Bradfield scheme investigators named

By Geoff Adams

Economist Ross Garnaut will lead an expert panel to examine the merits of re-invigorating a 90-year-old Queensland water scheme to sustain the nation into the future.

The Bradfield inland irrigation project was dreamed up in the 1930s by engineer Dr John Bradfield, the man behind Sydney's Harbour Bridge.

The concept included forging a new river to divert northern floodwaters across the state to the drought-prone southwest, and a tunnel and aqueduct through the Flinders Ranges.

Mr Garnaut says north and central Queensland's rainfall is one of Australia's greatest resources and the scheme could make a huge amount of water available for agriculture and electricity production.

“Some things that weren't possible 90 years ago are feasible today,” he said.

“It would be great for Queensland and great for Australia if we could make it work.

“As we move forward from this pandemic recession it's going to take all our best thinking.”

The panel will assess if the scheme — or a modernised version of it — meets a broad range of financial, economic, environmental, social and technical checkpoints, including the impact on the Great Barrier Reef.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said access to affordable water for irrigation could foster expanded agribusiness and jobs in regional areas.

“Projects like this have the potential to support a new generation of farmers, landholders and regional communities,” she said.

Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick said indigenous native title and cultural issues would also be considered.

“It's very important we take a 21st-century look at this proposal,” he said.

Queensland Natural Resources Minister Dr Anthony Lynham said the idea had been raised with the Federal Government in October but it had "gone silent" so the Palaszczuk Government was pushing ahead with its own assessment.

Labor MP Aaron Harper, whose seat of Thuringowa played host to the announcement on Monday, August 31, said the scheme could work in concert with other water projects already being considered, such as Hells Gate Dam, Big Rocks Weir, Urannah Dam and raising the Burdekin Falls Dam.

Mr Harper holds his seat by a slim 4.1 per cent margin. Scott Stewart, who holds the most marginal seat in the state at nearby Townsville by just 0.4 per cent, also attended the announcement.

Queensland Opposition leader Deb Frecklington says the LNP has already devised a modern version of the Bradfield Scheme capable of irrigating a Tasmania-sized area of the outback.

The panel, which also includes Queensland Farmers’ Federation chief executive Dr Georgina Davis and James Cook University Professor Allan Dale, will deliver their findings within 12 months.