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Selwyn Johnston



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The proposed diversion of the upper TULLY, HERBERT and  BURDEKIN Rivers

On to the Inland Plains of North and Central Queensland

A Study by the
Queensland N.P.A. Water Resources
November 1981.


This report was compiled by:

Dr Eric Heidecker Senior Lecturer in Geology, University of Queensland leading naturalist and author;

Mr Roy Stainkey owns and works one of North Queensland's biggest sheep runs, Senior Executive O.K.. and NPA; and

Mr Bob Katter Jr MLA (now HoR) and a fourth generation resident of inland North Queensland

An on site inspection of the Herbert River diversion was undertaken by the above sub-committee of the N.P.A. (Qld) Water Resources Committee. This was facilitated by a three-day hike with backpacks in which committee members verified much of the information contained in this document. Other information as secured by processing reports, which stacked some two feet in height and dated back to 1929. In addition, with the help of a stereo viewer, the sub-committee studied in detail some 200 square feet of topographical maps and aerial photographs.

At a water resources convention at Bourke, Wally Mitchell told many of the most powerful and influential men in Australia that Australia's Bicentennial Birthday present must be a $4 billion commitment to water resources. Sadly, in the 1977 Federal Budget, a five year-$200 million commitment was made to water resource development. This programme is now in its fourth year. Some $35 million was allocated in the budget this year which will bring total spending under the programme up to approximately $110 million; so unless the 1982 Budget commits an unprecedented $90 million to water, this, the most important of promises is going to be broken.


Queensland NPA Water Resources Sub-Committee



1.1 The Scheme was first proposed by Dr John J.C. Bradfield, D.Sc., M.E., in 1929. It was the subject of numerous commissioned Committees of Inquiry by both the Queensland State government as well as the Federal government.

1.2 Whilst the original proposals were widened to take in most of Australia, the heart of the scheme (The Bradfield Scheme) without embellishment was the:

   Dam the Tully River (near where the Koombooloomba Hydro Dam now stands);

   Diverting the Tully River (above this dam) into the Herbert River;

   Dam the Herbert River at the Kooragwyn Dam site (two miles upstream from junction with Cameron Creek);

   Diverting the Herbert River (above the Falls) into the Burdekin River;

   Dam the Burdekin and diverting it into the Flinders; and

   Diverting the Flinders by way of a small channel into the Thompson, from where it would fill up Lake Eyre, thus increasing the moisture content of Australia's dry interior rain would thereby precipitate and the desert, it was hoped, would bloom.



2.1 The Federal Government Committee of Inquiry set up to cover the Scheme said it would not work. Increased moisture, they claimed, would not make it rain (e.g. the Sinai desert, the Horn of Africa, and the NW of Western Australia all border oceans and yet all are semi-arid or outright desert).

The meteorological expert and the then head of the Australian Department of Meteorology on this committee, both gave dissenting reports backing Bradfield and producing objective evidence backing Bradfield's contention that rainfall would increase.

2.2 A review of the Bradfield plan by Dr Burton was published by the Water Research Foundation of Australia in March 1961. This 'review' slated Bradfield, basically restating the in depth Nimmo Report.

2.3 The Nimmo Report, commissioned by the Queensland government, attacked Bradfield on three points, claiming inter alia that: -

(a) Water would not flow from the Burdekin at Hell's Gate Dam reservoir into the Flinders River. Bradfield, without accurate topographical information, had his levels wrong;

(b) His stream flow estimates were wrong (there was not enough water to make the scheme economically viable) Bradfield said 5.4m mgl's was available for diversion - Nimmo said 1.125m mgl's only.

(c) The cost of the scheme was such that it would not be a viable economic proposition (Bradfield claiming it would cost $40 million, Nimmo said $100 million).


Australia is not, in any sense, in occupation of most of its continental landmass. The area west of the Great Divide and encompassing all of the northern half of Australia - over half the continental landmass - contains only 1.5% of the Australian population…i.e. 210,000 people and 87,000 of these are contained in just three towns - Alice Springs, Darwin and Mt Isa.

Worse still, is the fact that the population in this area is falling at an increasing rate.

The situation in Queensland, west of the Great Divide, is sad. This is clearly indicated by population figures for the towns of central west and northwest Queensland.

