16/11/2004 - 21:00

Ord River development deal

16/11/2004 - 21:00

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The State Government has hailed a deal with the Indigenous people of the west Kimberley as a major step towards the long-awaited expansion of the Ord River irrigation project.

Ord River development deal

The State Government has hailed a deal with the Indigenous people of the west Kimberley as a major step towards the long-awaited expansion of the Ord River irrigation project.

But despite the new deal the prospect of new commercial developments remains distant.

The new deal is in the form of an 80-page memorandum of understanding between the State Government and the Miriuwung Gajerrong people.

Deputy Premier Eric Ripper said that, under the agreement, Native Title and heritage issues over 65,000 hectares of land around Kununurra and Lake Argyle would be resolved and the land released for development.

A Government spokesman said it was expected to take another six months before the MOU was converted into a legally binding agreement.

Another constraint is that the agreement only relates to Western Australia, whereas the land designated for expansion of the Ord River project is split between WA and the Northern Territory.

The Government spokesman said the Kimberley agreement was similar to a deal finalised last year that cleared the way for further development on the Burrup Peninsula and surrounding areas.

In both cases, Native Title claims have not been resolved but the agreements ensure that land access issues are settled.

The terms of the Kimberley deal have not been released but they include Miriuwung Gajerrong participation in future developments.

The latest deal follows an earlier agreement with the Miriuwung Gajerrong people that allowed for a new residential development in Kununurra.

As part of that deal, the Miriuwung Gajerrong claimants will receive 5 per cent of proceeds from the sale of the residential land.

Local response to the MOU was mixed, with Kimberley Primary Industries Association executive officer David McKerrell saying farmers were keen to see a final deal after years of talk.

Ord River District Co-operative chief executive Jim Hughes, who is a signatory to the MOU, was more positive.

“This is by far the most positive development we have seen in many years,” Mr Hughes said.

The Government is hoping that resolution of Native Title and heritage issues will be followed by investors willing to fund the expansion of the Ord River project, which currently covers about 12,000 hectares and generates annual production of $51 million.

The Government has received a report from Melbourne firm Marsden Jacob Associates that analyses development options for the 30,500ha in Ord Stage 2.

The report was originally due to be released in May 2004 and the delay has added to the frustration of locals who are keen to see the area developed.

State Development Minister Clive Brown told WA Business News: “There are a number of complex issues raised in the report and … we are working towards releasing the report as soon as those issues are worked through.”

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