Government Must be Involved in Development of Northern Agriculture

Fostering further large-scale agricultural development in the nation’s north will require government investment, Minister for Northern Australia Matt Canavan said today.

Delivering the keynote speech to the Northern Australia Food Futures Conference in Darwin today, Senator Canavan stated that: “Successful irrigation projects in the north do often involve a substantial degree of government involvement.

“For example, work by CSIRO has shown that all four of the continuing large scale irrigation schemes – the Ord, Burdekin, Emerald and Mareeba-Dimbulah – have received significant government investment, government funds supporting the construction of dams and associated channel infrastructure. This has leveraged significant private investment.

“The report also notes that – with the exception of Katherine and Lakeland Downs – all of the private agricultural development schemes that had little or no direct government investment, particularly in infrastructure, ‘have not persisted’.”

Senator Canavan said this was a lesson had Coalition Government had taken on board.

“We are investing more than $1.2 billion in the north: in roads, in dams and other infrastructure. Agriculture stands to be the biggest beneficiary of this investment, with nearly $400 million specifically identified for investment in this sector – including $200 million for dams and other infrastructure, $100 million in beef roads to bring down the cost of transporting cattle, and $75 million in a Co-operative Research Centre that, in part, will focus on agriculture and food.

“The agriculture sector also stands to benefit from the other $600 million the government plans to invest in northern roads and the $50 million we are investing to help unlock the economic potential of native title lands. The government is also establishing a $5 billion facility to provide concessional lending to other infrastructure, some of which will also benefit the agriculture sector.”

Senator Canavan said it was appropriate that the Government’s northern agenda was so focused on agriculture.

“The experience of economic development, both here and overseas, shows that the development of a strong agriculture sector is often the ‘prime mover’ to get other sectors going and develop a diversified economy.

“The potential of northern agriculture is significant. Estimates of the land that could be irrigated range from 8 million to 17 million hectares. Of course, nothing near that will be able to be irrigated, given a lack of water or markets. Still, the CSIRO has identified at least 120,000 hectares of significant potential in the north.

“Those figures only look at a small subset of areas at the north. They do not include the potential of the Mitchell, the Fitzroy (in Western Australia) and the Archer, Wenlock and Normanby catchments on Cape York. These additional catchments alone may have the potential to irrigate a further 200,000 hectares.”

This amounts to the potential of a more than 15 per cent increase in Australia’s land under irrigation and huge boost to our agricultural potential.

Senator Canavan said the Government had already received 60 expressions of interest for investment in water infrastructure, including 23 applications in the north, and he expected the successful applications would be announced soon.

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