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You got water; I got whisky; we got a deal


IDEAS SUGGESTING there are terrific economic benefits in piping water long distances from areas of flooding rain to places as dry as a dead dingo’s donger are old hat to Australians.

But a couple of PNG Attitude readers were captivated enough by entrepreneur Fred Ariel’s proposal to pipe water from PNG to Australia to direct the report to me, so I thought we should give it a look.

The ABC’s Liam Fox introduced the world to Fred, a Queenslander who claims the 3,000 km pipeline would be cheaper than desalination plants and water recycling.

Fred, who made his money in tourism, wants to build a $30 billion pipeline from the Highlands to south-east Queensland.

And it seems he’s signed an agreement with the PNG government to conduct a feasibility study.

As Liam Fox says, it sounds crazy, but Fred’s adamant the plan is feasible and will solve “Queensland's water woes” (not evident as I write this in Noosa, south-east Queensland, with Jupiter Pluvius spoiling my morning walk).

"There's a huge demand for [water] in Australia and there's a huge supply up here which is untapped," Fred says.

"The advantage is the sheer volumes of water available. It's available all year round. It doesn't require expensive dams."

But, if you think a 3,000 km pipeline is a monumental task, how about reaching agreement with landowners in the areas where the water would be sourced and through which the pipeline would run.

Fred, as ever, is confident.

He’ll be able to reach agreements with the thousands of affected PNG landowners, he says.

Any more water in Noosa and I'll have it on the brain.

Spotters: Peter Warwick and Robo


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William Robinson

Many years ago, some bloke had a scheme "Turn the Rivers Inland". The idea was to go to the headwaters of the many permanent streams along the Great Dividing Range and pipe water through the Range to the lands to the west of the Range.

This would be achieved by drilling through the Range and placing a pipe at a slope that would allow water to flow by gravitation.

At the entry point there would be a funnel shaped pipe aimed directly into the flow of the stream. A screen would be constructed above the funnel pipe to screen out debris (small floating logs, dead possums or humans, rolling rocks etc).

Seemed a good scheme to me as it employs people.

It does not matter any more whether these schemes work. The aim is to keep people in employment. The desal schemes are good examples of employment generators.

Even if it is digging holes and filling them in. When people are in employment, they are not on welfare, and the Government gets something back in wage taxation.

William Robinson

I like the idea of a long Nylex hose (the 18mm reinforced version) from PNG to Australia. The kids at the delivery end will have a wild time with their boogie boards.

The Strane tectonic plate is moving northward at 70mm per year, so there would need to be someone checking for kinks in the pipe. More employment.

It should go ahead as it will provide massive employment for someone. Even if it leaks or some terrorist crazies cut the pipe, it still would have provided employment.

The Chinese should get the contract as they did a superb job of the slurry pipeline from Kurumbukari to Basamuk. Fixing the leaks and breakages in the pipe keeps people employed, and this is the main aim in hydrocarbon extraction.

Peter Kranz

Did anyone notice that the leaked Liberal party "look north" policy about developing the tropical north of Australia, also revived the idea of a pipeline from the PNG Highlands to supply water to northern Australia?

Robin Lillicrapp

Peters’ comment reveals the routing of the water flow as envisaged by the project designers. A cursory observation would seem to indicate water flow as of prime interest to the agricultural industry rather than alleviating the needs of city dwellers.

Inasmuch as defenders of PNG’s best interests are already complaining about being sold short by past and present mineral resource and forest projects, the revenues being swallowed by 'admin' and related costs to the detriment of provincial progress, it might seem to be cautious to look further down the track to discover who might be the intended beneficiaries of the extra water flow, and to what end the best interests of PNG might be served.

The following article sourced from the ABC archives details what may inevitably be the target for water usage. As in most such arguments, the worn phrase ”follow the money” is a well advised benchmark.

If what the article asserts is true, and there is as yet unrealised value in PNG water, now is the time to assess the capacity of PNG to partner with Australia, just as Reg Renagi keeps suggesting, in capacity building investment likely to offer opportunities to rebuild a much desiccated economy.

If this is not done, the opportunity will be taken up and exploited by the sovereign wealth funds of the various powers referred to in the ABC article.

An excerpt:

"Foreign interests, including state-owned companies from China and the Middle East, are increasingly looking to Australia to secure their food production by purchasing key agricultural assets.

"The sale of agricultural land is exempt under Foreign Investment Review Board regulations and the FIRB’s attention is usually triggered only by the sale of companies whose assets exceed a $231 million threshold.

"In recent years, and especially since the global food shortage in 2008, China, South Korea, Japan, India, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have all been engaged in massive agricultural purchases around the world and in Australia.

"NSW Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan says Australia risks losing control of its wealth-creating agricultural assets. He believes the Federal Government is not paying sufficient attention to the issue of global food security."

Heffernan said: 'I would like to put on the agenda ... the urgent need to put agricultural land and our water resources on the radar of the Foreign Investment Review board. This is not about alarming anyone but it is about recognising that countries are taking strategic decisions now.'

In a new book, The Coming Famine, Australian science writer Julian Cribb raises major concerns about how the world will feed itself. "Between now and the 2060s, the human population is going to grow to about 11.4 billion people... So basically the world has to find twice as much food as it is producing today."


More detail on Fred Ariel's water piping plan is in the SMH ...

The plan would involve piping water from PNG's Mendi River south under the Torres Strait and through north Queensland into the Murray-Darling river system, a key source of Australian agricultural produce. His company already has a deal with the PNG Government to conduct a feasibility study.

"I estimate we could potentially increase the flow into the Murray by up to 40 percent," said Ariel.

The scheme would also involve the construction of six hydro-electric power stations, which would generate electricity for towns along the pipeline's route.