Shire Pop in 1961 Pop in 1980 + or %
Blackall 3,291 2,090 - 32%
Barcaldine 2,384 1,770 - 25%
Aramac 1,790 1,020 - 44%
Winton 3,043 1,900 - 30%
Cloncurry 4,869 4,250 - 12%
McKinlay 2,134 1,450 - 12%
Richmond 2,214 1,450 - 36%
Flinders 3,953 2,850 - 28%
Average Loss                                                                  - 30%

This vast bulk of the Australian landmass has, in the main, adequate rainfall and fair to good soil types (see 4.1, Soil Suitability, below). The continued failure of Australia and the State government in Queensland to settle these areas cannot be justified.


Massive irrigation development of the black soil plains of inland Queensland can be justified by expanding the buoyant markets in cotton, coarse grains, wheat, cattle fattening, and even ethanol production, where by-products would be highly useful to the cattle and wool industries (viz: in overcoming end of year protein drought, a characteristic of the monsoonal north).


The success of Emerald's Fairbairn dam irrigation project, with its near identical situation to that which exists in the mid-west plains of north and central Queensland would appear to guarantee the success of a similar project below the Flinders River.

The problems of the Ord are mainly centred around isolation from existing farming infrastructures, e.g. tractor parts are 1,500 miles away in the south-west corner of WA.

Hughenden is only 250 miles away from the Giru-Ayr area, or from Emerald... infrastructure is handy.


Statistics Group

Department of the Parliamentary Library


Regional Distribution - 1961 to 1991

Area 1961 No. % Qld 1991 No. % Qld. No. %
East of Great Divide 1,298,577 85.5 2,747,818 92.5 1,449,241 111.6
West of  Great Divide 220,251 14.5    224,186 7.5         3,935   1.8

Sources: 1961 Census, Queensland, ABS, ABS Cat. No.1306.3



The social and economic costs of jamming an ever increasing number of people into an ever decreasing area of space - as is the case in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane - causes commuter subsidies of over $85 million on suburban rail services in Brisbane alone.

The extra cost of space for a car in unit accommodation in Sydney is now some $2O,000.

One recent study estimated that 40%o of the workforce in Australia's capital cities spent over an hour each day getting to and from work. Kids don't have playgrounds and parents don't have kids.


Many projects ideally suited for these country areas suffering from population drainage cannot get off the ground because of lack of infrastructure.

A recent proposal for a meatworks at Julia Creek was abandoned, inter alia because of the lack of electricity on the western grid system.

The Julia Creek shale oil project needs 20,000 gallons of water per day; the cost of providing this water would be $127 million.

A proposed giant power station on the remote Galilee Basin coalfields east of Muttaburra again cannot commence without substantial water supplies.


It is often maintained that the Arabs fight badly because they fight for someone else's land.

Our moral right to hold onto land which we are not in fact in any real sense in possession or occupation of would be, at best, tenuous.

Not only are we not using this land but, through the provision of Land Rights to Aboriginal tribes, our legal rights would appear to have been in part abrogated.

Without infrastructure, lines of communication, and lines of supply, our ability to defend this area, with its huge coastline, in a military sense would be nigh on impossible if some invader maintained sea and air control.

It would have to be the height of hypocrisy to ask a man to risk his life fighting to hold onto land which, in peacetime, the nation had shown no interest in whatsoever.

Our troops would face a northern invasion with no lines of resupply, no lines of communication and with God not on our side.

The Australian government in World War II clearly saw these difficulties and faced them by creating the infamous Brisbane Line, giving this part of Australia to the invader.


The government Of Australia has, in fact, implemented an economic Brisbane Line. North Queensland's cattle industry is 30% owned by meat processing interests, in the main, foreign owned or controlled. An estimated further 20% is owned by similar remote absentee landlords.


Life centres around water in hot countries the provision of fountains and swimming pools. The tendency of the population to cling to lakes and seashores is almost a compulsion and our own demographic composition graphically illustrates this point.

The quality of life, the sense of security, the proximity of coolness afforded by an abundance of water has an unlimited psychological value.

Water skiing, swimming, camping, boating, fishing - all on a dam on the Flinders River, say - would make an invaluable contribution to the quality of life in one part of inland Queensland, anyway.

Similarly, the quality of life in Australia's crowded cities could be improved by decreasing the growth pressure and moving people out to where they have a little bit of room in which to breathe.


Sadly, production growth has slowed in the cattle and sheep industries of northern Australia. The following table illustrates how growth has significantly lagged behind other parts of Queensland:

Area   1969 1978 + or - %
Southern & Central Qld Sheep $17.4m $13.4m - 25%
  Cattle $5.1m $6.7m + 31%
North-Western Qld Sheep $2.9m $1.3m - 55%
    Cattle $1.2m $6.7m + 24%

If one considers the huge increases in grain and cotton production in southern and central Queensland, and the fact that there is no grain, cotton, or any other production in the northwest, these statistics are sad indeed.


