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Travesty at Traveston

Speeches in Parliament
Rachel Siewert 8 Feb 2007

I rise today to move this reference to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee:

(a) the Senate notes the likely impacts on agriculture, the community and the environment of the proposed dam on the Mary River at Traveston Crossing in Queensland; and

(b) the following matters be referred to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee for inquiry and report by 27 March 2007:

(i) the impact on the Mary River, its dependent species and environs of the proposed dam,
(ii) the implications for communities living along the Mary River of the proposed dam to their livelihood and lifestyle, and
(iii) the balance of other options available to meet the regions water resource needs.

I think the issue of the proposed dam on the Mary River is of national importance, one which relates very intimately to the water debate that is currently going on around Australia. I am deeply concerned about the impacts this dam is going to have on the environment and on the people of Queensland and I do not believe that it is the best option for the water future for the south-east region of Queensland. It is 20th-century thinking in the 21st century.

It will displace people and destroy ecosystems.

The Mary River is the home of the endemic Murray River cod, which I think most people know is endangered, and the endemic and vulnerable Murray River tortoise. It is also home to several other endangered, threatened and vulnerable species, including the Australian lungfish-which many people often refer to as the 'missing link' between humans and fish-the Richmond birdwing butterfly, three species of frogs and the Coxen's fig parrot, to name but a few. It is designed to create a mega storage to take water from the Mary to the Greater Brisbane and Gold Coast region.

A 1994 report by the Department of Primary Industries titled An appraisal study of water supply sources for the Sunshine Coast and Mary River Valley advised that the Traveston Dam was unsuitable because of the high capital cost, inundation of prime agricultural land and displacement of rural population. The Noosa Shire Council engineer says that the dam's capital cost per megalitre is $24,300. I would suggest that is a very expensive option, five times more than was claimed when the announcement was originally made.

The proposal would see a 600,000 megalitre dam covering 7,600 hectares at Traveston Crossing. In terms of storage capacity, the dam would be, if it ever went ahead, the fifth largest in Queensland and the second largest dam serving the state's south-east.

The first stage is to be completed at the end of 2011. It would cost up to $1.7 billion and involve the construction of a 180,000-megalitre dam delivering up to 700 megalitres per annum. As you can see, this is a very big project. Then there are the second and third stages. All of these will cost a large amount of money and will have, I believe, an unacceptable impact on the environment and on the community.

Only stage 1 at this stage is proposed for environmental assessment. That is only the first part of the proposal and really you need to be considering the whole proposal as one. The incremental approach to environmental degradation also hides the overall environmental and community impacts of what is a mega proposal. As I said, it is 20th-century thinking in the 21st century. Rarely mentioned, the proposed water grid has enormous energy costs as well in moving water around the state, and it is all powered at this stage by fossil fuel.

The dam is proposed to displace 900 landowners, inundating prime agricultural land, flooding the Bruce Highway and forcing the proposed upgrade to go through.

This will displace other residents and, of course, impact on other prime agricultural land. Negative environmental and economic impacts on the Mary River catchment and downstream receiving waters include those impacts on the Great Sandy World Heritage area.

Permanent reduction in fisheries production, I believe, will result from this as well and will have serious implications for the fishing industry and on the tourism industry in the Great Sandy region, which as everybody in Australia knows, I think, is a large tourism area.

Tourism related industries are a very important part of the regional economy there, with over 200,000 visitors to Fraser Island, and a vast amount of money is also pumped into the local economy by those tourists.

As you can see, this proposal will have unacceptable environmental, community and economic impacts. There has not been, I believe, an open and thorough analysis of the water in that region. We have not been able to analyse Queensland's water figures to see just what alternatives there are.

There are alternatives, we believe, that are much more appropriate, such as recycling. Water efficiency and conservation are also issues that should be fully considered. This is a stop-gap mega engineering approach to the water crisis. I was hoping that we had got over this approach but obviously we have not in this country yet. We need to look at a much more sustainable water future because this proposal is in no way sustainable, given its unacceptable environmental, community, economic and social impacts.

