Nationals Senator Ron Boswell has warned that Anna Bligh’s plans for a Wild Rivers declaration over the entire Queensland section of the Lake Eyre Basin should be ringing loud alarm bells across the vast region. The Wild Rivers proposal covers every major Queensland water source for Lake Eyre, including the Georgina, Diamantina and Cooper Creek. The Queensland part of the basin covers a vast area from Camooweal in the north to the South Australian border, and eastward to Barcaldine and Blackall. The draft declaration, expected some time this year, will overlay new Wild River policy constraints on all existing legislation. Submissions to the Government’s consultation paper on the proposal close on May 14. Senator Boswell said he became deeply concerned about the impacts of wild rivers declarations while serving on a Senate committee considering Coalition Leader Tony Abbott’s private member’s bill seeking to overturn the state policy. He urges all those not yet familiar with the proposal to closely study the discussion paper, and have their say. “The Government’s belief that it needs yet another layer of environmentally focused legislation to regulate new development activities is of great concern,” Senator Boswell said. “The water planning processes developed in recent years, coupled with Queensland’s harsh vegetation management regime, and other environmental laws already in place, state and federal, monitoring and controlling development are surely more than enough to manage the catchment,” he said. Senator Boswell said key impacts of the declaration will be on changes to water management regimes. He said the discussion papers baldly states that “if a wild river declaration is inconsistent with a water resource plan or resource operations plan, then the wild river declaration prevails.” The paper goes on: “The Wild Rivers policy states that the amount of water available for take in a wild river area can be no more than one per cent of mean annual flow for the basin.”
Senator Boswell said the new layer of water regulation could have impacts way beyond reducing opportunities for agricultural development.
For example, the discussion paper states that under wild rivers “there would be no opportunity to increase holding capacity if required to secure a town water supply.” This could have repercussions for every community in the basin, and significantly limit both population and industry growth, especially in major centres in the basin like Longreach, Barcaldine and Blackall. Transport infrastructure could also be affected, especially where bridges across streams were needed. The discussion paper says that “in a wild river area, the Transport Infrastructure Act (1994) does not authorise the diversion of a watercourse for roadworks or railway infrastructure.” Restrictions on overland flow will be “appropriate” to ensure the protection of the “riparian function and wildlife corridor function.” Fodder harvesting could be banned in the one kilometre wide High Preservation Area along stream banks. Improved pastures will come under tough controls. The channel country will be subject to new Floodplain Management Areas, ostensibly as recognition that some channels can be 60 kilometres wide, and therefore full application of the tough constraints to be imposed on Highly Protected Areas one kilometre either side would be inappropriate. Nonetheless, within these vast tracts there will be blanket prohibitions on irrigation, surface mining, abattoirs, feedlots, new instream dams or weirs other than for stock and domestic use. Senator Boswell said he was concerned that the looming constraints under wild rivers could simply be a pre-cursor to even tougher constraints through a nomination of Lake Eyre itself for World Heritage listing. “Under the wild rivers process now rapidly developing on Cape York there is a clear link with World Heritage, in that both the state and federal governments have stated their intention to proceed with a nomination of the Cape,” he said. “Wild rivers constraints now being imposed there will simply ensure that there is no interference with world heritage values in the drawn out nomination process. “There has also been a push for World Heritage for Lake Eyre since the 1980’s and there were commitments from Labor in the 1990’s to put it forward. It’s very possible that targeting the Lake Eyre basin for protection under wild rivers has a similar, deliberate, intent. “The world heritage values of the Lake are obviously directly linked to the flow of water through, especially, the Queensland rivers that provide the great bulk of flows to it. Controlling those flows now would help mightily with any nomination for the Lake.” ENDS