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An Independent Queensland Regional & Rural 

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(Cairns... Far North Queensland)


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Selwyn Johnston



One person, with the support of the community, can make a difference





While Far North Queensland, the channel country, and much of Queensland's west is experiencing exceptional early summer rains, South East Queensland remains fine and dry as it has done for several years now. Water restrictions have been in place for some years but it is also a number of years since dam catchment areas have had rainfall exceeding 50 mm, not even top up water. Not good news! 

The southeast is the most populous area of the State and growing on a daily basis, yet it has no water reserves. The question is, "How did this situation come about?" 

There really is a trilogy of answers. 

Firstly, the southeast is in the grip of a severe drought. It's happened before and it will happen again. Nature is something out of our control. 

Secondly, there now appears to be an element of natural climate cycles involved and nature's climate cycles simply cannot be modified to suit any national government! Global warming and climate change are political terms used to justify hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars being granted to compliant scientists associated with the climate research industry, as is war on terrorism and war on drugs being weasel claptrap espoused by elitist governments seeking to maintain electoral power. 

Thirdly, the southeast has what could be called the Goss-Palaszczuk effect, which resulted when the then Primary Industries Minister, Henry Palaszczuk, took on the roll of "hero for the day" and, in one of the most short-sighted decisions ever made by any politician, engineered the complete halt of the Wolfdene Dam, which would have supplemented the fresh drinking water supply for South East Queensland.

As a consequence of these combined factors the southeast is now in a bad way. If it doesn't rain there this summer, the place is in diabolical trouble, or so we are told. To overcome this situation the Premier went to the 2006 election promising that there would be a plebiscite on whether or not the residents of southeast Queensland would accept recycled sewage as drinking water. 

We don't know exactly what the plebiscite would have canvassed as the Premier never developed the idea to that point. In any case it was declared to be non-binding, which in itself was a worry. 

What we do know is that when the spring of 2006/07 came and went virtually without rain, nerves were lost, probably hindsight kicked in regarding Wolfdene Dam, and the Premier declared that a plebiscite was pointless as there was now no option other than to use recycled sewage as domestic drinking water. As a result a dictate was made and the people of the southeast were told that drinking recycled sewage was going to happen… end of story. 

His decision to connect the sewerage treatment plants directly to the nearest water storage and so connect the whole system to the sewage-waste flow is, for his government, a convenient and very cheap option. A more acceptable system would be to connect the waste flow directly to industrial estates and the sites of individual heavy commercial or industrial water users. This has already been done with one oil refinery in Brisbane but that is the exception rather than the rule. 

Unfortunately, for some years now many businesses that are heavy water users and who often operate from government sponsored industrial estates have been given to believe that inexpensive recycled sewage would be made available to them but, to date, nothing has been done. Had this option been adopted some 20 years ago when then Premier Goss and his Minister Henry Palaszczuk elected not to proceed with the Wolfdene Dam, the situation now would have been not nearly so dire. But that's water under the bridge. 

A major problem now is every year that nothing is done means that any corrective action will be that much more expensive. It is not yet to the stage of being prohibitive but now is probably our last opportunity to plan strategically and implement accordingly. The proposed water grid connecting the various water storages in the southeast is a good idea but is an extremely limited concept being constructed within what could be called an area of single weather influence. What has to be done now is to expand this concept to other normally wetter environments to vastly increase the reliability of the overall water scheme. 

Hence, the revised Bradfield Scheme… a National Water Grid, an infrastructure asset owned and operated by the Federal government on behalf of, and in the best interests of, the people of Australia! 

The Bradfield Scheme was included in the $640 million 5-Year Bicentennial Water Resources supplementary programme specifically to further investigate the advantages of massive amounts of additional fresh water supplies for Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, via Queensland's channel country, which feeds into the Murray-Darling delta. 

The incoming Queensland Labor Goss government in 1990 scrapped the feasibility study of the revised Bradfield Scheme citing the project cost as being prohibitive… so the current tragic water crisis began, and the rest is history! 

The problem with the recycling concept is that in theory it works. In practice all things have their failures and more so those associated with governments. 

A current example would be the upgraded Melbourne rail system. Connex, a multinational based in France is managing the operation, the rolling stock having been purchased from Siemens, regarded as one of the best engineering companies in the world, and with that rolling stock being put on a rail infrastructure that has stood the test of time and been upgraded over a century. 

In reality the situation is that Melbourne commuters will be experiencing a reduced service in sub-standard carriages for quite a while. The best of plans and implementation has just failed. Similar recent examples would be Melbourne's automatic tram ticketing system and a road tunnel in Sydney. In these instances it is pointless for the public to apportion blame. All we know is that the projects have problems and all we have to know is that these grand, theoretically impeccable and safe systems… FAIL. 

And so it will be with Mr Beattie's "pure" recycled sewage as public drinking water. The public's role here is to stop this "economical" shortcut and demand the development of a secure and reliable public drinking water supply system, one that minimises the chances of failure rather than encourages it. This can be achieved by greatly expanding the embryonic water grid to areas that have the continuing ability to supply. 

A further cause for concern is that the proposed recycled sewage distribution system will be operated by a foreign [French] multinational and I am hard put to accept that even with the best of intentions on the part of the company that their involvement will enhance their duty of care. Particularly if restraints are placed on the price the company can charge for its services. It has already lost $10m in profits last year because of delivery failures and it really will be looking to recoup these losses. The sorry history of multinationals controlling drinking water around the world is well established and is contrary to anything most Queenslanders would want. The whole thing amounts to a serious case of double jeopardy. 

Apart from those two hazards there is the always-present increasing distance of user recourse from the supplier. This is probably the most dangerous and insidious aspect of all. The usual story is that the price goes up, the service or quality goes down and no one, absolutely no one, is accountable. 

Why is the Beattie government out-sourcing Queensland's water management? 

Perhaps it's a precursor to the privatisation of Australia's water resources, and the sale of taxpayer's most precious asset, which, I believe, some Federal politicians have already suggested.


Monday 5 February 2007





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Written and Authorised by Selwyn Johnston, Cairns FNQ 4870