Review of Water Allocations from Flinders won’t make up for Lost Decade: Katter

Jan 18, 2024

North West Queensland’s agriculture industry is set to suffer further setbacks following the announcement of government interference toward already-stagnant water allocations from the Flinders River.

Katter’s Australian Party Leader and Traeger MP, Robbie Katter, says while a State government probe into water allocations would only delay agricultural development, he would welcome any findings which led to a benefit for local water users, ending the more than a decade of total inaction and failed decision-making.

“When a government doesn’t have the guts to make a real decision, what do they give us?  A review into the problem,” Mr Katter said.

“In the North West, the problem is fairly obvious. We’ve had years of government inaction which has allowed large corporates to outbid for the scarce water allocations available, leaving the local farmers high and dry. 

“While the large corporates may have the capability to appease our inner-city governments, it’s our family farmers who have the capabilities to feed our nation and create wealth for our region.

“Dollar for dollar the smaller farming unit offers better value for the use of this water.

“To me it’s clear who should be allocated the water.  There’s your review,” he said.

The Minister for Water flagged bringing forward a review of water allocation processes from the Flinders in his five-yearly Minister’s performance assessment report into the Gulf Water Plan.

The report noted that “increasing demands for water to support industry growth are not currently being met” under current the Gulf Water Plan.

Mr Katter said the management of water allocations from the Flinders River has been planned to fail from day one.

“In 2012 the then water minister Andrew Cripps issued a statement telling the world that water from the Flinders would drive prosperity in the region.

“A decade later, the current minister is calling for a review into why none of the expected economic outcomes have materialised.

“What lies in between is a decade of bungling, incompetence and lost opportunities,” Mr Katter said.

The Flinders is the longest river in Queensland and has a total flow of 3.64 million ML.

A tiny 220,012ML has been allocated out of the river by the Queensland Government since the Gulf Water Plan was first adopted, all issued via competitive tender by both LNP and ALP governments.

This represents an allocation of only five per cent of annual flow in the form of licences.

Of those licences only between 831ML to 11,997ML, or 0.4 – 5.5 per cent, of the total allocations are being harnessed for irrigated agricultural use.

Mr Katter said this measly agricultural allocation represented just 0.25 per cent of the entire annual flow of the river being used for agricultural purposes.

“When you consider that the take-off from the Murray-Darling is 35%, it’s a pitiful amount.

“We didn’t need a performance review to tell us the plan didn’t work; you only need eyes and ears and we have been warning the Minister on this for years.

“The current Gulf Water Plan has allowed both sides of government to facilitate corporate-style bidding wars along the Flinders River and has failed to provide any benefit to the people and communities of the catchment.

“But I have little to no hope we’re going to end up with anything better than what we have now unless we have independent, skills-based leadership of the process and expert input not just the same bureaucrats making the same tired decisions,” he said.

Mr Katter said the review of the plan will most likely have implications on the current Flinders Unallocated Water Release, which commenced 18 months ago.

“Multiple entities along the Flinders River are vying for an allocation of water to develop their respective projects, one being the Hughenden Irrigation Project (HIPco) which is a community-lead water project designed to open widespread irrigated agricultural opportunities to small operators on the Flinders.

“We can only assume that the government’s next move is to abort the tender at this late stage and further delay projects like HIPCo, projects that have been fighting a marathon battle of bureaucracy to build mid-west irrigation and satisfy the objectives of the Gulf Water Plan, objectives the Minister clearly states that he has failed to achieve,” he said.

The HIPCo continues to retain strong Commonwealth Government support, with KAP Member for Kennedy Bob Katter speaking with Minister Tanya Plibersek late last year who confirmed that the $170 million dollar commitment of funds allocated to the Hughenden Irrigation Project was secure.

“I’m issuing a challenge to Minister Butcher today on behalf of the people of outback Queensland – sort out this mid-west immediately and right the last decade of wrongs that have been committed by the Queensland Water Department in relation to the Flinders River, or hand in your resignation to the new Premier,” he said.


Photo: KAP Party Leader and Traeger MP, Robbie Katter at a chickpea farm near Maxwelton.