Fitzroy River future a cocktail of competing interests

Peter de KruijffThe Kimberley Echo
The WA Government wants to expand Geikie Gorge National Park so it becomes the Fitzroy River National Park.
Camera IconThe WA Government wants to expand Geikie Gorge National Park so it becomes the Fitzroy River National Park. Credit: Steve Ferrier

The Kimberley’s peak native title organisation has “grave concerns” about a proposal to excise part of Gogo Station and convert it to freehold title.

The station is about 11km south of Fitzroy Crossing and is the subject of a public environmental review for a project aiming to grow 4335ha of fodder for cattle.

Gogo wants to clear 8335ha for 25 surface irrigation fields and source the water from overland flow and the Margaret River which is a tributary to the Fitzroy River.

The proposal wants to take 50,000 million litres a year out of the Margaret River from a gravity offtake channel when the height of flow in the river is 3m or above.

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Environmental groups have already started a campaign against the project and the Labor State Government got into power on the promise it would establish a Fitzroy River national park.

This would be done by extending the Geikie Gorge National Park along the Fitzroy River to the north and along the Margaret River to the east.

Consultation by the State about the establishment of the park is not expected until early next year.

Gogo hopes to excise the area it proposes to grow crops on from the pastoral lease and convert it to freehold but this has drawn the ire of the Kimberley Land Council.

A freshwater crocodile in the Fitzroy River near the bridge into Fitzroy Crossing.
Camera IconA freshwater crocodile in the Fitzroy River near the bridge into Fitzroy Crossing. Credit: Peter de Kruijff

The KLC was one of four Aboriginal organisations in September to call on the State to take action on the protection of the Fitzroy River.

In a statement provided to the Echo, KLC deputy chief executive Tyronne Garstone said it had grave concerns about any development proposal which saw native title holders forego their native title rights as foreshadowed in the Gogo application.

“Converting pastoral lease to freehold land, which extinguishes native title, is not a necessary precursor to diversified development in the Fitzroy Valley,” he said. “Through the Fitzroy River Declaration, Kimberley traditional owners strongly voiced their concerns about increasing development pressures along the Fitzroy River and its tributaries, such as proposals like the Gogo Station development.

“Development projects of this nature have the potential to significantly impact the cultural and environmental values that led to the national heritage listing of this very important river system. All traditional owner groups with native title rights along the Fitzroy River must be provided with genuine engagement and consultation about any proposal, and their views taken into account at all times.”

On the topic of future development in the Fitzroy Valley, outgoing Kimberley Pilbara Cattlemen’s Association chief executive Catherine Marriott said pastoralists in the region cared deeply for the health of the river.

“With this in mind, it is important when making any decision on the future of the river that a wide stakeholder engagement process is followed and the economic, environmental, social and cultural impacts are taken into account,” she said.

WA Environment Minister Stephen Dawson.
Camera IconWA Environment Minister Stephen Dawson. Credit: Michael Wilson

WA Environment Minister Stephen Dawson said the Government was committed to establishing a national park.

“The health of the Fitzroy River is intimately linked to culture and the health of many people, the protection of endangered species, and the health of the Kimberley’s pristine coastal marine environment that supports tourism, fishing and aquaculture industries,” he said.

“The Fitzroy River also has a rich pastoral heritage that has been recognised under the National Heritage listing.

“The McGowan Labor Government will work with all stakeholders – including local graziers and traditional owners – to develop a management plan for the Fitzroy River to ensure the protection of the National Heritage and other significant cultural and environmental values of the Fitzroy River.

“I met with the Kimberley Land Council last month (September) at Lombadina and Djarindjin communities with my parliamentary colleague Alannah MacTiernan and we had some very constructive conversations about the protection of the Fitzroy River.”

Mining and cattle magnate Gina Rinehart with her Roy Hill at on.
Camera IconMining and cattle magnate Gina Rinehart with her Roy Hill at on. Credit: Mogens Johansen

Mining magnate Gina Rinehart, who has cattle interests in the valley, used a video presentation at the KPCA’s recent annual conference to advocate for using more water for agriculture in the valley.

“One example of government regulation you would be familiar with that acts to prevent our industry from developing, is the restrictions on the Fitzroy River,” she said.

“Across the average wet season, approximately 7000GL is wasted as it uselessly flows into the ocean.

“As it stands in 2017, the government only allows one water licence to access water from the Fitzroy River, this leaves approximately 99.991 per cent to run out.”

WA Agriculture minister Alannah MacTiernan saw the presentation and said while approvals processes needed to be operated quicker, she wasn’t sold on Mrs Hancock’s proposal.

“I think Mrs Hancock’s analysis, that it’s all about red tape and allowing more water to be pumped out of the Fitzroy, is that is not the simple answer,” she said.

“There are fundamental issues about soil health and vegetation health we have to address.”

Last month Ms MacTiernan told the Echothe government was a strong supported of irrigated agriculture on pastoral lands to create jobs when asked about its position on Gogo Station.

“We need to ensure projects of this scale are environmentally sustainable,” she said.

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