Opinion - Water fuels Northern Australia vision - NT News
WATER is the lifeblood which empowers regional communities throughout Australia to make a significant contribution to our nation.
I've never shied away from the fact we should store more of our water and build more dams to use for irrigated agriculture, flood mitigation and to help drought proof our productive primary production regions.
This week the latest national accounts were released showing Australia’s economy grew at 3.4 per cent in 2017-18 representing a stronger rate of growth than any G7 economy including the USA, Canada, Germany and Japan.
This record of solid economic management shows we’re on a sound and stable pathway of debt reduction which means greater opportunity to pursue and invest in exciting nation building projects such as constructing dams to expand farm production in Northern Australia.
The national budget benefits from this production growth through expanded farm exports underpinned by booming Asian markets taking full advantage of free trade agreements.
Our Government has already put $2.6 billion on the table to identify and build water infrastructure to boost economic growth and employment opportunities through initiatives such as the $580 million National Water Infrastructure Development Fund.
For example, we’ve committed $176.1 million to build the Rookwood Weir in Central Queensland which is expected to generate up to 2,100 jobs and expand irrigated agricultural production in the Lower Fitzroy by up to $1 billion per year.
Last week, in addition to this work, the Liberals and Nationals Government revealed the exciting potential of the Northern Australia Water Resources Assessments (NAWRA) project conducted by the CSIRO.
The report highlights detailed research undertaken by the CSIRO to assess proposed water catchments in the Mitchell region of Queensland, Fitzroy in Western Australia’s north and at Darwin in the Northern Territory.
This extensive analysis flows from the White Paper on Developing Northern Australia initiated by the Liberals and Nationals Government.
It provides unprecedented data to assist with sound decision-making on policy development, for building reliable and sustainable water supplies to drive the production of crops such as cotton and sugar cane, while balancing other critical factors such as environmental, social and economic outcomes.
The research estimates these three water catchments have the combined potential to deliver 387,000 hectares of crops to generate more than 15,000 jobs and $5.3 billion in annual economic activity throughout Northern Australia.
Farm groups roundly welcomed the opportunity to expand Northern Australia's irrigation potential, with National Farmers’ Federation President Fiona Simson saying it would help achieve the NFF’s vision for agriculture to be a $100 billion industry by 2030.
Members of the Liberal and Nationals Government also fully understand why harnessing the potential of our greatest resource, water, through public and private investments, delivers multiple benefits.
In 1817 when early Australian explorer and surveyor John Oxley looked out over the landscape of what’s now the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, he described the scene as a ‘hollowing wilderness’ adding ‘no man would ever want to set foot here, let alone try to develop this area’.
But as The Nationals know, if you can just add water, anything is possible.
Along with the Coleambally Irrigation district, the Murrumbidgee is now regarded as one of the nation’s leading food and fibre bowls, where farming flourishes through major commodities such as wool, livestock, grains and horticulture which propels regional economies and communities.
The area is home to 670,000 hectares of fertile farming land of which an average of 130,000ha is irrigated through 1600kms of drainage channels.
Water is diverted for supply to the major townships of Griffith and Leeton and flows to more than 3,300 agricultural landholdings and supports ancillary businesses such as wineries, juicing factories and processing plants.
Governments with the courage and grit to invest and build upon the visionary explorer Oxley’s initial discovery realised the immense power of water’s intrinsic ability to feed and propel human activity and initiative.
Only those who lack such vision or have alternative and questionable political motivations could ever criticise such initiatives.
If Bill Shorten arrived at the Murrumbidgee Irrigation region ahead of Oxley 200 years ago, probably due to being lost on his way to a secret union organisers’ meeting, he would have sent a carrier pigeon home with a message on it telling Richard Di Natale and Tony Burke his work was done.
‘We’ll fence off this land and lock it up forever as a pristine reservation where flora and fauna roam free and no human shall ever set foot there. That’ll win us a few more votes in marginal metropolitan seats where people are contemplating living in 20 stacked high, eco-friendly, converted sea containers sold for $1.5 million a pop’, the note would have read.
If the Greens and Labor had their way, The Murrumbidgee and Coleambally irrigation regions would be unchanged and unrealised, making a nil contribution to the national economy, apart from the spiritual pay-off that goes with a walk in the forest, for the occasional day-dreaming eco-tourist.
Their reaction to the Northern Australia dams announcedment, along with their fellow travellers, is highly predictable and had a familiar hyper-critical, regressive, tone about it where economic opportunity in regional Australia is lost and sacrificed in pursuit of political gain in the cities.
The CSIRO has done an incredible amount of work assessing these three Northern Australia water catchment areas and like Oxley’s discovery, it would be a crying shame to ignore and waste such great potential due to a confused and opportunistic political compass.
First published in the NT News on September 12, 2018.