The Queensland government has announced Professor Ross Garnaut will head an independent, expert panel to conduct a comprehensive examination of the Bradfield inland irrigation scheme.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the panel Wednesday, which will also include Queensland Farmers Federation chief executive officer Dr Georgina Davis and James Cook University Professor Allan Dale.
"Access to affordable water for irrigation can foster expanded agribusiness and jobs in regional Queensland and as the globe faces harsh economic headwinds, it's important to continue to capitalise on opportunities here in our state," Ms Palaszczuk said.
"Projects like this have the potential to support a new generation of farmers, landholders and regional communities if it's done in a way that is realistic and affordable."
The panel will assess the financial, economic, environmental, social and technical viability of a Bradfield Scheme, or similar as well as make recommendations for any further assessment.
Engineer Dr John Bradfield devised the original concept in the 1930s proposing to use the floodwaters, and a portion of the normal flow, of the Tully, Herbert, Burdekin, Clarke and Flinders River to create a new permanent river that would "traverse Queensland" from near Hughenden to South West Queensland to intensify agriculture.
The scheme would require a number of water storages, as well as a tunnel and an aqueduct through the Flinders Range.
Natural Resources Minister Dr Anthony Lynham said nation-building water infrastructure like a Bradfield scheme was usually driven by a national government.
"The Premier first raised the Bradfield Scheme in October last year and offered to work with the Commonwealth Government on a revised scheme," Dr Lynham said.
"The Queensland Government is not waiting any longer: we are taking the lead and comprehensively re-examining a Bradfield Scheme concept."
The panel's terms of reference include:
- considering the economic benefits to regional communities and agricultural production, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and related recession.
- opportunities for renewable energy generation, complementary hydroelectric power generation, hydrogen production opportunities, and resources sector development.
- integrating with complementary infrastructure, including the CopperString project.
Dr Lynham said the new examination would consider climate change, the impact on the Great Barrier Reef of diverting natural water flows, native title, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' cultural connections.
There are three business cases underway related to the scheme: raising Burdekin Falls Dam, Hells Gate Dam and Big Rocks Weir.
The panel is due to report back to within a year.
Robbie Katter said the review's reporting cycle was too long and should be brought forward to the first quarter of next year to secure funding in next year's Queensland State Budget.
"The timing of Labor's announcement about the review, only weeks out from the 2020 Queensland Election, has not gone unnoticed," Mr Katter said.
"You can have all the reports you want but at the end of the day, development like this require a judgement call from a strong leader."
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