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Traveston Dam

Speeches in Parliament
Rachel Siewert 16 Aug 2007

The Greens have made additional comments to this report by the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport. While we do not disagree with the majority report-in fact, we agree with it-we do not believe that the recommendations go far enough. Based on the environmental, social and economic evidence presented to the committee it is quite clear that the Traveston dam is a white elephant, that it should not go ahead and that it is a giant waste of money. There is not a single doubt about that in my mind. On top of that, the dam is not going to work; it is going to leak like a sieve, as the chair said. There are serious evaporation issues. When the maximum depth at stage 1 is five metres, it is quite clear that there will be tremendous losses from evaporation, and it will leak. It is not going to work.

It is an expensive option. It is not the cheapest option to supply water and it has had a harrowing impact on the local community. The first they found out about it was when there was an announcement made that the dam would go ahead. We were told story after story about the negative impact that it was having on the community. The Queensland government have acted to address the social impact issues, but far too late. Some of the damage is already happening and it is ongoing.

Access to information for the community has been extremely difficult. In fact, during the committee process we asked the Queensland government a number of times to table information. In the end they did table most of that information. The first time the community had access to that information was through the Senate committee. So if the committee has done nothing else-and I think it has achieved a lot more-at least it has provided an avenue for community members to get access to information and for them to be able to air their stories and tell people what impact this is having on their lives.
We absolutely agree with the evidence that the committee received that there have been serious negative implications for people's psychological health, their general health, their social capacity and their economic prosperity. The evidence that we received overwhelmingly brings us to that conclusion. Based on the social impacts alone, the Greens believe that the Traveston dam is unacceptable. It is certainly having unacceptable social impacts. When you have a look at the triple bottom lines for sustainability-which are the economic, social and environmental impacts-it clearly meets none of them. It is not the cheapest option for supplying water into Queensland. Stuart White was one of the principal authors of a report for the mayors of the region. That report quite plainly points out that there are better options for water supply in Queensland, including water efficiency, water conservation and other non-rainfall-dependent water supplies, because one of the other clear bits of evidence that came out during this inquiry was that climate change had not adequately been taken into account.

The Queensland government has based a lot of its assumptions, and its conclusion for further dams, on the Paradise Dam. In the opinion of the Greens, the Paradise Dam should never have been built. It has no water in it. Wouldn't the fact that this dam has no water in it start ringing alarm bells for the Queensland government? The Queensland government has based a lot of its assumptions on that dam-for instance, how it will protect the lungfish. The dam has no water in it so it is not protecting any lungfish! The so-called fish-ladder for the lungfish is being used as the model for the Traveston Crossing dam. The government has not proved that this model has worked, and it has not been audited. Another key issue that has come out of the inquiry is that the federal government will now audit the conditions put on the Paradise Dam.

The Queensland government has been using the Paradise Dam as an example of how successful the Traveston dam will be, but the Paradise Dam is not working and its environmental conditions have not been audited. Fortunately, the department has now said that it will undertake an audit of the Paradise Dam. When you move onto the environmental impacts of this dam, the evidence is absolutely overwhelming: the area has three highly vulnerable endangered species. There is the Australian lungfish, which the Queensland government has put under immense pressure through its building of the dam. We have just heard Senator Moore talk about that evidence. There is also the Mary River cod and the Mary River turtle. All three species are directly threatened by the dam. There are also issues concerning the impact on aquatic weeds from building the dam. Again, the evidence was overwhelming that this would have unacceptable, adverse impacts on the Mary River system. Then there are all the issues around water resource planning and the flawed water resource plan for that area. The overwhelming evidence was that this had been a flawed process and that water from the river was overallocated.

During this process, as people may remember, the federal government announced the release of a review of the rivers in northern New South Wales. This was an attempt, I believe, to intervene in the south-east Queensland water supply crisis. Another flawed report, which was released by the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation, indicated that water could be taken out of some of the rivers. Five rivers in northern New South Wales were identified, although the report was much more wide ranging than that. Again, this threw a red herring into the debate. It upset the northern New South Wales community, and there had been no community consultation. And guess what? The people who had done the report had forgotten to factor in the impact of climate change. So the report is saying, 'You can come and get some water from New South Wales,' without anyone actually talking to people in New South Wales about it. One of the overwhelming influences on water supply is climate change and reduced rainfall. This was not taken into account in the report. This information started coming in, but the federal government seemed to indicate that it thought this was a good option. We then heard and took evidence from people in northern New South Wales and, as one would expect, we had an overwhelmingly negative response from this community to their rivers being identified as possible water resources. The Greens have touched on that in our additional comments and said that it is also unacceptable.

It is quite clear that the Queensland government needs to plan better for alternative water sources. Stuart White from the Institute of Sustainable Futures said in his report that the government has the beginnings of a really good plan there but that it needs to implement the plan and be much more clearly focused on non-rainfall-dependent alternative sources. It is also quite clear that the government needs to have a better focus on planning in south-east Queensland. Before the government goes ahead and plans for more people in that area, it needs to be able to identify how it can provide a sustainable water supply for people moving into the area. This is a serious planning exercise.

One of the points made in the report to the mayors was that building new developments is actually a good opportunity to introduce water efficiency. The point was made that you can reduce water inefficiency by 70 per cent in new subdivisions if you plan them properly. So it is critical that those proper planning decisions are made. The overwhelming conclusion from the overwhelming evidence is that this dam is a white elephant: it should not go ahead. Queensland needs to plan very carefully for its future water supply, but the Traveston dam will not meet the needs of the people of south-east Queensland.

Also, the key element that the Queensland government is trying to put across to the community there is that this dam is part of its urgent response to the water supply crisis. But the dam is not going to come on line until the year 2014 or 2015. It will not meet the immediate water needs of the Queensland community. This is a politically driven exercise. A stop should be put to it so that people in the region can get on with their lives.

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