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Cubbie Station: up for sale « Previous | |Next »
August 21, 2009

The Cubbie Station cotton farm, located near Dirranbandi, Queensland, is up for sale for $450 million. It has has been financially hammered by the drought. The station, which was created by amalgamating 12 floodplain properties to give Cubbie a total of 51 water licences, siphons off an enormous amount of water from the Murray-Darling system --it has 70 gigalitres of water licensed for extraction and 538 gigalitre storage capacity. That's a difference of 468 gigalitres that is siphoned off.

Should Cubbie Station be part of the Commonwealth water buyback program? Or should the Commonwealth's emphasis be on bringing Queensland into line over those 468 gigalitres?

Cubbie Station exemplifies all that is wrong with the management of water by the states. Cubbie Station's access to water is based on a 70GL extraction from the Balonne River, and the remainder -- 469GL -- comes from "unregulated, unlicensed, unmetered, free" overland flows. This system enables Cubbie Station to boast about the small amount of water that it takes from the Murray-Darling system. The overland flow from the floodplain would, if undiverted, enter the Balonne and Culgoa Rivers. Cubbie draws off up to half of every flood in the catchment, preventing it from entering the Balonne-Culgoa.

Recently, on Lateline Senator Bill Heffernan points to how the Bligh Labor Government in Queensland plans to deal with the situation:

Under the proposed resource operating plan for the Lower Balonne under the proved operating plan for the lower Balonne there's a proposal in the case of Cubbie to issue a license for 469,000 mega-litres of water, which will also include a neighbour downstream on that licence...the licences that are now proposed to be issued will be issued on the basis of the size of the bulldozer used and storages produced by that bulldozer and the banks to intercept the overland flow ... there was legislation passed in the Queensland Government so that they were exempt from any environmental planning as long as the storages were kept under five metres in an area...which has 2.5 metres of evaporation.

In effect the vast majority of Cubbie’s diversion remains unlicensed. Heffernan argues that what should happen is ending its vast and unsustainable diversion of overland flows, not who owns the property.

The water licences proposed under the draft plan are not sustainable and they shouldn't be issued. The trouble here is that Queensland couldn’t care less about the health of rivers either on their side of the border or beyond. They continue to trot out the line that they take only 5% of water from the Murray-Darling. It’s literally correct  — that’s what they take out. It’s what they prevent from entering the Condamine-Balonne region of the Murray-Darling system from run-off that is the key.

Heffernan says that:

The water licences proposed under the draft [Queensland] plan are not sustainable, they shouldn't be issued. If the Commonwealth wants to buy back Cubbie Station, it should only allow Queensland to issue licences at a level that's sustainable and could continue to be farmed.

However, the Federal Government doesn't have the power to stop the Queensland plan to issue a license for 469,000 mega-litres of overland water. As Heffernan says:
The flaw in the present scheme for the new body that's been set up to man control of the Murray-Darling Basin has one flaw in it: that is every state has a veto power for some years to come yet on changing the proportion of water flowing out of that state.

The Queensland Government  — regardless of political orientation  — simply doesn’t care about anyone downstream.That is what needs to change. The state's veto on water management of the Murray Darling Basin is akin to the fox guarding the chook house. The Commonwealth should only allow Queensland to issue licences at a level that's sustainable.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:45 AM | | Comments (6)


Next time cyclones cause massive flooding in far north Queensland, and we're all urged to 'donate' to charities to help stricken Queenslanders, (like we did earlier this year) I will just bear this situation in mind.

As Phil Dickie points out in The rise and rise of Cubbie Station written in 2000:

Rogue elements of Queensland’s farming and fishing communities seem to have a fairly simple approach to natural resource management – use, grab or destroy as much of the resource as possible while tying the government up with an endless stream of demands for more and better consultation.

King Cotton rules down on the Condamine-Balonne.He says that the story of Cubbie is usually presented as one of enterprise winning over a harsh land. A full story would include the considerable favours handed out by governments, the departmental willingness to bend over backwards to interpret the rules in Cubbies favour, the fight to frustrate any regulation and the years of court battles to squash the objections of neighbours and frustrate Freedom of Information requests.
Take that $3700 for instance. The department took legal advice that Cubbie should have been paying around $74,000 a year for its 51 water extraction licences.
The regulation on charges was amended at the next available legislative opportunity to allow multiple licences to be rolled into one licence for the purpose of charging at the “discretion” of the Director-General.

The Director-General appears to have exercised this discretion, for Cubbie in an average year, now pays $3.70 a ML for the first 1000 ML of water harvested and gets the rest for free.

It's not just the National Party that has been captured by King Cotton. Most of the growth of Cubbie Station occurred during the Goss years, under a regime where a 50,000 megalitre dam with walls 4.99 metres high required less planning permission than an outdoor dunny.

I'd like to see Wong buy it just for the symbolism of the thing.

Hard to be restrained.
Best not to comment.
Take several deep breaths.
Count to 10.
Make that a 100 or more.


Apologies for the language.

It's too polite. So much for the commonwealth caring about sustainability in the Murray Darling Basin.

Gary , Phil Dickie's articles quite astonished me, unfortunately not much since 2005.
Did they ever manage to get Cubby to pay a fair cop for its water?
The story, over twenty odd years to this very time, is gut-turningly nauseating, like a tropical Tassie Gunns or Victoria and forestry interests; a beaut example of that agglomeration of cronyism, huckstering and suppression of valid information that typifies modern corporatism and modern rorting.
A medium that much of Labor has taken to like a duck to water, tragically.