THERE are renewed calls for the Bradfield Scheme to be developed as a way for Australia to mitigate future droughts and to help meet its future obligations as a food supplier to the world.
The massive agricultural scheme first proposed in 1938 aims to irrigate a staggering 1000 million hectares of land across Queensland and South Australia.
The calls follow the Queensland Government's announcement that it would develop a memorandum of understanding (MOU) as "a transparent and comprehensive assessment pathway" for the proposed $1.98 billion Etheridge Integrated Agriculture Project in the Gilbert River catchment near Georgetown.
The Integrated Food and Energy Development (IFED) project is expected to include the development of sugar and guar industries in addition to cattle, meat processing and aquaculture over 50,000 hectares.
The much larger Bradfield scheme was envisaged by Dr John Bradfield, a Queensland-born civil engineer, who also designed the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Brisbane's Story Bridge.
The scheme would divert water from the Tully, the Herbert and the Burdekin Rivers, across the Great Dividing Range into the Flinders and then the Thomson River. The water would flow to eventually fill Lake Eyre.
Townsville based industry identity Tim McHugh, from livestock and property agency Hogan and McHugh, said Australia should revisit the long planned Bradfield Scheme as a way of positioning Australia as a major, and more importantly, reliable food supplier regardless of seasonal extremes.
"We are now in the worst drought I think that Australia has ever experienced, certainly in the lifetimes of the people who would directly benefit from Bradfield being developed," Mr McHugh said.
"Bradfield remains the greatest agricultural project Australia could ever hope for and would impact across all of agriculture and the economies of the regions.
"The economic activity for all of Australia would be fantastic. It would allow the use and further development of existing infrastructure and result in new infrastructure and we really would be far better placed to be a food supplier to the world."
Although officially abandoned in 1947 because of discrepancies in both claimed water flows and topography, the still popular Bradfield Scheme is regularly promoted. Advocates include Member for Kennedy, Bob Katter, and former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie, who proposed a reduced scale version of the scheme.
Under the Etheridge Integrated Agriculture Project water would be diverted from the Einasleigh and Etheridge rivers into two artificial off-stream lakes and channelled to pumping stations which supply irrigation.
The project is expected to create more than 1700 jobs during construction and more than 1000 jobs during operation.
Substantial numbers of those jobs are expected to be made available to local Indigenous people.