Northern Australia is a monsoonal area where rain falls in January, February and March whilst, for the other nine months, the sun shines without ceasing. With the coming of the photovoltaic cell, immense vistas of opportunity exist in this region with abundant sunshine.




Two major economic problems exist in North Queensland the end of the year protein drought of the northern cattle industry and the waterlogging and flood damage in the canefields between Ingham and Innisfail.


The protein drought results from the monsoonal wet, which sees the entire annual rainfall fall in the first three months of the year and then a straight nine months of hot dry weather throughout almost all of the north.

Cattle start to lose condition from August onwards. From October onwards, northern meatworks find it extremely difficult to secure fat cattle for processing and normally close - it is nearly impossible for them to get sufficient fat cattle to recommence killing until March of the next year. This protein drought problem means a forced annual three months closure and loss of 4,000 meatworker jobs for those three months plus the dislocations and diseconomies that are concomitant with this. The estimated annual cost is some $15 million.

The massive collapse of the wool industry (sheep numbers are down 55% on 1969) in North Queensland in spite of stable prices, is generally attributed to protein drought exacerbated by a series of big wets. Because of this, lambing throughout the 1970s has averaged little more than 15%, where it should be. The tendency of the population to 50%. The loss is $1 million per year.


Following clearing, logging and continuing land developments, the Herbert, Tully   Russell and Mulgrave Rivers have become silted and canefields waterlogged. Many highly suitable areas could be successfully brought under cane production if the area could be properly drained and floodwaters controlled.

Every heavy wet season will result, now it would appear, in losses of close to $30 million. During one recent heavy wet, the income of the mill at Babinda alone was down some $7 million, When one considers that there are some 10 mills in these areas, one can start to grasp the dimensions of the problem.


Where water exists in abundance - in sharp contrast to the nine months dry on the parched plains of the inland - the rainforests of the high country between Ingham and Innisfail regularly enjoy rainfalls in excess of 200 inches a year (over 5,000).

The rainfall run-off from this tiny strip of coastline is greater than the entire discharge of the Murray-Darling system, which covers four States of Australia.

Even if 1.5m mgl's were removed from this area and redirected inland, some 8 million acre/feet would still be available annually from the Herbert, Tully and Russell Rivers for irrigation on this narrow coastal belt, which would he 8ft of irrigation water for every acre of land available for cultivation.


Where soil of the highest quality exists in abundance - coupled with these considerations - is the quality of texture and extent of topsoil on the inland plains west of the Great Divide.

In Department of Primary Industries trials at the DPI Research Station at Richmond, after seven successive years of cropping with grain sorghum without fertilizer, a certain harvest figure was achieved. A second adjacent field was sown with fertilizer and yielded exact harvesting figures to those of the first field. In other words, fertilizer was superfluous, and this soil is a good as it could be.


It must be emphasized that the flat, undulating plains of inland Queensland provide no possibility for water development. Until one reaches the peneplain of the Cloncurry Massif, dam sites simply do not exist. Artesian water resources are extremely limited and are only now being controlled into an equilibrium situation and this is only supplying stock water. Northern Gulf streams and dam sites along the Gregory Range, like Cloncurry, provide limited possibilities as they are very limited in their yield and are too distant to supply water to the mid-west plains.


Drought normally produces losses that can only be measured in billions of dollars, but can be eliminated or rather; the effects of drought can be reduced to a manageable proportion - though the increase in moisture content of the atmosphere will have some effect on the rainfall figures. Breeders can be hand fed instead of tumbled onto drought depressed markets, cattle can be sold for slaughter, even though they are not fat. Wool clips will be down but there will still be sheep to shear. Although costs will increase and returns diminish, disaster and bankruptcy will not be as it has been in the past in the central and northwest of Queensland - an integral part of the natural and regularly occurring phenomenon of drought.


It is felt that the water reserves of the Great Artesian Basin are now in a state approaching equilibrium. This has been achieved by extremely rigid controls. No irrigation with artesian bore water is allowed in Queensland. If this vast area of land and its stations are given access to water via this project, then the bores on these stations most of them which are flowing into open drains can and should be capped by government edict. People without access to water from this scheme can then utilize their bore water for irrigation. Thus the scheme will not only help all those within the ambit of the scheme, but will also enable the 302,950 mgl's of annual flow from the Great Artesian Basin to be suddenly made available in increased quantities to those beyond the ambit of this scheme. Irrigation can literally come within the reach of almost everyone with access to the Great Artesian Basin.


