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Dam(n) the nation, full speed ahead!



In 2011, Gina Rinehart flew Barnaby Joyce to India in a private jet, to watch the granddaughter of her business partner marry in front of 10,000 guests. Three months later, the GVK conglomerate bought a majority stake in the billionaire’s ”Alpha” coalmine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin for $US1.26 billion.

In November 2012, Mrs Rinehart published a book called “Northern Australia and then some”, calling for the development of the North and the establishment of a Northern Special Economic Zone (SEZ) with lower taxes and a reduced regulatory burden. The publisher’s summary of the book states:

“The world is full of areas where we have beggars sitting in mountains of untapped ‘gold’. Rinehart’s message is a call to release the untapped human and economic potential through respect of the human right to free enterprise and private property.”

It sounds uncomfortably like Gina wants to abolish Native title so she can have unfettered access to those “mountains of gold”.

In February 2013, the Coalition leaked a discussion paper called Developing Northern Australia: A 2030 Vision which very closely echoed the views expressed by Gina in her book. Tony Abbott called for a “national imagination” to take advantage of the “enormous agricultural potential” of the Top End, including harnessing the “bountiful supply of water”.

He then travelled to Kununurra to stand on the wall of Australia’s largest dam and further discuss a one-third expansion of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme. His focus included “natural resource development in liquefied natural gas, mining and agribusiness” – some key users of water – with little mention of truly utilising natural advantages of the north.

It was ridiculed by Labor and the Greens, discredited by scientists, and generally dismissed as an ill-conceived thought bubble.

Tony Bourke said

”They say that they want to use them to avoid drought, they want to use them to avoid flood and they want to use them for hydro power. Now, if you want to avoid drought, you need to manage a dam that is always full. If you want to avoid floods, you need to manage a dam that is constantly empty . . . if you want to manage it for hydro it has to be constantly flowing.”

Gina Rinehart is part of an organisation called Australians for Northern Development and Economic Vision (ANDEV). They describe themselves this way:

“ANDEV is made up of individuals and businesses in Australia demanding that our government welcome investment and provide economic vision for the country’s future. We want to unleash the potential of North Australia by getting government out of the way.”

In response to the Coalition’s paper, they revealed that they, in conjunction with the IPA, had been working on the exact same idea – go figure. On the same day that the leaked paper was first reported, ANDEV published a media release saying:

“The Coalition’s draft discussion paper on water management, reported in today’s media, is a welcome recognition of the important role dams could play in revolutionising Northern Australia’s economy, according to the Institute of Public Affairs.

“Australians for Northern Development and Economic Vision (ANDEV) have been calling for the creation of dams for over two years and it is refreshing for a major party to finally acknowledge the important role they can play in driving development in Northern Australia,” said Dom Talimanidis, Director of the joint ANDEV/IPA North Australia Project.”

They go on to say that

“The Coalition’s Draft Discussion Paper, Developing Northern Australia: A 2030 Vision received widespread support in the days after it was reported in the media. The Business Spectator praised the Discussion Paper’s vision and foresight here and here. The paper also received support from many groups in Northern Australia, including the Cairns Chamber of Commerce and Mt Isa Mayor and former State Labor MP The Hon. Cr Tony McGrady AM. The Daily Telegraph’s editorial noted America’s economic growth was driven by westward expansion and questions why Australia can’t achieve something similar developing the North.”

Notable for their absence from this group of advocates was anyone with a scientific or environmental qualification. Shortly after, the idea seemed to fizzle out under a barrage of expert criticism.

rinehart In April 2013, Barnaby Joyce and Gina Rinehart were both guests at the IPA’s 70th birthday bash. Mrs Rinehart later contributed $50,000 to Mr Joyce’s campaign to enter the House of Representatives, attended his election after-party, flew to Canberra to hear his maiden speech, and afterwards invited a small group of Coalition friends for drinks in her private hotel suite. Aside from Mr Joyce, these included some of Mrs Rinehart’s closest political friends, the Speaker Bronwyn Bishop and Liberal Party senators Cory Bernardi and Michaelia Cash.

Ever ready to push his benefactor’s barrow, we hear yesterday that

“FEDERAL Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has put dams back on the agenda by unveiling a Commonwealth ministerial working group to consider new options.”

The idea of developing the north is not new. The first Commonwealth parliamentary inquiry into the development of northern Australia was held in 1912. In 1934, J. A. Gilruth, published a “Confidential Report on the Northern Territory of Australia”. He believed that statements about the opportunities being neglected in the north could be traced to either (1) those who had read only the biased laudatory accounts, but wished for some‐one else to be the pioneers; (2) those who had an interest in land or a lease and wished to realise a capital gain; and (3) business people to whom any influx of population means a profit.

