Bradfield Regional Assessment and Development panel

The Queensland Government established an independent expert panel to provide a report and recommendations to the Minister of Regional Development and Manufacturing and Minister for Water on its assessment of the viability of a Bradfield or similar scheme.

The panel has completed its work and provided its report to government. Their report is the most detailed assessment undertaken in nearly 15 years.

In developing its advice to government, the panel considered economic and financial impacts, engineering, agronomy, environment impacts, hydrology, and social and cultural impacts, including those specific to First Nations people.

The panel made 8 recommendations, which are accepted, or accepted in principle, by the Queensland Government.

Download the panel’s report

Panel’s key findings

The panel recommends against proceeding with the Bradfield Scheme, or similar large-scale proposals. Their report shows it would be unfeasible to take immense volumes of water from northern Queensland and move it vast distances west and south for irrigation. Read a summary of the report findings here.

The panel found the Bradfield Scheme and its large-scale variants faltered at the first hurdle – the consistent availability of water – and were unfeasible on economic, environmental, social and cultural heritage grounds.

It found that maximising the use of water closer to where it falls, through regional water grids and effective local use of water resources, presents opportunities for sustainable regional development, as well as more environmental and cultural heritage benefits in regional areas.

Several recommendations focus on maximising sustainable water development and water security to achieve regional development benefits. Their investigation provides a strong case for investing in the use of water closer to where it falls, and investigating linkages between regional water systems which will help to mitigate local supply issues and accelerate regional development.

The report examines the expected impacts of climate change on water availability and supports the Queensland Government’s requirement to consider climate change impacts in future water plan reviews.

It also recognises the importance of reducing nutrient, sediment and pesticide loads into the Great Barrier Reef as well as the need to avoid significant ecological damage in Cape York, the Wet Tropics, the Gulf and Lake Eyre Basin.

The panel determined that if current sustainable water management frameworks were abandoned to favour a Bradfield Scheme, the over-allocation problems experienced in the Murray–Darling would eventually occur on the rivers, industries and ecosystems of central and northern Queensland, particularly in the Burdekin.

This assessment aligns with the Australian Government’s report prepared by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), An assessment of contemporary variations of the Bradfield Scheme. The CSIRO studies referenced in the panel’s report also concluded that the original Bradfield Scheme and a contemporary CSIRO variant are not economically viable.

Government’s response

The Queensland Government has accepted the panel’s report and the Minister for Regional Development, Manufacturing and Minister for Water released the Queensland Government’s response on 8 December 2022.

You can read the Queensland Government’s response (PDF, 204.2KB) in full.

The Queensland Government is committed to building on the recommendations from the independent panel’s report to drive prosperity and sustainable growth for all of Queensland’s regions. This includes delivering water security for continued regional economic development through effective local use of water resources and further assessment of Regional Water Grids in the short, medium and long term.

Looking ahead

Regional development is critical for Queensland’s economy and future prosperity. This can be achieved while minimising environmental impacts, including meeting the government’s commitments to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and Great Barrier Reef water quality targets.

The government will continue to invest in water and energy infrastructure, and research and development opportunities where Queensland has a competitive advantage, and it meets Queensland Government policies. Investments in research, water infrastructure, pumped hydro-electric schemes and renewable hydrogen facilities are occurring throughout northern, central and western Queensland.

The Queensland Government’s water planning framework is a modern, best practice and whole-of-catchment approach that is compliant with the National Water Initiative and ensures water is managed sustainably, fairly, and transparently for current and future generations.

The panel’s report is supportive of Queensland’s water planning framework.

History of the Bradfield Scheme

In 1938, prominent engineer Sir John Bradfield proposed a scheme to capture the plentiful water of tropical North Queensland and divert it west across the Great Dividing Range to open vast new swathes of the state for irrigation.

Dr Bradfield’s original concept also envisaged hydroelectric power generated to pump water.

In the 80-plus years since the original Bradfield proposal, Queensland has changed.

There has been dynamic economic development in northern and central Queensland that is already using water where it falls.

Small regional towns have become the major cities of Bundaberg, Gladstone, Rockhampton, Mackay, Townsville and Cairns. The population of coastal and near inland northern and central Queensland grew from about 289,000 at the time of the original proposal to more than 1 million in 2020. These established industries and populations depend on the secure availability of water.

The panel and its work

The panel comprised experts who were appointed to analyse the financial, economic, environmental, social, cultural and technical viability of the Bradfield Scheme concepts and provide their recommendations to government.

  • Chair: Professor Ross Garnaut
  • Dr Georgina Davis
  • Professor Allan Dale

Terms of reference

The panel focused on projects to divert flows from the Wet Tropics to the Burdekin, across the Great Dividing Range to Queensland’s western regions.

The expert panel’s terms of reference (PDF, 668.0KB) detail the key themes it was asked to address in its recommendations to government.

Last updated: 08 Dec 2022