Article – Focus on water, says Wellard

3 March 2014
Julie-Anne Sprague
Farm Weekly

THE nation’s biggest cattle exporter, Wellard, has urged the federal government not to get distracted by “fancy projects” as it embarks on a White Paper for the economic development of the north.

Wellard managing director Mauro Balzarini said there was potential to develop the north but the government’s focus should be on unlocking the region’s water potential and key road and rail infrastructure.
He warned the White Paper should not be overly focused on big ideas that were unlikely to be achieved.
“It is probably wiser to devote the limited resources available to ­agriculture, as opposed to the mining industry, to continue to improve rather than wasting it on fancy projects,” ­Mr Balzarini said.
“There is a limitation on what can be achieved with the climate, distance, infrastructure and soil type in the top end and we should work within those limits to extract the best possible outcomes for agriculture in the north.”
The federal government on Friday released terms of reference for its Northern Australia White Paper aimed at showing how the north can become the food bowl for Asia as well as growing the resources, tourism, education and health industries.
The White Paper, expected by the year’s end, will identify critical infrastructure to support growth. It will focus on policies needed to unlock ­economic potential over the next two, five, 10 and 20 years.
Agriculture business executives said the process was too lengthy and the government should attempt to set ­policy to encourage investment within months.
Agribusiness investment banker David Williams said there was ­enormous potential for developing the north of Australia. “Now is the ­opportunity,” Mr Williams said.
He is concerned Chinese investment could constrict in the coming years and the government needed to “strike while the iron is hot. The government should act as a catalyst for investment, let’s not get delayed,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the White Paper ­process – which includes a strategic partnership with the Queensland, Western Australian and Northern ­Territory governments – would not prevent spending or delay current policy objectives. A Green Paper will be released within a few months.
The spokeswoman said there were common and distinct challenges for northern Australia and the white paper was one way the government could put together a longer term policy framework.
Mike Barry, chief executive for Queensland’s MSF Sugar, said he was sceptical about the process and lamented that agriculture had not been a critical investment focus.
“We haven’t prioritised agriculture as something of critical importance for the future of the country,” Mr Barry said. “They would rather build roads or cross city tunnels. You just don’t see the commitment from our government that you would in other parts of the world.”
Mr Barry said unlocking northern Australia’s food bowl potential would require vision and “patient investment by the government.”
Mr Balzarini said the abundance of seasonal water in northern Australia was “one of Australia’s great undeveloped opportunities” He said it was a long-term “bipartisan strategy to seize”.
“Whether that’s utilising that water in the north or moving it to places where it can better utilised, visionary government and corporate leadership could provide a fantastic foundation for food production for generations in this area,” Mr Balzarini said.
He added investing in infrastructure from roads, rail, ports, to telecommunications was vital to realizing the ­potential of developing the north.
Courtesy of Farm Weekly