The Economic Aspect

Australia's greatest social and economic problem is the worsening stagnation of the Australian economy and 7% unemployment. The results from tight monetary policies which include the high cost of money at a bond rate of 17% and a high level of statutory reserve deposits.

The Monetarist Economic School and their quintessential exponent Milton Friedman, contend that if the growth of money is greater than the growth of goods and services, then you will get inflation, the greater the disparity - the greater the inflation ... i.e. as a rough general principal, if money (M3) grows at an annual rate of 14% and the Gross Domestic Product grows at 3%, inflation will be 11%.

Another argument which, of course, is seldom voiced publicly, is that tight money causes unemployment - unemployment holds down wage rises which otherwise would be passed on to the consumer as price rises.

This unemployment argument surely is unacceptable; that we should protect the purchasing power of our money by breaking the backs and hearts of 7% of the population that we will have thrown on the dole is, one would hope, not an acceptable method of arresting inflation.

Though in the climate of the wages stampede of the Whitlam Era, Mr Hayden - and even Mr Uren - felt this medicine had to be dealt out.

Friedman and the monetarist approach to economic management provide the linchpin of policy in the USA, Great Britain and Australia at the moment. It is succeeding in restraining inflation but is, in fact, causing economic stagnation. Thus the rate of growth of GDP on a per capita basis is slowing and, more importantly, unemployment levels have remained substantially unchanged from the days of the Whitlam years.

To continue with present economic policies will be to continue with the present levels of unemployment and, of course, the high taxation to meet the dole cheque of some $3.9 billion per year.

If these people were working instead of being a burden on the tax pool, they would probably contribute over $2.2b (on the 1982 experience) in taxes alone, and save another $0.5b in medical and welfare services into the bargain - a total of some $4b.

If money growth were restricted to an area of the economy that would show a corresponding growth in goods and services, of course there would be no inflationary pressures.

This was the conclusion reached by the New Deal economists in the United States during the Depression who launched, under Franklin Roosevelt, upon massive water and HydroElectric developmental schemes. America, throughout the middle and most particularly, the late thirties, quite literally worked its way out of the Depression.

Not only did they get the economy working again, but the Tennessee Valley Authority projects and the Colorado water and electricity developmental schemes became the best known and amongst the Nation's greatest national resources.

The Japanese economic miracle similarly has combined the highest growth rates in she world with only moderate inflation because here the strong relationship between government and business (the Zaibatsu), coupled with strong government control over credit, has meant that Japanese industry, wherever they can prove that a requested loan will result in an offsetting growth in goods and services the loan will be made. The government of Japan has the financial control needed to supply the necessary credit.

In Australia, with a totally unfettered banking system, a loosening of credit would probably only mean an increased ability by the city rich to buy and sell real estate to each other - a good example of an increase in the supply of money without any offsetting growth in goods and services.

Again, and to quote one final example, the Whitlam government borrowed heavily, deficit budgeting to increase tremendously the growth of money supply (the government's fall, for example, followed disclosure of attempts to borrow over a billion dollars to allow government purchase of Australian mining resources). This money was used to provide free health care, free university tuition, increases in social security payments, and the purchase of resources from the private sector (e.g. Mary Kathleen and Jabiru), all arguably admirable social objectives, but none which would result in an increase in the amount of goods and services moving into the economy. A vast increase of money in the economy and no change in the annual amount of goods and services being produced caused inflation to leap in two years from 7% to over 20%.

Now, the whole object of this statement, and re-statement of fundamental economic truisms, is to assert that, whilst Australia has 7% of its workforce - at great expense to this nation - lying idle, the government should borrow money to spend on public works that will result in a compensating increase in the amount of goods and services becoming available within the Australian economy.

A scheme such as the diversion of the Coastal rivers of North Queensland onto the inland plains of central and northern Queensland should enable some million acres of production of cotton and wheat to commence as well as probably the provision of 750MW of HydroElectric generating capacity. This would more than compensate in the long term for any increase in money supply necessary to finance such a project, though obviously there would be short-term inflationary pressures created by any such increase in expenditure on capital works.

