The Department of Defence is currently undertaking a massive land grab of prime agricultural land near Townsville. From the scant information provided by Defence to date, it is understood that approximately 200,000 ha of mostly high-quality grazing land is to be taken, by compulsory acquisition if need be. This would more than double the size of the current Townsville Field Training Area. There are also substantial tracts of land at Shoalwater Bay north of Rockhampton to be taken. The main argument for the land acquisition, is to accommodate the recently announced agreement with Singapore to provide them with land for training their army 18 weeks a year.
There is a misperception that low value land will be taken. That is not the case. The land being taken is fertile, has relatively reliable rainfall and is ideally suited for fattening cattle. This is flat productive land that also has significant potential for development of more intensive agriculture, in the event that irrigation water were to be made available.
A proposal by the Charters Towers Regional Council to the Federal Government for $30 million funding to build a water storage next to this land, was recently rejected. The 10,000 ML weir would only affect land within the steep banks of the Burdekin River currently infested by castor oil weed. It would provide water security for Charters Towers and irrigation water accessible by most of the land now being acquired by the Defence Department.
If these 2 decisions stand, not only will the region lose revenue from of sale of up to 15,000 cattle a year, the opportunity to develop fertile areas next to the Burdekin River for high value irrigation land, will be lost to a region currently suffering dire economic problems! The negative economic impact of these decisions in Canberra, will dwarf the claimed $50 million annual economic benefit of ongoing Singaporean Defence Initiative spending.
If the Federal Government takes a sensible approach, our region should be able to “have its cake and eat it too”. In doing so, a much better result for the economy of the region can be achieved. This will also result in a much lower cost to the Federal budget. The Department of Defence has substantial holdings in the northern area of the High Range facility that neighbouring owners say is very much underutilised. There are large tracts of unproductive (and therefore less expensive) land to the north and to the south east of the High Range Training Facility that could be taken, which would have far less impact on the economy of the region.
Following a meeting of potentially affected landholders in Townsville recently, a steering committee was formed to attempt to raise awareness of the impact of these acquisitions. A fighting fund is being raised to help cover the cost of arguing their case. They hope to persuade the Federal Government to limit acquisitions by the Department of Defence, to take only low quality land. High quality land should only be taken where that is absolutely essential. Conrad Law has been engaged by the Steering Committee to provide legal advice and assist in coordinating its activities.
If you would like further information or can offer support to the Steering Committee, please contact Ian Conrad.