Big Solutions Create Bigger Problems

save the mary fashion shoot - 1
Save the Mary campaign visits Brisbane’s West End.


ABC news on line reports that the Queensland Premier believes that the proposed Traveston Crossing dam at the Mary River Valley is a cheap solution for SE Queensland’s water needs.

The truth is somewhat different: as Oscar Wilde said “The cynic knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing”…

The Traveston Dam proposal was a political stunt, delivered by a premier who intended to retire. Despite the CSIRO evidence of decreasing rainfall in South East Queensland in his hands, his desperation to appear decisive and capable of managing the region’s water crisis won out.

Queensland has a new premier, one who is probably not planning to retire. Is Anna Bligh another instance of the longstanding Labor tradition of installing women leaders to lose graciously after the boys have made a mess? But more is at risk than mere party political games.

Glenda Pickersgill is a passionate conservationist and leading light in the Save the Mary River campaign.

If Traveston proceeds, it will exterminate the last significant breeding ground of the threatened Australian lungfish, one of the world’s most ancient extant fish, a species allegedly protected by law. Surviving numerous changes in climate, a species spanning time beyond our imagination, is about to be extinguished in its final heartland. Other supposedly protected threatened species include the Mary River Turtle (a recently described, critically endangered species) and the Mary River Cod (also endangered).

Jerry @ Save the Mary - 2
The Save the Mary campaign has united the community across political divisions.

Broadscale landclearing, also apparently illegal, will occur through the erasing of an entire landscape, alienating both traditional and contemporary landowners. Anything held sacred by traditional landowners will be immersed under the shallow swamp, currently known as the Mary River Valley. Traditional spiritual beliefs are easily sacrificed when only a minority of indigenous voters stand in the way of a presumably big vote winning capital project like Traveston.

The food security of a nation is under threat, which means the viability and liveability of our nation is also at risk. Farmers are being driven from the land by global warming. Good farming land near cities will be increasingly important as the drive to intensify industrial food production, to house rising population and satisfy over-consumption make good food and healthy farmland a thing of the past. Traveston Dam will drown South East Queensland’s deepest, most fertile, most reliably watered dairying land. It is unthinkable, and yet entirely probable that this state will have to import dairy products to make up for the shortfall.

As if this is not enough the dam will simultaneously undermine our international commitments to the Kyoto Protocol, and the anticipated Carbon Trading scheme, because flooding will generate vast quantities of greenhouse gases.

Jerry, Save the Mary River
MC’ing the Save the Mary rally at Traveston.

Below almost every dam in Queensland you’ll see a bed of water hyacinth, one of the world’s most invasive water weeds. Inexorably it creates airless, foetid water unfit for most aquatic native animals. Starved of sunlight, native water plants also die out. Government advisors know all about downstream pollution by water weeds, like water hyacinth, and damming the Mary River will guarantee that the government breaches its own weed laws by encouraging invasive species to invade. The Lower Mary River will change forever if the new premier gets her wish. Traveston Dam will pollute the spawning, fishing and conservation grounds of Wide Bay. Who needs viable tourism and fisheries anyway?

These impacts are understood by Queenslanders, especially those connected to the Mary River Valley catchment and Wide Bay. The Save the Mary campaign has rapidly united citizens, businesses, politicians, farmers, conservationists, families, the young and the old. The credibility of government in Queensland, not just political parties, is at stake.

Built or not the Traveston Dam is an historic relic of a bygone era. Building it in defiance of all the science, in defiance of a united community, and during a rapidly warming climate defines Queensland as a 21st century failed state. Shelving it in favour of a strong environment supporting our food and water security and protecting endangered species might yet make us a smart one.

Jerry Coleby-Williams
Executive Member, Queensland Conservation Inc.
Director, Seed Savers’ Network Inc.
22nd October 2008


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