By Growcom CEO David Thomson

Last week Queensland Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy Anthony Lynham responded to requests from the horticulture community for greater transparency around the issues plaguing Paradise Dam by announcing an independent inquiry led by former judge John Byrne AO.

In welcoming the inquiry, we believe its terms of reference should address not just structural and stability issues but also the government’s failure to properly consult and communicate with the community.

In September, overnight and without warning, irrigators received a text message that tens of thousands of gigalitres would be released from Paradise within the next day or so. And since then many of the same questions remain.

An inquiry is important but it alone will not resolve structural issues and restore certainty and confidence to the Wide Bay-Burnett region.

Queensland Horticulture Council chairman Joe Moro said government’s handling of the issue created a worrying precedent.

“It’s not a huge leap for growers in other parts of the state to imagine with a sense of dread what would happen to their own businesses should something similar happen with their local water storage,” he said.

At its most recent meeting the QHC discussed likely impacts of any reduction in capacity of Paradise Dam, including new tree crop plantings that might be left high and dry and the flight of capital investment already being witnessed from the region.

Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers managing director Bree Grima said she was extremely concerned that, assuming no significant inflows are received between now and July, the allocation for irrigators may be as low as 16 per cent, which is unsustainable for a progressive agriculture industry.

“This area is now the largest growing region of macadamias in Australia. Tens of thousands of trees have been planted in the last five years with many more planned. Producers had only purchased the water allocation they needed for young plants, knowing they could purchase more water as they matured,” she said.

“Now this reliability has been taken away it has jeopardised these plantings. Producers are justifiably anxious about their crops and livelihood.”

As leader of the QHC, Growcom reaffirms its position that total water storage capacity in the catchment should be maintained.

Growers want a signal from the Queensland government that our industry is a priority as the engine of so much regional growth and prosperity.

A commitment to raising the Paradise Dam wall back up or ensuring no capacity is lost within the catchment is the vote of confidence from this government that our industry needs right now.