Fitzroy River plans slow
Indigenous groups do not want the West Australian Government to open up the Fitzroy River to large-scale irrigation.
Almost three years since Labor pledged to boost economic development in the state’s northern region, pastoralists are lobbying for a water allocation plan.
But the local Bunuba people, one of several Aboriginal groups whose traditional lands include the Fitzroy catchment, is urging the Government to take it slow.
“We're totally opposed to any surface [water] extraction,” Bunuba man Joe Ross has told the ABC.
“The catchment is one of the last great tropical freshwater systems in the world.”
In the leadup to the WA election in 2017, Labor said it would develop a management plan for the 93,000km² catchment, including creating a new national park and a basis for sustainable economic development.
However, very little common ground has been found between pastoralists, environmental groups and traditional owners.
“There appears to be a lack of momentum,” says Kimberley Pilbara Cattlemen's Association (KPCA) chief executive, Emma White.
“They really only have about a year left to effectively govern and there are some complexities to these things.
“The state and the agencies involved do need to provide a comprehensive update to stakeholders to further build on what was presented in February last year.”
The Bunuba people want the focus to be on creating the national park.
“The Bunuba people are major stakeholders in this as we are very much pro national parks,” Mr Ross said.
“It provides ranger positions and economic opportunities that will go well beyond any other industries that are currently in the Kimberley at the moment.”
He said park plans are going well, but the water allocation plan is more difficult.
“They [the pastoral industry] are frustrated at the way bureaucracy moves, but … fortunately for the environment and fortunately for the cultural sustainability of this country, governments go about it in good faith,” Mr Ross said.
“And they'll need to tick every box, cross every little 't', and dot every little 'i' to ensure that we all come out with a mutual outcome.
“As to the catchment management plan and the water planning processes, whether that takes this cycle of Government or four more cycles of Government, it's got to be done right.
“And it's got to have science backing up the decision-making.”
WA Water Minister Dave Kelly has urged the cattle industry to be patient.
“We're very keen to get this right, we don't want to rush it,” he said.
“People are aware of the difficulties that are being experienced on the east coast with the Murray-Darling.
“As a Government, we're very keen not to repeat those mistakes.”
Mr Kelly said he hopes the Government will release draft plans during this year.
Environment Minister Stephen Dawson says the proposed national park is on track.
“The proposed scoping areas are being finalised with native title groups as part of the Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUA) negotiations and are not ready for public release,” he said in a statement.
“However, it is anticipated that this will occur soon for Bunuba and Gooniyandi country.
“Consultation with pastoralists and key stakeholders will then follow to enable finalisation of the national park boundaries.”