4 September 2014
Sarina Locke and Craig Zonca
The Federal Parliamentary Committee looking at Northern Australia has recommended major infrastructure development, including roads, dams and weirs.
Called Pivot North, the Inquiry into the Development of Northern Australia will feed into the Federal Government’s White Paper on Northern Australia, due at the end of the year.
The report has been tabled in Parliament with 40 recommendations, the first to establish a Department of Northern Australian Development covering the three states of Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland.
It calls for the completion of sealing and flood-proofing of roads like the Bruce Highway in Queensland, the Hann Highway linking Cairns to Melbourne, and the Tanami Road that links the Kimberly in WA to Central and South Australia.
“The Bruce and Stuart highways are no brainers,” said committee chair Warren Entsch, a Far North Queensland Coalition MP.
“The Hann Highway is an alternative to the Bruce and is going to save a hell of a lot of time. It can feed off at any point to the eastern seaboard, but we’re focussing on Rockhampton north. It allows for an alternative route for freight and something that is available for 365 days a year.
“Compared to the cost of the Bruce Highway, it’s a relatively small investment, and could be realised much quicker.”
Mr Entsch says upgrading the Tanami Road would cut 1,100 kilometres off the journey from the Kimberley to South Australia, saving 17 hours.
“It links communities and opportunities in the mining and pastoral communities.”
He says Queensland’s Peninsula Development Road should also be extended to the Cape York tip to reduce freight costs.
Water resources a priority
This report departs from the 2009 Northern Australian Land and Water Science Review, held under Labor, which recommended against dam building projects, and stated that only a further 60,000 hectares of irrigation could be developed.
Mr Entsch dismisses that earlier report because it was overtaken by politics.
“I was a member of the Land and Water Australia taskforce.
“Water was removed (from the options) and as soon as water came out of the equation, the opportunities were basically lost.”
The new report recommends that the Australian Government give priority to the development and funding of water resource proposals ‘that have been scientifically identified as being sustainable and with the strongest cost-benefit case, and consistent with National Water Policy.
It says these include:
- Flinders River Weir/O’Connell Creek Water in Queensland, to irrigate agriculture in the black soil plains
- Elliot Main Channel – linked to the Burdekin system, supplied by the Urannah dam
- Urannah Dam proposal to provide water for mining in Bowen and Galilee Basins and irrigation in Bowen region, to provide water for Abbot Point industrial area and 30,000 hectares of irrigation
- The Nullinga Dam proposal to supply water to Cairns and agriculture
- Raise the dam wall at Eden Bann Weir, Rockhampton, to allow large-scale development of horticulture crops for Asia.
- Eden Bann and Rookwood Weirs on the Fitzroy River
- Cloncurry Dam, Cave Hill, where there’s potential to develop a feedlot and abattoir
Mr Entsch says the water projects could be either taxpayer funded or private, or a combination of both.
Meanwhile, a $2 billion private investment project is already on the books, though still looking for investment.
The Integrated Food and Energy Developments (IFED), on the Gilbert River in the Gulf country of northern Queensland, is headed up by rural business identity and former politician Keith deLacy.
He says development of Northern Australia should be infrastructure that supports big private investment.
“You have to have scale.
“Some people say ‘why big business, not small?’
“But small business on its own cannot do it. We’re sympathetic with small business, there are plenty of opportunities, but someone has to introduce all that infrastructure.”
The Wilderness Society says the Pivot North joint committee report has snubbed Mr deLacy’s IFED development.
The report noted local community concerns over the IFED scheme, including that it was unviable because it was using soils which were ‘quite unsuitable because of its shallow and infertile nature, that its water allocation had the potential to use all the water allowed for the Gilbert River catchment, thereby denying water for other potential irrigation projects on the good soils in the catchment, and that its use of water ‘could adversely impact the prawn industry in the Gulf of Carpentaria’.
“Support from the federal inquiry for IFED is conspicuous in its absence,” said Wilderness Society Northern Australia campaigner Gavan McFadzean.
North-west Queensland ‘commends’ report
Many of the projects mentioned in the committee’s report for northern Queensland mirror those listed in the submission from the Mt Isa to Townsville Economic Development Zone organisation (known as MITEZ).
“I think the success of some of the larger scale projects will be a mix of public and private investment,” said MITEZ chief executive Glen Graham.
A recent report commissioned by MITEZ highlighted north-west Queensland as an ‘underdeveloped region, with vast mineral, land, and water resources but lacking the critical transport, electricity, and water storage infrastructure and the skilled labour force to support these natural assets.’
Mr Graham believes a change in government policy settings could open the door to a wave of investment in mining and agriculture.
He says it’s now about ensuring the Federal Government adopts the recommendations of the Pivot North report as part of the forthcoming White Paper on northern development.
“We’ve got to make sure it’s something they [the Government] will act on.”
MITEZ is actively pursuing attract investors to build an abattoir in Cloncurry, a dam on O’Connel Creek near Richmond and develop irrigated cropping along the Burdekin River within the Charters Towers council boundary.
Research critical to development
Former National Farmers’ Federation president David Crombie is encouraged by the report’s recommendation for the Government to support the creation of a cooperative research centre for northern agriculture.
“I’m very pleased to see the Ag North proposal included in there,” said Mr Crombie, who has been leading the push to establish the research facility.
“We need to get the science right, we need to get the politics right, we need to get the policies right and that should lead to investment.”
“People have been talking about the potential of the north for all of my lifetime.”
“I think this is a really serious attempt…this is not party political.”
“What it needs now is for the Federal Government to put their money where their money is…to make northern development real this time around.”
The Ag North research centre proposal is supported by the Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australian Governments along with a number of tertiary institutions and the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation.
Courtesy of ABC Rural