Screens & Feeders

Water, decentralisation and the economy in the 21st century

We Australians can change our prime minister in five minutes, we can build the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and the biggest iron ore mines in the world, but we have trouble thinking ahead of the game.

We have 7.5 million square kilometres of territory inhabited by 25 million people. We are the most arid continent on Earth and the most underpopulated!

We are the wealthiest country in the world per capita, with the best lifestyle, yet we fail every time to think more than three years ahead when it comes to politics, the budget or the development of the country.

Boundless opportunities

Sixty per cent of Australia’s population lives in four cities. Eighty per cent of the population lives within 40 kilometres of the coast. How’s that for decentralisation? The rest of the country is empty.

Our wealth, to a large extent, is based on $220 billion of mineral and resource exports per year to the booming nations of south-east Asia. We also rely on $60 billion of agricultural production, of which we export $40 billion!

We are in the iron ore, coal and food and fibre business. We are satisfied with 25 million people in a world that has more than doubled its population in the past 60 years.

How about the future? Fifty years from now we should be a population of 50 to 60 or even 70 million people, spread across the country, with a revived manufacturing sector providing growth and exciting employment opportunities, and a market of 11 billion people across the planet wanting to buy our resources, our manufactured and value-added products, and our services.

The reality is we have to populate the country before we lose control of our ability to maintain our borders. World population increase is unstoppable. It has been achieved by continued improvements in medical science, solving the world’s food production issues with modern farming and eliminating massive world wars.


Moving to decentralisation

Overpriced real estate in the big capital cities is a fact of life that we all seem to love. We love feeling richer, but the real answer is to make the country liveable.

Take a trip through the Midwest of the USA and you find great, rich cities such as Des Moines or Ames or Omaha out there on the Great Plains – some of it the most productive land in the world. The difference is, they have water and we don’t!

Water is the answer and water security should be the major priority for every politician in the country at any level. Water security will enable us to spread and grow.

Imagine inland cities down the east coast with populations between half a million and one million people. The water would bring increased agricultural stability and security. Protection from drought means investment not just in growing produce but in its processing. That means loads of jobs with opportunities for people to build great lives in country areas.

Companies such as Teys, the third- or fourth-generation butchers who own some of the biggest abattoirs in the country, should be inspirational. Teys will put abattoirs wherever there is product to be processed and employ hundreds of people doing it. Their abattoirs run like hospitals and are a classic example of how an industry can be generated by entrepreneurs with an appetite for risk, intelligence and courage.

With 50 million people, Australia could be building tractors again in regional areas. Wow, could we actually start up our steel mills again and go back into production? We have more iron ore and coal than anybody in the world, yet we shut our major steelworks down.

Imagine living in a green country city with satellite villages. Sounds idyllic, and you can still take holidays on the coast!


Dams of the North

The CSIRO has recommended the concept of building six dams in northern Australia. It’s been 70 years in the making and finally the CSIRO has woken up!

Politicians such as Barnaby Joyce have been pushing for the creation of these dams across the north for years.

The Fitzroy River in Rockhampton is a classic opportunity to add $1 billion of agricultural production and create jobs for 2500 Australians. An additional bonus of damming the Fitzroy is the flood protection it would afford the Great Barrier Reef.

During the massive floods in April 2017 we saw the Fitzroy deliver double the volume of Sydney Harbour every day for six days in a row from the river’s watershed. That landed on the Barrier Reef! If a mining company or a farmer had done that, the Greens would have been hysterical. As it happens, nobody said a word.

The CSIRO’s new plan is to build three dams in the Carpentaria region. By coincidence, the Carpentaria is part of the Great Artesian Basin, which has one huge problem – that of replenishment! The Carpentaria region is the only part of the basin that is regularly replenished because of monsoonal rainfall in that part of the country.

Federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan told the ABC there was a $700 million direct benefit and a $1.5 billion economy-wide benefit, plus 7000 jobs to be pulled out of the new program in the north.

That’s just the beginning. “In terms of being able to boost our farm production as a nation, boost our food production, take the potential of growing Asian economies, it’s a big deal for the country”, Canavan said.

The bargain price for construction of the Mitchell Dam in Far North Queensland is estimated to be only $755 million, half as much as we just gave in handouts to desperate farmers in drought-stricken New South Wales and Queensland.

The CSIRO predicts the Darwin catchment would bring 2500 jobs and $2.3 billion could be created from in-stream surface water storages at Mt Bennett on the Finniss River in the Northern Territory.

These are big projects that will bring life back to the land, but we have to ask the question: why is there no similar plan to bring water into New England in NSW, and to do more with the Ord River in Western Australia’s Kimberley region?

Construction, earthworks

You can’t grow the inland economy or population without providing reliable water supply.

You could say much the same thing about power. We wonder why our state and federal governments seem emasculated on the subject of long-term planning and strategic objectives.

It’s hard to imagine a political party of either persuasion today building the Hoover Dam or China’s Three Gorges Dam, or even considering starting the Snowy Mountains Scheme. Considering Australia is heading for 40 million people by 2050, you have to ask: Will we tolerate the paralysis resulting from increased population living in four major capital cities? That’s a frightening future that needs to be rectified now.

Why is this of interest to the quarry industry? The answer is obvious. There’s a huge amount of earthworks to be done in the development of infrastructure for Australia.

Gear gets bigger and better all the time. The gear and resources are there, the money apparently is available, and all it takes is the will to harness what we know in terms of skills, finance and imagination to make it all work.

Let’s think of the future and use the past, including the devastating drought in New South Wales and southern Queensland, as stepping stones for a bigger and better Australia.

Reference & further reading:

1 Vukovic D. Giant dams proposed for northern Australia could support year-round irrigation. ABC News, 30 August 2018.

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