Selling the electricity back into the grid in both PNG and Australia would help raise revenue.

Paul Oates

One only has to look at how the Russian natural gas being piped to other European countries is being used as a political weapon to see why this idea will never get off the ground.

Also, it was mooted in PM Fraser's time that the annual run off from the North Queensland coast could be 'turned back' to irrigate the dry west. The cost then was prohibitive.

Given time and the exponential and unchecked future population growth however, who knows what might have to be done?

A far easier exercise would be to build a pipeline from Spencer's Gulf to Lake Eyre and let the water drain into the lake as it's below sea level.

The subsequent westerly winds would then be helped in depositing more rain on the dry western plains on the east coast.

Again, a good idea whose time hasn't yet arrived.

Phil Fitzpatrick

The gas to Queensland project died mainly because of opposition from the coal industry here.

The other consideration tacitly acknowledged but never voiced was the unstable nature of politics in PNG and the possibility that a Fiji-style Barney Banana could turn the gas on and off at will depending upon the object of the blackmail.

The same thing would work with water. There would be a great big tap at the PNG end which would be an ideal tool of blackmail.

Once Australia became reliant on the water the threats would start. In that case Australia would have to send in the troops. Hmm.


Community consultation was carried out by JTA Australia in 2006 for a natural gas pipeline from PNG to Australia.

The company found broad community support for the idea. The project was shelved for commercial reasons, not because it wasn't feasible.

Of course water isn't gas, but I would assume piping water is a simpler technical task than piping gas. More info here -

On the other hand, this report on piping water from PNG says it is not feasible:

"Water from PNG would have to be piped most of the way down Queensland (in this proposal from the Fly to the Diamantina). Such a pipeline would have major environmental, social and international political ramifications, and the water would be unaffordable."

Interestingly the same magazine explains the origin of the word 'furphy'.

"The Furphy family made water carts during the First World War to be used by the Australian army

"Legend has it that the drivers of the carts, and the soldiers that congregated for a drink around the carts, were gossips. Hence all rumours became ‘furphies’.

"The Furphy family, who reside in Shepparton Victoria, still operate their famous water cart."

John Fowke

What a killer idea! Innovative, practical, pragmatic, pollution-free and, under recent legislation, perhaps even free of interference by ol papa bilong wara.

We're really going somewhere at last! There's lots and lots of water; lots of giaman wiski being produced using the raw alcohol from the sugar industry, and as so many Attituders have advised us ad nauseam recently, PNG can also supply any amount of wild, wild women!

Not often it all comes together like this!


So how is this going to work? Water will be harvested from the Markham, Ramu, Wahgi, Fly and Sepik rivers, pipes criss-crossing the country to one central pipe to go under the Torres Strait.

The major rivers are not affected by the dry season but the drinking streams are. Having a big river nearby does not make it a clean source of water.

Isn't the Fly River polluted already? I can't see Australia taking water from there, few can get their head around drinking cleaned sewage water (see the survey held in Toowoomba a few years back). Singapore does it and the water there tastes great.

I still think desalination and recycling grey water is the better option for Australia. The volume of grey water and sewage that is semi-treated before it is disposed of into the ocean would probably be very big.

Technology is available. The angst about drinking cleaned septic water is all in the head. To the taste buds it is the same as present tap water.

For me however, it is a moral issue. Family lives near a river and can't have clean water, by night they sit by kerosene lamp and yet the water in the pipe going past their house can end up in Sydney purified or keeping an orange grove going.

If, like you say, some of the water (purified/cleaned) can find its way to their house and power generated could light up the villages and recharge those mobile phones, then I would not be against it.

This however would throw the cost out considerably, for those who just want to pipe water and do nothing else.


Sorry Weast - I agree with your comment about clean water for PNG being a priority. Any such idea should include the provision of good water to PNG areas. This should not be difficult.

It is an engineering problem, not a political one.


Wait a minute. You don't need dams if you pipe water from the rivers which are constantly flowing. The combined flow from the PNG rivers is massive - as much as the Amazon. And currently it all goes into the sea. They are not affected by the dry season around Moresby - this doesn't apply in the highlands. In Tabubil it rains for around 300 days a year.

What if the water flow could generate electricity on its way south? Cheap clean power for the people of PNG. At least it's worth investigating. Prof Hugh Davis at UPNG thought so.


I am totally against this idea. To pipe water, you first have to have some water holding facility, a dam. This takes the land away from villagers for agriculture (shifting or permanent) and settlement.

How about the moral issue? Come dry season, soil cracks and drinking streams dry up. The people are forced to look for another clean water source.

How can they watch huge amounts of water be carried away while they thirst and gardens dry up? Cholera is taking over because people don't have access to clean drinking water sources.

Have the eastern states got desalination plants? They seem to be working fine in Western Australia. I think Australia should better look at piping water from the northern to southern end.

Most of the argument against it is cost, but CY O'Connor engineered the Perth to Kalgoorlie pipeline (600 km) for what in today's money would be considered billions of dollars, and it has kept Kalgoorlie from drying up completely.

Until the day when all PNG people have access to clean drinking water in their villages, irrigation methods for their gardens and hydro power schemes for their villages, fresh water should not leave PNG's shores.


Fred's point is that it's cheaper than desalination plants. Oz did investigate piping water south from the wet north some time ago, but I think then it was too expensive.

Living in Darwin, where there are no water restrictions, I am often amazed when I see garden sprinklers going full pelt in the middle of a tropical downpour. Houses here (like in PNG) don't have rain water gutters as they simply overflow in the wet season.

I think Fred's idea is worth a feasibility study. After all they were going to build a pipeline for LNG from the Southern Highlands down to Mt Isa.

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