Tom Rayner, who works for Charles Darwin University as a Research Leader in the Northern Research Futures Collaborative Research Network, had this to say:

“As a nation, we have witnessed similar clashes between commodities, communities and conservation in the Murray-Darling Basin. As scientists, we have documented the effects of water extraction on floodplains, fish and forests. As farmers, we have experienced diminishing terms of trade and a transition away from the traditional family farm. As taxpayers, we have funded a multi-billion dollar rescue mission aimed at improving river health.

Now, staring down the barrel of a decade of rapid transformation, we confront a critical decision: “Is this a future we want to repeat in northern Australia?”

We know that dams damage rivers – there are literally hundreds of scientific studies detailing effects on connectivity, water quality and biodiversity. It is odd that, at a time when people elsewhere are discussing dam removal, we might want to build more.”

In 2009, the Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce produced a report on the potential impact of new development in northern Australia on water balance and quality, the environment, existing water users and the broader community.

The report points out that the rainfall received each year already supports a wide range of uses. These include unique aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems; recreational and commercial fisheries and tourism that are based upon them; a range of largely non‐consumptive Indigenous uses; and consumptive use by irrigated agriculture, stock and domestic and mining. Water is critical to each of these uses, and increased consumptive use will involve a degree of trade‐off between new uses and the range of existing consumptive and non‐consumptive uses.

Conserving and accessing surface water for consumptive use is highly constrained by difficulties in impoundment and groundwater abstraction from one point may influence surface water flow and function at another, and vice versa.

The report also highlights the dangers to existing industries. Tourism, for example, contributes about $2,800 m p.a. to the northern Australian economy, and relies heavily on the largely pristine land and water of the north. Extractive industries such as commercial fishing (>$160 m) are heavily water dependent non‐consumptive uses of water. Opportunities available to these industries would be curtailed by significant consumptive water use or landscape modification. Changes to the natural resource base also impact the value of the Indigenous hybrid economy, upon which up to a third of the north’s population may depend.

Cultural life in northern Australia is extraordinarily dependent on the region’s high natural values. These, in turn, emanate from the intact landscapes and relatively undisturbed flows of the north’s waterways. Development can directly reduce these values by depleting water, reducing water quality or by changing the natural flow of water in the landscape; all of which impact aquatic, marine and terrestrial environments. Development can also indirectly and inadvertently impact these. Roads, for example, can disturb the flow of water across the landscape, altering connections between waterways and floodplains that support communities of vegetation, fish, birds and mammals. The impacts of development on the natural environment are varied, and many are persistent and difficult to correct.

In this, like so many other of this government’s decisions, we seem to be ignoring research and the lessons of the past. A new study from Oxford University has found that the vast majority of large dams around the globe are unprofitable undertakings as a result of exorbitant cost overruns, with actual costs exceeding original estimates by around 96 per cent on average in real terms.

“We find that even before accounting for negative impacts on human society and environment, the actual construction costs of large dams are too high to yield a positive return,” the study said.

Already, the climate in the north is hot and alternates seasonally between arid and very wet. Small areas of arable soils are interspersed with large areas of land suitable only for grazing. The low fertility of soils and the high risks of climatic adversity (floods and cyclones) are major constraints to crop production. Management systems to prevent soil erosion are critical due to the high intensity of rainfall.

Climate change will lead to sea level rise and potentially greater storm surges which will impact on coastal settlements, infrastructure and ecosystems. Some areas will be vulnerable to riverine flooding and more intense cyclonic activity.

In Darwin the number of days over 35 degrees Celsius is expected to increase from 11 per year currently experienced to up to 69 by 2030 and up to 308 by 2070 without global action to reduce emissions. Coupled with the extremely high humidity that Darwin experiences during the wet season, higher temperatures are expected to adversely affect levels of human comfort.

Projections indicate there may be an increase in the proportion of tropical cyclones in the more intense categories, with a decrease in the total number of cyclones. For example, the number of category 3 to 5 cyclones is projected to increase, and by 2030 there may be a 60 per cent increase in intensity of the most severe storms, and a 140 per cent increase by 2070.

In these days of “financial distress” when we are being warned to expect a “tough budget”, it is somewhat incongruous that Barnaby Joyce is prepared to spend $30+ billion building dams to fulfil Gina Rinehart’s demands to develop the North, regardless of the countless studies that warn of the non-viablility of the idea and the damage it would cause.

