Green tape could kill Ord farm

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian
A tractor works to clear land near Kununurra.
Camera IconA tractor works to clear land near Kununurra. Credit: The West Australian

A Chinese company developing farm land in the Ord River area has warned it will not proceed with the project under a raft of conditions set out by Australia's environmental watchdog.

The conditions contained in the Department of the Environment's draft assessment are far more onerous that those which apply to a lead mine adjoining the 6000ha Knox Plains site earmarked for development by Shanghai Zhongfu-owned Kimberley Agricultural Investment.

They are also more onerous that the strict environmental safeguards put in place for KAI in developing farms on a 7400ha site known as Goomig over the past two years.

The dispute is a major blow to the State Government which touted KAI as a potential billion-dollar investor in agriculture after naming it preferred developer of land released under stage two of the Ord River irrigation scheme.

KAI is about to plant its first crops on the Goomig site after overcoming a separate dispute involving the Department of State Development and the State Solicitor's Office over the terms of its early access agreement.

The agreement does not include provisions for growing crops, but commonsense appears to have prevailed with KAI about to start planting sorghum. It will also grow chia if it can plant before mid-May.

KAI's first crops could cover up to 700ha at Goomig, but the row over green tape threatens to derail its plans to start developing farms on Knox Plains.

The company, owned by Chinese billionaire Pui Ngai Wu, refused to comment yesterday. It lodged an informal protest with the Department of the Environment after receiving the draft assessment last week.

The department has been told it is not feasible for KAI to develop Knox Plains under the conditions in the draft assessment. KAI is expected to detail its concerns in a formal response.

KBL Mining has environmental approvals for open pit lead and silver operations at Sorby Hills which is about 45km north-east of Kununurra and sandwiched between the Goomig and Knox sites. A source close to KAI said the company was staggered that more onerous environmental conditions had been applied to its farming operations.

It is understood KAI has become increasingly frustrated with bureaucracy as it seeks the scale necessary to justify building a high-tech sugar refinery near Kununurra. KAI is also concerned about its lack of freehold land title given the high cost of developing farms under lease agreements with the State Government.

The Government will offer freehold title based on development clauses when it releases the next big parcel of land at the Ord and KAI believes the same rules should apply to Knox Plains.

Get the latest news from in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails