Andrew estimated

After the defeat of the Palaszczuk Government’s proposed changes to Queensland’s vegetation management framework, the next challenge for future economic development opportunities in regional Queensland, particularly in North Queensland, is to defend the former LNP Government’s 2014 reforms to the Water Act. Security of tenure, the ability to manage vegetation and the availability of water must come together to secure investment in new irrigated agriculture projects.

The former LNP Government’s reforms of the Water Act included – inserting a broader purpose into the Act to consider community and economic outcomes, as well as the environment; updating unnecessarily lengthy and rigid water planning processes; providing for consistency in how groundwater is managed across all resources industry sectors; and creating a pathway for the consideration of new irrigated agriculture projects (referred to as the water development option).

These reforms passed the Queensland Parliament in late 2014, but had not been enacted at the time of the state election in early 2015. Labor delayed their implementation until it introduced its own bill in November 2015. Ironically, after objecting to the LNPs reforms, Labor has since resolved to keep the changes which will make the water planning process more timely and efficient and make the management of groundwater consistent across all sectors of the resources industry.

Nevertheless, the Palaszczuk Government does propose to reinstate a restrictive purpose into the bill and prevent new, large scale water infrastructure projects being assessed and approved through the Water Act – both to satisfy the Greens. The return of ‘ecologically sustainable development’ as the overarching purpose of the Act should concern industry leaders, particularly those looking to secure additional water for new productive, job creating projects in the regions.

However, the most serious loss for the agriculture sector and regional Queensland is the proposed exclusion of the water development option, which removes a pathway for the assessment and approval of greenfield irrigated agriculture projects within the Water Act.  In doing so, Labor has moved to sink the prospects of new economic development opportunities requiring additional volumes of water for irrigated agriculture projects. This a particular concern in North Queensland.

The Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources Committee tabled its report on 1 March 2016. Since then, the Water Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 has languished on the Notice Paper. Labor’s reluctance to debate the bill will have a lot to do with the unanimous recommendation in that report supporting an alternative to the water development option. No doubt Labor MPs on that committee have since been asked to explain this embarrassing outburst of independent thinking.

The Queensland Parliament rejected the Palaszczuk Government’s anti-agriculture, anti-regional development vegetation management bill because it focused on scaremongering and its relationship with the Greens, not the job creating opportunities for regional communities that sensible and balanced reform of natural resource management legislation can deliver. The same dishonesty is on show here and Labor’s water bill should be rejected for exactly the same reasons.

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