The paradigm of the “empty north” was derived from colonialist thinking and rejection of Indigenous tenure. The idea of making it the food bowl for Asia, while ignoring the environmental and climactic challenges, could make it a very expensive exercise in futility. I know mining requires a lot of water but have you really thought this through? Is it too much to expect you to listen to scientists and to read the reports that have already been done? Messing with water can be a very dangerous thing and you probably need someone other than Gina to advise you on this.


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  1. mikestasse

    All you need to do to realise what a load of crap this northern development is, is read Guns Germs and Steel. Very rarely has complex civilisation flourished in the tropics; nearly all such civilisations have occurred in temperate climates.. The climate simply dictates it’s all too hard… and nature always bats last.

  2. Kaye Lee

    Imagine being in a room with Gina Rinehart, Barnaby Joyce, Bronwyn Bishop, Cory Bernardi and Michaelia Cash. I wouldn’t know who to have a “chat” with first.

  3. mikestasse

    I wouldn’t know which one to throttle first………..!!

  4. Roswell

    Kaye, I doubt that you’d keep such bad company. 😉

  5. LOVO

    Gina has just finished her latest dam, she calls it……… Roy Hill 😀

  6. diannaart

    These ‘captains of industry’ do not hire people who will NOT tell them what they want to hear (scientists, ecologists, environmentalists and the like).

    They know smaller governments are easier for big business to manage and less able to govern for the majority.

    Nor do they want to spend their billions on land which has already been ‘developed’ in the southern states and return it to viable farming use, much easier to suck dry whatever value the north has to offer – so long as it does not involve long term strategy or offering any value to its inhabitants AKA beggars.

    Kaye Lee

    If I was in a room with Gina Rinehart, Barnaby Joyce, Bronwyn Bishop, Cory Bernardi and Michaelia Cash, I wouldn’t know who to puke on first.

  7. passum2013Ron Barnes

    To get me in a room with Gina would cost her to clean up Wittenoom which is seriously contaminated with asbestos Roads creeks all have tailings in them crocoite is every where from mining also she needs to rehabilitate all old mine sites her family ever owned before any dam is built.

  8. Kaye Lee

    Perhaps the Green Army can join with the unemployed, disabled, pensioners, single parents, and asylum seekers to form a bucket line during monsoon season.

  9. Ian

    You’d think they would have learned the lessons of Humpty Doo in the 50s and 60s. That was to be the rice bowl of Asia. Until the planted the crops, watched them grow, then the birds ate the all.

  10. cornlegend

    Can anyone still remember “Tony Abbott’s bold water plan” from about a year ago ?
    That dumb brain fart from Idiot Tony

    Building about 120 dams,most in the N.T. and W.A. ?
    The document was written by a Coalition taskforce chaired by shadow finance minister Andrew Robb and deputy chair Barnaby Joyce, shadow environment minister Greg Hunt, spokesman on northern Australia Ian MacDonald, spokesman on the Murray Darling Simon Birmingham and Senator Bill Heffernan.Attached to the document is a list of 100 dams across the nation the Coalition has identified as potential projects. The document explicitly states the Coalition does not necessarily endorse all the projects.

    One of the projects involves transporting water from the Kimberley region, 1500km to Perth, using canals, pipelines and ocean super tankers or large synthetic bags towed behind tug boats.

  11. Kaye Lee

    Not to mention Ord River.

    Joe Ross, a prominent indigenous leader appointed by Mr Rudd in 2008 to oversee a wide-ranging study into the future of economic development in the north, said the Ord River Irrigation scheme had become one of the world’s largest sandalwood producers.

    But the region has a history of failed food crops in rice, sugar and cotton. Indian sandalwood is estimated to account for about 60 per cent of the total farming area around Kununurra, about 3500 hectares, and has replaced food crops such as melons, pumpkins, legumes, chick peas and bananas.

    “The truth is, in northern Australia there are great opportunities in tourism and fisheries, let alone existing projects,” Mr Ross said. “Dams would totally destroy the river systems.”

    Cotton crops were abandoned in 1974 after the massive use of fertilisers to combat insects rendered the industry unviable. Agriculture economist Dr David McKinna said a sugar mill built near the Ord River was closed down after stage one of the scheme because volumes were too low to be viable.

    A Chinese company, Kimberley Agriculture Investments, will invest $700 million in irrigated farmland and infrastructure to re-establish a sugar industry and sugar mill. But the company now looks set to focus on sorghum as an interim or even long-term crop.

    Previous attempts at sugar processing were stymied by rising salinity – five or six times sea salinity in some areas of the scheme. The high levels of salt in the sugar cane led to glazing of equipment in the now-mothballed sugar mills.

