It’s long past due time that we had some dam fine thinking from politicians, in this land of drought and flooding rains:
MINING companies would be asked to bankroll a host of new dams across the nation, some of which could be owned by taxpayers, under a Coalition bid to unlock private capital reserves and store the water needed for its goal of doubling Australia’s food production.
Water allocations for some projects could also be sold like off-the-plan apartments, where construction doesn’t start until at least 70 per cent of the water take has been pre-purchased by irrigators or miners.
The Sunday Age believes a range of financing options are being considered by the Coalition as it draws up a shortlist of viable dam projects it might sponsor in government.
The opposition dams taskforce is due to release its interim report in the next six weeks, with a list drawn from more than 100 proposed sites put to it.
Most of the projects will be across the rain-soaked north of the country, where miners might finance dams that could also be used for large-scale agriculture.
But dams taskforce chairman Andrew Robb has also visited at least one site in Victoria in the past six months, talking to locals and the Victorian government about the viability of a dam at Lake Buffalo and Lake William Hovell, and an aquifer project backed by Wangaratta Council.
In an interview with The Sunday Age, Mr Robb said a big challenge for an incoming Coalition government would be how to fund infrastructure with a cash-strapped federal budget. He tipped partnerships with the private sector would be optional.
”We won’t have money when we get there. We’re not going to borrow. So how do we unlock very large sums of money sitting on balance sheets in companies around Australia who are not investing because of the crisis of confidence?” he said.
”We have done a lot of work, there’s no one answer to this, but how do we involve the private sector more effectively in all sorts of infrastructure, social and economic?”
Asking mining companies to fund dam projects was one of the options being considered.
”For instance, some of the dam work we are looking at, we think we can get – instead of taxing the mining industry – suggest to them they can invest in a dam and then have access to water to wash their coal. And they’ll pay serious amounts of money, in fact they will pay for the construction of the dam,” he said.
”That is not going to apply in every situation, so it’s a suite of approaches that can be taken, which lead to productivity improving assets being built.”
Dams taskforce deputy chairman Barnaby Joyce said the floods had reinforced the need to store water, both to protect communities from flooding and to acquire reserves for droughts.
”Some of these dams wouldn’t need any public money,” he said. ”And you’d have an asset that might be owned by the government or in some instances it could be private.”
Barnaby Joyce has long been one of the leading proponents for building more dams in Australia.
Barnaby is right.