17 November 2014
The West Australian
Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has given a strong signal that he will back State Government plans to increase the size of Lake Argyle to wet the way for agricultural development in northern Australia.
Mr Joyce said extending the Ord River irrigation scheme across the WA border into the Northern Territory was a top priority for the Commonwealth.
Mr Joyce chairs a Commonwealth ministerial committee on dams that is weighing up which water infrastructure projects should be funded and built.
WA officials are pushing a plan to increase the capacity of Lake Argyle by 10 times the volume of Sydney Harbour to provide water as tens of thousands of hectares are opened up for farming.
The Commonwealth is factoring WA’s Lake Argyle and Ord plans into two separate White Papers on agriculture and the development of northern Australia.
“I am not going to say which projects are in and which ones are out, but obviously you can use your imagination,” Mr Joyce said. “If you have got the northern Australia and the agriculture White Papers and the dams committee all looking at same piece of infrastructure, it is probably being seen in a favourable light.”
The WA plan involves increasing Lake Argyle’s capacity from 10,670 gigalitres to 15,500gl by building a 10m-high barrier wall across Spillway Creek – one of four spillways leading off the huge expanse of water.
The wall would be built 4m higher and downstream from the existing 6m-high barrier across Spillway Creek. The old barrier would be submerged and the road and bridge raised with initial estimates putting the cost of the project at about $80 million.
Mr Joyce said the Federal Government was determined to improve water infrastructure to provide economic opportunities and to supply a growing population, but expected opposition from environmental groups.
“I’m waiting for people to dress themselves up in koala suits and say they don’t believe in the dam system,” he said.
The Coalition floated plans to build a hundred new dams before last year’s election, but Mr Joyce said that in some cases it made more sense to extend existing dams to get the desired result.
Mr Joyce, an outspoken critic of some forms of foreign investment in agriculture, has met representatives of the Chinese company developing farmland on the Ord in the past fortnight.
He welcomed the fact Kimberley Agricultural Investments was operating under a lease and developing scrub land into irrigated farmland.
Mr Joyce said there was merit in foreign investment in agriculture to develop assets. However, he had concerns in cases where fully developed assets changed hands.
“If it is a fully developed asset and it changes hands to become part of a vertically integrated entity whose long-term objective is to take produce out of Australia’s market place and also by so doing making it difficult to determine whether there is a tax bill, you have to say well, is that in our interests,” he said.
Courtesy of The West Australian
17 November 2014