $755 million which is, as pointed out by Senator Canavan, less than a fifth of the inner city Brisbane Cross River Rail project.

"Irrigated forages for young cattle - to increase their weight and allow early weening - could markedly increase beef production a year and yield a profit,'' the report said.

"Pond-based black tiger prawns or barramundi offer potentially high returns in saltwater near the coastal margin of the catchment."

Feed could also be grown for Queensland's western pastoralists, who are trucking up feed for their cattle from down south.

"Around 60 per cent of Australia's rain falls on the 40 per cent of the country that makes up Northern Australia,'' Senator Canavan said.

"So most of Australia's rain falls in the north, yet most of our dams and water infrastructure is in the south.

"What makes sense is to use the water where it falls. If we do that the resulting cottonseed, molasses, grain and hay could be trucked to our drought-affected areas.

 

The Tate River in the Mitchell catchment during dry season. Picture: CSIRO
The Tate River in the Mitchell catchment during dry season. Picture: CSIRO

 

"We will never completely remove the devastation of drought from our continent but we can reduce its impact by storing more water.

"These dams could deliver more than five times the volume of Sydney Harbour in more than eight of every 10 years.

"That is enough water to irrigate 140,000ha of farms (in Queensland), generating $720,000 million in farm produce and 7250 jobs."

Infrastructure Minister Michael McCormack said the report would help inform and deliver future government policy.

"The studies identify the best sites within the best catchments for potential irrigated agricultural development, which is profitable, productive and sustainable,'' Mr McCormack said.

"The work reflects the potential for 387,000ha of crops such as cotton and sugarcane."

It comes as National Farmers' Federation president Fiona Simson told the National Press Club in Canberra yesterday that there needed to be continued focus on water use.

"We need to remove much of the red tape applied to land management,'' Ms Simson said, appearing to take a swipe at the Queensland Government,

"There are market-based options that will deliver better outcomes for biodiversity by valuing public good conservation on private land and rewarding farmers for protecting threatened species."

Meanwhile, federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud hit back at his state counterpart Anthony Lynham about the mulga issue confronting farmers.

Struggling farmers are knocking over mulga to feed their cattle but there's confusion about whether it is legal, with AgForce accusing the State Government of making it more complicated for farmers under their new vegetation management laws.

Mr Lynham said farmers could use mulga on their own properties but Mr Littleproud called on the state to clear up the confusion.

"If the Queensland Government doesn't go and clear up the confusion, the Federal Senate could possibly set up an inquiry into Queensland's vegetation laws.

"I'd much prefer that didn't need to happen."



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