As Natural Resources Minister in the previous LNP Government, I released the full amount of unallocated water in the Gulf Water Resources Plan (WRP) – 80,000 ML in the Flinders catchment and 15,000 ML in the Gilbert catchment. Following that release, I brought forward the review of the Gulf WRP, which was not due until 2018, using existing available data and the work of the CSIRO led North Queensland Irrigated Agriculture Strategy report.

That review, which was being finalised in January 2015, identified additional volumes of water of about 250,000 ML in the Flinders and about 500,000 ML in the Gilbert, which could be made available. Since the Palaszczuk Government assumed control in February 2015, the process has almost ground to a halt. In the Flinders catchment, despite tenders for additional water being called in November 2015 and closing in January 2016, nothing has happened.

Sadly, the process for the release of additional water in the Gilbert has stalled altogether. The current Natural Resources Minister, Anthony Lynham, decreed in August 2015 that the additional water in the Gilbert catchment would not be made available until after the Environmental Impact Statement process for the proposed Integrated Food and Energy Developments (IFED) project has been completed. This is unnecessary and unfair.

Under the Water Act, un-supplemented water entitlements are granted with daily and annual volumetric limits and flow conditions. For the last 18 months, I’ve attempted to explain to Minister Lynham that the Memorandum of Understanding the Palaszczuk Government has with IFED proposes to allocate water in the Gilbert catchment primarily on the basis of an average annual diversion, not just daily and annual volumetric limits and flow conditions.

That volume, 555,000 ML, is also based on the assumption that IFED will construct a major piece of water storage infrastructure to hold significant volumes of water that can be harvested when the catchments of these Gulf rivers experience proper monsoonal rains, or wet seasons, resulting in what are extraordinary flow rates. That doesn’t happen every year – hence the identification of an average annual diversion, rather than an annual volumetric limit.

The key is the way in which these water entitlements are conditioned – determining when, where and in what circumstances water can be taken. While the rivers in the Gulf do need more gauging stations to monitor stream flows more accurately, allowing these additional water entitlements to be issued in the Flinders and indeed, in the Gilbert, does not pose a significant risk to the environment, or to the Gulf fisheries – they just need to be conditioned properly.

For Labor to insist that the EIS process for IFED must be completed before the additional water in the Gilbert catchment can be released is a load of nonsense. Landholders in the Gilbert catchment are being unfairly and unnecessarily denied the opportunity to access additional volumes of water to increase the productivity and viability of their agricultural business. Labor’s refusal to progress is another example of how it is holding North Queensland back.

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