    All attempts at large-scale cropping have failed, including sugar, rice and cotton. Ord Stage 2 alone has already received $517 million of taxpayer funds.

    Taxpayer support for food bowl development would be better spent assisting the existing agricultural sector with research and development, improving supply chains, finding new markets and attracting skilled labour and new capital investment.

  12. Kaye Lee

    In an amazing display of synergy, the following comes from the IPA’s hit list of 75 (+25) ways to “improve the country”

    42 Introduce a special economic zone in the north of Australia including:
    a) Lower personal income tax for residents
    b) Significantly expanded 457 Visa programs for workers
    c) Encourage the construction of dams

  13. olddavey

    “Kaye Lee
    March 29, 2014 • 3:40 pm

    Imagine being in a room with Gina Rinehart, Barnaby Joyce, Bronwyn Bishop, Cory Bernardi and Michaelia Cash. I wouldn’t know who to have a “chat” with first.”

    I’d be having a very serious conversation with my AK47.

  14. olddavey

    “The world is full of areas where we have beggars sitting in mountains of untapped ‘gold’.

    I’m sure the beggars would reap the benefits of Gina’s philanthropy, she’s done huge amounts so far to help the poor and suffering.

  15. olddavey

    Gina’s head is full of untapped misanthropy.

  16. OzFenric

    Kaye, excellent article as always. Just wanted to note, however: you write, “Coupled with the extremely high humidity that Darwin experiences during the wet season, higher temperatures are expected to adversely affect levels of human comfort.” It is my understanding that this is putting it too mildly. By 2100 – almost within the lifetime of some people reading this – it is expected that large swathes of Australia’s north, including northern Queensland and across to Darwin, will become uninhabitable for humans. Sustained high temperatures and humidity will overwhelm the ability of the human body to relieve heat stress without constant artificial cooling. IIRC, this is research from the UNSW, so it’s not coming from the tinfoil hat brigade. Any plans for the north that do not take into account the necessity of evacuating large parts of the north – or at least, giving up on any idea of sustained work outside (as would be required for any kind of large-scale agriculture) is short sighted at best.

  17. Stephen Tardrew

    Scored again Kaye.

    Great article. I vacillate between trying to understand these infantile greed machines and a wish to put them all on an island with limited resources and let them out compete each other. I am sure there would be dire consequences for the week and blubbery.

    The mortality rate may also be a bit of a problem.

    It would be a useful study of the consequences of unlimited growth and greed and may well teach our oligarchs a thing or two about resource depletion and impoverishment of the masses.

    No guns or weapons allowed.

    Oh! If only dreams came true, sigh.

  18. Bennett

    More than faintly reminiscent of old style Soviet planning that has left hideous ecological problems in Central Asia. Here we go again, pollies and plutocrats with more balls than brains.

  19. Kaye Lee

    I think even Gina has realised that paying for Monckton to tour again would be a bad idea. That joker has already been played.

  20. Kaye Lee

    Gina doesn’t need Monckton anymore.

    “GINA Rinehart has appointed controversial climate change sceptic Ian Plimer to the board of several key family companies.

    According to disclosures made to the Australians Securities and Investments Commission, Professor Plimer was appointed to the boards of Roy Hill Holdings and Queensland Coal Investments on January 25 2012.”

  21. jagman48

    And where does the Great Lord Monckton fit into this discussion.

  22. passum2013

    What is Ian Plimer,s Qualifications

  23. CMMC

    Abbott is about to impose the Nanny State upon us.

    Coming soon, special visas for Nannies from those countries with little brown people.

    Will they be treated like slaves by bitchy doctors’ wives? Well,…err….yes.

  24. Kaye Lee

    Prof Plimer is an experienced mining geologist and a professor of mining geology at the University of Adelaide. He currently serves on the board of stock exchange-listed miners Ivanhoe Australia and Silver City Mines, and has held previous board roles at CBH Mining and a number of other Australian mining companies. The companies he is involved with mine minerals including gold, zinc, copper and uranium, in Australia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. He is also listed as a member of Mrs Rinehart’s Australians for Northern Development and Economic Vision (ANDEV) lobby group, which has taken strong positions on corporate taxation and climate change initiatives. He wrote a climate denial book called Heaven and Earth which was panned by scientists though often quoted by Tony Abbott.

  25. Cartsmunt

    @mikestasse: Guns,germs and Steel.A very intriguing read.
    Note chapter 14:”From Egalitarianism to Kleptocracy”!!!