We believe this proposal needs to be referred immediately to the committee to look at because there will be decisions to be made in the very near future. If we are truly committed to a sustainable water future we should be looking at alternatives. The Queensland government is obviously trying to rush this decision through without adequate consideration of the social, environmental and economic impacts. Just by limiting the environmental assessment process to stage 1, the full extent of this proposal will never be considered, and that is of course a flawed environmental process.

This issue is pressing. It is very clear that there is strong community opposition to this proposal. The local community certainly do not support it, judging by the number of emails, phone calls and letters I have received on this issue. I am sure every other senator in this place has also received letters and knows those issues of concern.

I moved this motion yesterday with the aim of bringing it on today and sending it off to a committee immediately because, as I said, we think this is urgent. I know that there are meetings coming up that will be discussing the future of this dam. We tried to keep this reference very simple, clear and focused on the impacts on the environment and the community and to ensure it looked at alternatives with the full knowledge of the water estimates for that region. I believe that they need thorough investigation. This is a very important issue. Given the focus of the whole country at the moment on the water crisis, they go to the very heart of that issue and what we in this country believe is sustainable water management and its impacts on the community. We can no longer make decisions on water that have unacceptable impacts on the community, the economy and, very importantly, the environment. This will lead to the loss of a number of endemic and endangered species and in the 21st century we should no longer be making those sorts of decisions.

[ At this point contributions were heard from other Senators ]

Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee Reference

Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia) (12.26 p.m.)- So everybody agrees that there should be an inquiry into this proposal but they do not want to support this committee reference. That is fascinating. I would have thought that if people were really keen to get this inquiry underway they would want to see it done straightaway and would in fact be prepared to look at these terms of reference and maybe negotiate over them.

To set the record straight, I submitted my motion to the table office yesterday prior to notices of motion being given here. So, in fact, I was not trying to gazump Senator Boswell; I did not know he was moving a similar motion. As I said, I had already submitted my motion before presentation of notices yesterday. After I found out that Senator Boswell had in fact presented his notice of motion yesterday, I tried to see if we could come up with a compromise where everybody's needs were met.

If you look at the proposal that Senators Boswell, Joyce and Trood have submitted, you find for a start there is no date for when the committee should report. So we could have an ongoing inquiry just taking submissions endlessly. Where is the time frame? There is a very strong sense of urgency about the need for this inquiry.

Where is their date? It seems to me the terms of reference for this inquiry were cobbled together fairly quickly. There is no date.

I would also like to point out an inherent contradiction in Senator Boswell's terms of reference. His motion proposes to refer the matter to the committee for inquiry and report after 'examination of all reasonable options'. Our very argument here is that this is an unreasonable option. The terms of reference say that we should be looking at 'all reasonable options' and then go on to look at the merits of all options, including the Traveston Crossing dam. Our very thesis is that this is an unreasonable option. That is why I think our terms of reference are much clearer. Senator Trood probably missed the fact that the terms of reference the Greens are proposing actually do require examination of other options.

Our term of reference (iii) is 'the balance of other options available to meet the region's water resource needs', which I think covers the question of other options very clearly.

I do think there are some flaws in the coalition senators' terms of reference. I do think ours are better: they have a clear date for when the committee should report.

They also make sure that we get on with the job right now and we do not waste any time.

I am disappointed that the coalition and, for that matter, the Labor Party do not feel that they can support this motion. It was put up so that we can get on with the job of looking at this proposal and looking at alternative needs.

I do agree with Senator Ian Macdonald that it is letting the Queensland government off the hook, but I think there is no alternative process for the community-the Queensland community in particular, of course-to actually get access to information and to be able to have their say. So, while I think that Senator Ian Macdonald does have a very significant point there, I do not think that that can take away from the need for the Senate to actually hold this inquiry, to at least have one method of shining some light on this proposal. As I said, I am disappointed that the committee of which I am deputy chair cannot get on with this job right now so we can start calling for public submissions and start getting access to this data. I am disappointed that we are going to have to wait weeks more before we can get on with this job. I put the motion to the Senate that the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee gets on with this inquiry and has an inquiry into the Traveston dam and the alternative options for water supply for south-east Queensland.

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