The Cost of Unemployment

The current (1982) state of unemployment in Australia is that there are 486,600 persons, representing 7% of the work force, out of work. The table below shows the unemployment figures for 1981 and the beginning of 1982:














































The rate of Unemployment Benefit (1982) was as follows:

Single Person 18 years + $58.10 pw
Married Person & dependent wife $116.20 pw

Married Person & dependent wife $126.20 pw and one child

Married Person & dependent wife $136.20 pw and two children
And subsequent children an extra $10.00 pw.

Regarding the Australian Budget, the total Outlays and Receipts for 1980/81 and 1981/82 are as follows:

  1980-81 1981-82
Outlays - Actual $35,275,000,000 Est.: $40,862,000,000
Receipts - Actual $35,140,000,000 Est.: $40,716,000,000

The material supportive of these facts has come from a wide diversity of publications and supplementary material relative to unemployment in a number of countries has been included.

These extracts and articles are as follows:


  1. Australian Round up of Economic Statistics, March 1982.
  2. Australian Budget Statements 1981-82 - Australian Budget Outlays and Receipts.
  3. Australian YearBook 1981- Taxation Tables.
  4. Australian Bureau of Statistics Bulletin - Unemployment Australia, February 1982.
  5. Australia Estimates of Receipts of Expenditure 1980-81 Budget extract - Unemployment Benefits Expenditure 1980/81- 1981/82.
  6. IPA Facts, September/November 1982 - Social Welfare, The Cost Ahead.
  7. Table showing Superannuation contributions payable for Public servants - Queensland Legislative Assembly Accounts Office.
  8. "Enterprise Zones" Times London Article, 9 March 1982.
  9. O.E.C.D. Observer, March 1982 - Articles on Unemployment in O.E.C.D. member countries.
  10. Department of Social Security Annual Report 1980-81.

Unemployment Benefits Paid

During the year 1990/91, Federal funding for all unemployment benefits was $995,747,620 and estimates for 1981/82 amounted to $1,090,000,000 paid from the National Welfare Fund Act 1943.

Unemployment now having risen to 486,600 means that, assuming a single person income of $58.10, the unemployment benefits paid would be $1,468,585,600.

Income Tax Lost

Since the average wage at the December quarter for 1981 for male adults was $204 and female $190, the mean of the two years is $197, or $10,244 per person per year. The tax on this income would be $2,078 per person per year. For the total 486,600 unemployed, this would return to the government an additional $1.011 billion in income tax per year. If these people are not working this amount is lost to the government.

Cost of Health Care for the Unemployed

The costs of Health Insurance in a Private Fund for a family of four on the most popular table is approximately $15.00 per week, but the range of services is highly variable and, taking into account this variety, $10 per week would be a reasonable average figure.

Again, however, using a single person analysis, it could be as low as $5 per week. If we compromise on $7.50 and remember that part of all bills are now paid by the person himself, $l0 per week, or $520 per person per year, is a figure which is currently set by Private Insurance companies and Medibank in an effort to allocate an average cost of health per person per year.

When a person moves on to unemployment benefits, the government has to take over the cost of that person and his dependents' health care. This cost would then be $520 for each of the 486,000 unemployed, a cost of $253 million per year.

Indirect Tax Lost & Secondary Loss of Taxation

The single person's unemployment benefit is $58.10 per week, and this person's income would be $197 if he were working.

When a person moves off the unemployment benefit and onto a wage, the increase in income is therefore $140 per week. This $140 extra would be spent, not saved. This increase in the sales of goods and services would mean an increased income for the supplier of goods and services - the business sector which pays tax of 42 cents in the dollar.

If we selected a figure of 33-1/3% as an average tax rate, with tariffs averaging over 100%, Company Tax 42%, and Sales Tax averaging 17%, this figure would seem reasonably conservative. At this rate of 33-1/3%, the government would be losing revenue of 33-1/3% of this consumer spending of $3.542 billion - i.e. a further revenue loss of $0.886 billion per year.

Total Quantifiable Cost of Unemployment

a. Total cost of government spending on unemployment 1981/82 $1,468,000,000
b. Total cost of income tax lost $486,600 (February statistics) $1,011,000,000
c. Total loss of Health Insurance payments    $253,000,000


d. Indirect tax lost, including secondary tax loss (multiplier effect) but excluding payroll tax $1,181,000,000



The cost to the government of having 486,600 people unemployed is of the order of some $3,900,000 per year, out of a total Federal Budget of $40 billion.


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Written and Authorised by Selwyn Johnston, Cairns FNQ 4870