4th April 2007The Queensland Government’s decision to auction off 8000 megalitres of water licences on the Warrego River is wrong and should not happen, according to the Federal Government’s assistant water minister, John Cobb.
Despite the water auction getting the thumbs up from Prime Minister, John Howard, last week, Mr Cobb believes in the current water climate, the concept of handing out more water licences, particularly in an unregulated area such as the Warrego, is not a good one.
Mr Cobb said the Prime Minister was in a “no win” situation because the 8000Ml on offer was part of the water sharing plan for that region of Queensland.
However it was his view that the Warrego is about “as unregulated as you’re ever going to find” and he was very concerned about an increase in irrigation there.
“You can’t predict it,” Mr Cobb said.
It was a river that was probably no different from the Paroo, Mr Cobb said, which has cross-border agreement in place banning irrigation.
“From our point of view we couldn’t pick the Queensland plan to pieces, and say ‘yes you can have one thing, but not another’,” Mr Cobb said.
“We had to accept the work that had been done.
“But I personally think Queensland should not sell that water.
“It’s not so much the 8000 megs, but it’s the principle attached to it and at a time like this, I think Queensland probably should not sell that.”
Mr Cobb said the issue had upset floodplain graziers most “and it’s not hard to see why”.
There is considerable nervousness in the cross border catchments between Queensland and NSW, about the security and future of irrigation once the CSIRO hands down its audit report on water availability and over-allocation hot spots, with some alleging the outcome will be pre-determined by politicians or environmentalists with an agenda to wind back irrigation in Queensland.
Mr Cobb said farmers needed to know the CSIRO audit on the water availability in the basin, was being done by the head of the water department, and was not influenced by hydrologist, Peter Cullen, or other members of the Wentworth Group.
He said contrary to some reports, there was also “no way” Liberal Senator, Bill Heffernan would, or could, have any involvement in the outcome of the CSIRO report.
Mr Cobb did signal, though, where he thought the beneficiaries of the new plan for water reside.
“I totally understand where the floodplain graziers are coming from, and for graziers, this situation can only get better, not worse.”
SOURCE: Rural Press National News Service, Parliament House Bureau, Canberra.