Etheridge Shire Ag Precinct Proposal

The Gilbert River floodplain in the gulf region has long been recognised as having the potential to develop into one of Queensland’s premier agriculture areas and has been the subject of many studies trials and reports.

The development of the region has been hampered by not only by inadequate infrastructure but declining population and services.

At the forefront of the obstacles to development however is set of policy and regulatory settings that are often irrelevant, not fit for purpose or antiquated.

Regional Development Australia Tropical North (RDATN) and Etheridge Shire Council (ESC) have undertaken planning and consultation over many years to investigate ways to enhance the value of agricultural production in the Shire for the benefit of the residents, the region, and the nation through the sustainable capture and utilization of the water resource and identifying a process of regulatory preapproval across the region.

This follows decades of work by many organisations to better realise the agricultural potential of the Shire and surrounds in a sustainable way.

Planning undertaken to date by RDATN and ESC has identified an opportunity to develop an Irrigation and Agricultural Precinct, with preliminary work identifying potential economic benefits of around $700 million per annum.

Key to the concept is the creation of an agricultural and water precinct of State significance with preapprovals across tenure water vegetation management, native title future acts and cultural heritage. The proposal is an opportunity to implement best practice land management and provide wide ranging and lasting indigenous economic participation, training and employment opportunities.

The precinct concept on this scale is a nation first and has the broad support of all levels of government at the Ministerial and Director General level.

Securing and storing an adequate supply of water is critical to the realisation of the agricultural potential of the land. The CSIRO has identified 495,000ML per annum of available water for the Gilbert River.

To ensure that any water projects and associated development are sustainable, it is imperative that they are supported by an integrated and coordinated planning and management regime. The planning component will ensure that the best water infrastructure is provided in the right place, while at the same time recognising and protecting natural resource, biodiversity, cultural, and social values.

Preliminary technical studies and on-ground experience have confirmed the potential for such an endeavour and many individual lessees have expressed interest in pursuing a range of projects on their leases. However, despite the technical potential for irrigated and dryland agriculture, such projects have encountered several blockages in the legislative and planning areas. Without a large project and a single proponent, the approvals process is difficult to navigate.

The Project will establish appropriate protocols, on a regional basis, covering water allocation, vegetation management, environmental clearances, native title and cultural heritage as well as the implementation of best practice agricultural management.

The Precinct concept was presented at the second  Etheridge Shire Agricultural Forum 2022, hosted by Etheridge Shire Council, in Georgetown. RDATN continues to work with ESC to see this concept through to reality.