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Wednesday, 27 August 1997
Page: 5870

Senator EGGLESTON(7.25 p.m.) —Tonight I wish to reply to Senator Murray's recent adjournment debate speech on the proposal to dam the Fitzroy River in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. I would like to provide evidence to the Senate and place on record that the damming of the Fitzroy River could well deliver strong economic growth to the region. Contrary to what Senator Murray stated in his adjournment debate speech, the damming of the Fitzroy means that significant net benefits most certainly could be achieved. The West Kimberley has the prospect of becoming an Australian food and fibre powerhouse.

Firstly, I would like to provide the Senate with some background information on the Fitzroy River. The catchment area of the Fitzroy is bigger than Victoria and, in flood, the volume of water from the Fitzroy is second only to the Amazon. In fact, it would fill Sydney Harbour in three and a half hours. However, at present the water resource of the Fitzroy is neither harvested nor utilised and, if used, this area would become a diverse agricultural production zone that would provide solid opportunities for food and fibre crops and generate at least $900 million in exports per year. This of course means jobs and new small business opportunities for Australians.

Senator Murray asserted that no appraisal is being undertaken into the environmental, social and long-term economic wellbeing of the region. I would like to place on record in the Senate that this statement is totally untrue and unfounded.

Following a widely advertised invitation for expressions of interest, the state government of Western Australia on 29 July 1997 announced the appointment of Western Agricultural Industries Pty Ltd—I will refer to them as WAI in the rest of this speech—as the preferred proponent to carry out an environmental impact statement and feasibility study into the West Kimberley land and water resource development proposal.

WAI is an Australian company comprising Queensland Cotton Holdings and Kimberley Agricultural lndustries—both proprietary limited companies—and they will start their feasibility study into the damming of the Fitzroy in approximately two months time. That study is expected to take two years for completion. WAI will study all aspects of the planned project, including flora, fauna, hydrology, environment, heritage, culture and social impact.

WAI has recently completed a six-year pre-feasibility study of the Fitzroy River and the West Kimberley area. It is WAI's plan to harvest 25 per cent of the annual flow of the Fitzroy River and leave 75 per cent for environmental use.

WAI states that broad community participation will be sought in the problem solving and decision making process with regard to the damming of the Fitzroy, and this will be brought about by one-to-one meetings, discussion groups, workshops, speaking engagements and telephone surveys as required. WAI studies will provide evidence that economic growth will be generated from the damming of the Fitzroy River and that significant net benefits will be delivered.

Trials of cotton and other crops, in conjunction with CSIRO and Agriculture WA will continue to assess the environmental and economic sustainability of fibre and food crops using bore water for irrigation. An aquifer south of Broome will be investigated to define annual sustainable water yield levels, and this will form the basis of a pilot project to prove the economic viability of the next possible stage of the project, which would involve construction of a water storage dam. A very important point to make is that no decision can be made on the likely site of any dam or dams until the feasibility study has been completed.

The full development of this project is estimated to take 10 to 15 years and will involve an area estimated to be 225,000 hectares. The initial crop will be cotton, which has existing market opportunities in which Australia holds an internationally competitive position as the fourth largest cotton exporting country.

Senator O'Chee —A mighty crop.

Senator EGGLESTON —A mighty crop indeed.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Eggleston, the time has expired.

Senator EGGLESTON —I seek leave to incorporate the remainder of my speech.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —The debate finished when our time expired, I am sorry.

Senator EGGLESTON —I did have a pre-arranged agreement to have it incorporated.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —The problem is, the time expired before you sought to have it incorporated.