A historic agreement between Kennedy MP Bob Katter and the Federal Government will see funds flow for two massive irrigation projects in north Queensland’s interior.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has promised $180 million for the Hughenden Irrigation Scheme on the Flinders River, Queensland’s longest.
A further $54 million will be spent on building Big Rocks Weir on the Burdekin River near Charters Towers in the first step of the massive Hells Gates Dam proposal.
In return, Mr Morrison wrote to Mr Katter seeking continued support for supply and confidence on the floor of Federal Parliament, where a recent loss in the Wentworth by-election has left the Morrison Government without a clear majority.
Mr Katter said the project will invigorate the economy of north Queensland.
“[Hells Gates Dam] is a project with 20,000 jobs to north Queensland’s economy. It’ll supply Townsville with the most adequate and cheapest water supply of any city in Australia.”
Mr Katter said the potential for the completed project to supply water, power and bio-energy was enormous.
“It will produce almost all of north Queensland’s electricity and 70 per cent of Australia’s petrol needs, with zero emissions,” he said.
“There is only one weapon against drought, and that is your ability to grow grass,” Mr Katter said.
But Townsville-based Senator Ian McDonald warned the money for the Hughenden Irrigation Scheme was conditional on the project meeting certain conditions.
“It’s got a long way to go before any money goes towards that,” he said.
“It has to get some sort of feasibility study, it has to have a business case, it has to, of course, get Queensland Government approval.
“And I can tell you for 20 years we’ve been trying to get some form of water storage along the Flinders River from Labor governments in Queensland.
Senator McDonald was more optimistic about the Big Rocks Weir, planned for upstream of the present Burdekin Falls Dam.
“It’s a do-able project, again it requires, of course, approval of the owners of the river, which as I always point out are the Queensland Government,” Senator McDonald said.
Charters Towers Regional Council Mayor Liz Schmidt said Big Rocks Weir had long been identified as a source of water for thousands of hectares of fertile land.
“The community is very excited … it’s something we’ve been looking at for a decade,” she said.
“There’s money for an Environmental Impact Statement and also the potential business case. The balance of it would be providing the infrastructure of that weir.
Small scale cropping has been practiced along the Flinders River near the towns of Hughenden and Richmond before, with sorghum and fodder the main products.
Chairman of the Hughenden Irrigation Corporation, Shane McCarthy, said enhancing that production through the Hughenden Irrigation Scheme has been a dream since 1985.
“[$180 million] will go a long way to building a large water storage facility to the north of the town for irrigation,” he said.
Mr McCarthy said the scheme would allow the drought-stricken community to prepare for dry conditions by attracting additional industries to town.
Mr McCarthy said a best case scenario would see the project underway within three to four years.
“I’d like it happen tomorrow but these things don’t happen overnight. As soon as possible, I’m hoping,” he said.
Flinders Shire Mayor Jane McNamara said the region was a huge untapped resource.
“CSIRO actually did a lot of studies along the Flinders River a few years ago and there is absolutely thousands of hectares of arable land.
“There are so many worthy projects across Kennedy, so I’m hoping that Bob [Katter] sets his sights a lot wider.”