  26. Keith

    Climate change deniers will argue about graphs, will change time lines to show they are right. For example, when Monkton’s comments are closely inspected he provides rubbish:

    Acidification, is happening in waterways; H2O + CO2=carbolic acid, rainfall is one of the mechanisms that CO2 is taken out of the atmosphere. There are no arguments I believe that deniers can answer the question of acidification of waterways.

    Epidemiological studies in Canada where Inuit were becoming ill, encephalitis in Sweden, and dengue fever in Asia and Australia have been identified as being caused by climate change:

    They deny that Tuvalu has been flooded:

    This is what stated: however, it won’t open for me now, it had been provided by a denier:

    This is the comment that went along with the deniers above reference…”Should we, perhaps. acknowledge that AGW is a fraud?”

    His reference showed a pristine Tuvalu, and the article in an almost self congratulatory way stated there had been no flooding on Tuvalu.

  27. Keith

    Ha, Ha…..I just tried the site again, and it was none other than Andrew Bolt who had been caught out, what a surprise!!

  28. Stephen Tardrew

    Jane Turnbull:

    Thank you. Skeptical science is an excellent site that comprehensively covers global warming. I have followed it for years.

    John Cook is the Climate Change Fellow for the Global Change Institute at University of Queensland who set up and manages the site. Skeptical science has international recognition and respect.

    I would recommend Skeptical Science to lay people who want a general overview of climate science and for technicians and geeks.

    John received further international recognition when he and his colleagues research was quoted by Obama concerning the percentage of scientific papers that support global warming.

    John Cook deserves recognition as a great science communicator. He should receive public recognition and I would hope a suitable award for his effort

    Australians owes him a debt of gratitude.

    I hope people on this site will promote Johns good work.

  29. Kaye Lee

    The invasion of climate change deniers we just received originated from the blog site wattsupwiththat.

    Anthony Watts is a blogger, weathercaster and non-scientist, paid AGW denier who runs the website He does not have a university qualification and has no climate credentials other than being a radio weather announcer. Watts is on the payroll of the Heartland Institute, which itself is funded by polluting industries.

    The “BEST” (Berkeley Earth Surface Temperatures) study, under lead scientist (and former skeptic) Richard Muller, was sponsored by institutions that had previously supported the denial of the standard interpretation of the climate data. But when the BEST results came out, they confirmed the previous results that the Earth is warming.

    Watts had initially declared (about BEST) that “I’m prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong.” But when the results came out he changed his position and his site published numerous attacks against Muller and the BEST study.

    He actually tried to have this video removed claiming copyright infringement. His objections were overruled.

  30. Stephen Tardrew

    Was just going to contact you Michael but thanks for your vigilance.

  31. Kaye Lee


    My favourite Monckton publication is the one he did for Aussies. He must truly think we are all bogan morons.


    Australia’s fave Lord puts the bedwetting profiteers of doom at the failed Climate Council straight about global warming.

    Bullsh*ttin’ bedwetters”

  32. Michael Taylor

    Keith, surely not! 😉

  33. Michael Taylor

    Stephen, for some reasons your comments got caught up in spam. My apologies for that.

  34. Michael Taylor

    Kaye, one of your comments got caught up in spam too. The spam filter is obviously playing up. I’ll keep an eye on it during the day.

  35. Keith

    Kaye, sorry, disregard my reference to watts, you are well and truly onto him.

  36. 'george hanson'

    Always putting michaelia cash LAST on the voting form is one of life’s little pleasures . Next saturday ..#77

  37. passum2013

    Kay Lee thank you for your information on Professor Plimer.
    In rocks there many historical answers but with the Present Climate change It is not being Caused by Volcanic action it is Purely Mankind.
    Or a variation of the Earths orbit . My bet as a Average Aussie Rock hound that has walked over a massive amount of Australia Doing Geological research . It is solely the Pollution of the Upper Atmosphere, But it Doesn’t Really matter as Long as we attempt to Fix it Now Not years down the track. Carbon in coal is a Trapped Carbon from Historical Volcanic times And Massive Vegetation That sucked it out of the Atmosphere Before being covered and Fossilised. The simular with Hydro carbons When we burn them all we are doing is bring back old locked up pollution at a greater amount then nature can convert back to the vegetation to start the process all over again . We in Australia believers and non believers in climate change need to look at it this way cleaner air means healthier lifestyle .No lung disease.Easier breathing for asthmatics and less lung infections .Would not this be better than a Few miserable $ from Coal and Hydrocarbons. When Solar ,Wind ‘s now at the point of being Cheaper than Coal fired Power stations. What do you think and other readers have to say about this.

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