It’s now more than four months since IFED’s Coordinated Project status on the Gilbert River lapsed, after it failed to lodge its EIS on time. Despite previously using the IFED project as an excuse, the Palaszczuk Government has since failed to release more than 450,000 megalitres of unallocated water in the Gilbert catchment, within the Gulf Water Resource Plan (Gulf WRP).
Communities on southern Cape York Peninsula and in the Gulf of Carpentaria need these water resources to encourage investment, foster economic development and create jobs. They have been denied these opportunities, because Labor simply doesn’t understand the need for access to large volumes of secure water entitlements to deliver the certainty needed to underpin them.
As Natural Resources Minister in the previous LNP Government, I released the full amount of unallocated water in the Gulf WRP at the time – 80,000 megalitres in the Flinders and 15,000 megalites in the Gilbert. I then brought forward the review of the Gulf WRP (not due until 2018), using existing data and the CSIRO’s North Queensland Irrigated Agriculture Strategy report.
That review was finalised in January 2015, identifying an additional 250,000 megalitres in the Flinders and about 450,000 megaliters in the Gilbert, which could be made available. Sadly, since the Palaszczuk Government assumed control in February 2015, the process of releasing this water has faltered, being fumbled in the Flinders catchment and stalling altogether in the Gilbert.
In the Flinders, while expressions of interest for additional water were called in November 2015, nothing happened under Labor for 12 months. When offers were made in November 2016, it was for only 100,000 of the 250,000 megalitres identified in January 2015. The reason why this water has not been taken up is unclear, but it is hardly a vote of confidence in Labor’s process.
In the Gilbert, landholders have been unfairly and unnecessarily denied the opportunity to access additional volumes of water to increase the productivity and viability of their agricultural businesses. Labor’s current Natural Resources Minister, Anthony Lynham, decreed that the additional water would not be made available until after IFED’s EIS had been completed.
Although I’ve attempted to explain to Minister Lynham that the way these water entitlements are conditioned – determining when, where and how water can be taken – meant there was no need for this delay, Labor’s IFED excuse no longer exists. The Palaszczuk Government’s refusal to release water in the Gilbert is another example of how it is holding North Queensland back.
Labor has certainly made a complete mess of the water release processes within the Gulf WRP and potential water users in the region will be wondering if they can have confidence in the water planning framework while it is being run by the Palaszczuk Government. The LNP has a strong commitment to supporting and progressing economic development in North Queensland.