Last year, I along with other members of the Liberal and National parties raised concerns about the biggest infrastructure fail in Australia's history—that is, the scandal of Paradise Dam.
Senator Rennick: Shame!
Thank you, Senator Rennick; it is shameful. Today I note with some concern and exasperation that the Queensland state Labor government have all but confirmed this status—that Paradise Dam is a national disgrace. And it is a hidden national disgrace. Late yesterday afternoon, the Labor government in Queensland rammed laws through state parliament to allow the government to lower the dam wall by five metres. Commissioned in 2005 by then premier Peter Beattie, this $200 million dam now stands to be condemned to a significantly reduced capacity, sitting at just 42 per cent. When Labor premier Peter Beattie commissioned the dam in 2005, he said:
The dam has the potential to increase net wealth in the region by up to $800 million a year and create more than 7,000 new jobs over time as industrial and agricultural businesses get better access to water and expand their activities.
The people of Bundaberg and the broader Wide Bay-Burnett region took Peter Beattie and the then Labor government at its word—big mistake, because we all know that when Labor speaks, Labor lies. The locals invested in farms, they employed workers, they purchased equipment and they built a food bowl of fruit and vegies and nuts, such as the macadamia nuts that Australia is rightly proud of. Not for the first time, the people of Bundaberg were let down by a state Labor government.
Both I and the LNP fully appreciate the need to ensure the safety of the Bundaberg community, particularly after the flood events of 2013. But, rather than outline the safety issues in any detail, in September last year the Palaszczuk Labor government had the audacity to announce their plans to release 80,000 megalitres of liquid gold from this dam by dressing it up as 'free water'. In the same press release, the chairman of the dam's operator, Sunwater, said they would seek tenders by November 2019 with a view to works starting by May 2020 to lower the dam spillway by five metres. Since then, the Palaszczuk Labor government has reportedly flushed away 105,000 megalitres of water from this dam during one of the worst droughts on record. They flushed water out to sea during one of the worst droughts in the history of Australia.
In the face of such difficult news, the local farmers of the Bundaberg Fruit & Vegie Growers didn't undertake mass demonstrations on George Street, they didn't glue themselves to pedestrian crossings and they didn't riot in the streets; they sought out an international expert with more than 50 years experience in geotechnical and civil engineering, safety evaluation and rehabilitation of dams, Dr Paul Rizzo, to provide an independent report into future options for the dam. Bundy Fruit & Vegie Growers managing director, Bree Grima, is pleading with Labor politicians in Brisbane to make decisions about Paradise Dam that will keep the community safe and will allow the dam to remain at full capacity. Bree told the local newspaper, the Bundaberg NewsMail:
We need Paradise Dam to remain at full capacity to support future growth and economic development of this thriving regional community.
But, yet again, it appears that the Queensland Labor government is determined to shift the goalposts and condemn Bundaberg's agriculture industry.
Yesterday, Queensland Labor's Minister Lynham said the works to reduce the wall would commence in March-April 2020. Evidently, the Labor Party in Queensland has no time for expert reports, no time for public consultation, no time for the committee process to examine these laws, and no time for the openness or accountability that the people of Queensland were promised. I have to agree with the sentiments expressed by the member for Burnett, Stephen Bennett, who said:
It is absolutely disgraceful that the Palaszczuk Government is still moving forward with their plans to chop five metres off the top of the dam wall. We should be looking at every other possible option before such destructive measures proceed.
The state Labor government's handling of this matter has simply raised more questions than it answers. In announcing these measures in September, Labor Minister Lynham said:
Work to lower the spillway can then start after the wet season. Importantly, none of this will affect water supply for irrigators or the town of Bundaberg.
Yet days ago the same minister told the Bundaberg NewsMail that Sunwater is also investigating alternative water supply options, especially for irrigators. In September Mr Lynham said Building Queensland would 'assess and report by February on options to ensure water security for the region for future economic growth and to maintain community safety'. Mr Lynham seems to be saying a lot of things and they certainly aren't consistent. Yesterday Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey said he was 'bewildered by the rush' of the state government to lower the spillway in the next few months. He asked: 'Why can't the government wait for the findings of their own inquiry and advice from Building Queensland?' A sensible question to ask.
Last year I joined my federal colleagues Keith Pitt, Ken O'Dowd, Senator Scarr and Senator Rennick in supporting Deb Frecklington, the leader of the Liberal National Party, and local MPs Stephen Bennett, David Batt, Colin Boyce and Ted Sorensen in their call for a full parliamentary inquiry into Paradise Dam, to establish how this monumental failure occurred in the first place. Remember, this is a $200 million infrastructure fail. It is the biggest infrastructure fail in the history of Australia. In late November, the Palaszczuk Labor government was dragged kicking and screaming to establish the inquiry.
The Queensland government's record on protecting threatened species is well established and it would appear that these efforts are ongoing. There are reports in today's The Australian newspaper that Graeme Newton, the general manager of Burnett Water, which was engaged to build the dam, now heads construction of the $5.4 billion Cross River Rail project in Brisbane. There is a protected species racket going on here. I am not talking about hairy three-legged blind frogs or gender-neutral slugs, I am talking about Peter Beattie and I am talking about Graeme Newton. There is a massive cover-up going on here. Someone who oversaw Australia's largest infrastructure failure is now managing a $5.4 billion infrastructure project in Brisbane.
Worse still, in light of the laws rushed through the Queensland parliament yesterday, it appears that by the time fruit and vegie growers and local residents impacted by the decisions will have the chance to front the Palaszczuk government's inquiry, in Bundaberg in March, works will already be underway to tear down the dam wall. The Palaszczuk Labor government needs to stop insulting Wide Bay's farmers and start listening to them. Labor are not only not building dams in Queensland, they're reducing dams—like Rookwood, in a proposal to reduce it by 25 per cent—or they are tearing down existing dams, like the Paradise Dam.
Two-thirds of Queensland is drought stricken, yet we have a state Labor government who are not building dams and they're tearing down walls. Paradise Dam is the greatest infrastructure fail in the history of Australia. But, because it's in Queensland, because it's in regional Queensland, the people in Sydney, the people in Canberra, the people in Melbourne and the press gallery upstairs don't notice it. If this were in the magic triangle of Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra it would be on the front page of every newspaper in the country. There's not a peep from the Labor Party or anybody else about this. It's only the Liberal National Party that is standing up for regional Queensland about this terrible waste of taxpayers' money, standing up for the fruit and vegie growers of the Wide Bay-Burnett region and standing up for those who pay their taxes for this. They're standing up for the quiet Australians who live in Queensland. Shame on Palaszczuk. Shame on Labor. Build the dam, and stop tearing down dams.