June 1st 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Scomo routs Labor, the Green, GetUp and the left-wing media by Patrick J. Byrne and Peter Westmore

CANBERRA OBSERVED Surprise! Polls aren't what they used to be

GENDER POLITICS The true cost of childhood gender reassignment

OBITUARY Bob Hawke, R.I.P.: astute politician, flawed policies

POETRY AND SOCIETY T.S. Eliot and the modern condition

WATER POLICY The time is ripe to revisit the Bradfield scheme

ASIAN AFFAIRS Taiwan upgrades U.S. links, asserts sovereignty

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Recapping the trial as Cardinal Pell's appeal approaches

THE FAMILY AND SOCIETY Working to bring down the Sexual Revolution

HISTORY OF SCIENCE Faith and reason and Father Stanley Jaki Part 2: Science and ancient cultures

HUMOUR A tidy planet is a happy planet

MUSIC Charles Ives: Modern elements aimed at sounding good

CINEMA John Wick 1: The lighting of the fuse

BOOK REVIEW Novelised true crime a true thriller

BOOK REVIEW The experiences of Phoebe Raye



FEDERAL ELECTION Queensland voted for jobs, life and country

NATIONAL AFFAIRS The trial of Cardinal Pell ... an injustice

EUTHANASIA D Day - June 19, 2019 - Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 begins operation

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The time is ripe to revisit the Bradfield scheme

by Chris McCormack

News Weekly, June 1, 2019
  • Australia ranks only 23rd in the world by irrigated land area
  • The Bradfield scheme would go far to reducing the 25 per cent official unemployment rate in outback Queensland
  • The scheme could drought-proof 15 per cent of Queenland

Australia has lost the vision of undertaking grand engineering schemes since the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme and now ranks 23rd in the world of countries by irrigated land area, with Iran having nearly four times greater irrigated land area.

We are now experiencing man-made droughts in Australia. While we have always been a nation of droughts and flooding rains, our ability to overcome droughts (and floods to some extent) in many parts of the country is only an engineering project away. The enormous precipitation and river flows on the east coast and northern part of Australia could be harnessed so that areas west of the Great Dividing Range and inland north that experience meagre or highly variable annual rainfall could be drought proofed by redirecting surplus water to these areas.

We seem to be so intent on being anti-rural development, whether it’s because it requires damming a river or cultivating an area that a frog or a lizard inhabits, that we are lagging behind the world in managing land to ensure our food security and export market potential, growing Australian jobs and establishing water security.

In the Great Depression, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated large infrastructure projects such as the Hoover Dam, 5,200 square kilometres of tree planting in the drought-ravaged West, and the Tennessee Valley Authority project, to create jobs.

When underemployment (people who work more than one hour per week are classified as employed) is taken into account, Australia’s real unemployment rate is more than 23 per cent and western Queensland has nearly double the “official” Queensland unemployment rate of 6 per cent, at 10.9 per cent, with Townsville at 9.1 per cent.

Official youth unemployment rates in outback Queensland and Townsville are 24.3 per cent and 17.9 per cent res­pectively, but the real rate will be much higher. A major infrastructure project involving capturing and diverting river flows, just like the Adani coalmine and other coalmines to follow in the Gali­lee Basin, would bring much needed employment to this region in addition to attracting job-seekers from all over Australia.

Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce tweeted on March 3: “We must be a nation of vision. The one thing we can do to drive a solution to reduce the effects of drought is build the Bradfield scheme.”

While the NSW Nationals have put $25 million on the table to develop a modern version of the scheme, predictably, ABC’s Fact Check was quick to label his claim “Pie in the sky”, citing so-called experts who rubbished it on environmental and cost grounds.

Queensland MP Bob Katter, Senator Pauline Hanson and former Queensland premier Peter Beattie have all supported the scheme. Northern Australia has 17 million hectares of arable soil and around 60 per cent of the nation’s water.

A visionary for his time, Dr John Bradfield (1867–1943) oversaw the design and building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, designed the Story Bridge in Brisbane, and engineered the Sydney electric railway system. What came to be known as the Bradfield scheme involved diverting the upper reaches of the Johnson, Tully, Upper Herbert, Burdekin and Flinders rivers in Queensland’s north through dams, pumps and pipes through the Great Dividing Range and into the Thomson river, ultimately emptying into Lake Eyre; which, Bradfield predicted, with a permanent body of water present, would change the area to a cooler, more moist climate.

Admittedly the climate-change aspect of his vision has been disproven, and is now used by detractors of damming and diverting water, as did ABC’s Fact Check, to discredit the entire scheme, or a modern version of it.

The Burdekin river, which flows into the sea 100 kilometres southeast of Townsville, is Australia’s largest river by (peak) discharge volume, at 40,000 cubic metres of water per second.

The Burdekin Falls Dam spillway stands only 37 metres high and, despite forming Queensland’s largest dam and servicing 70,000 hectares of irrigated land, only a fraction of the volume of water is captured and stored. Much simply flows into the Coral Sea, smothering the Great Barrier Reef in sediment and silt.

In February, satellite images revealed that muddy waters from huge river discharges between the Whitsunday Islands and Cape Tribulation extended 60 kilometres out from the coast, covering the outer reef and in turn threatening the tourism potential of one of our most visited attractions.

The TE feasibility studies revealed that Hells Gates was the optimal location for damming the Upper Burdekin, which was required to enable an irrigated agriculture project of 49,000 hectares. By comparison, Sydney’s CBD is 280 hectares.The Hells Gates Dam Opportunity Overview released by Townsville Enter­prise (TE) in July 2017 looked at the feasibility of damming the Burdekin River at Hells Gates, 120 kilometres northwest of Townsville. This was part of Bradfield’s scheme and has been the subject of numerous studies in more recent years by the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation and State Water Projects, Engineering Services.

TE maintained the cost-benefit ana­lysis of production of 4 million tonnes of sugarcane per annum (tpa) was only viable when there were high sugar and ethanol prices. It asserted that, if a larger irrigated area produced 10 million tpa of sugarcane, the scheme would provide a net social economic benefit of $273 million a year, assuming sugar and ethanol prices were not low.

A 1984 Bradfield Study Consortium Report showed that a revised scheme irrigating 300,000 hectares should yield $1.8 billion ($5.55 billion today) of agricultural produce. One revised Bradfield scheme claimed to drought-proof 15 per cent of Queensland.

It’s time the Government stopped procrastinating about water infrastructure and got on with drought/flood proofing vast tracts of Australia while creating a jobs bonanza and new agricultural production not seen since the halcyon days of the Snowy Mountains hydro scheme.

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