NT signals Ord expansion nod

The Northern Territory Government has given its strongest commitment so far to extending the Ord irrigation channel across the WA border.

NT Primary Industries Minister Willem Westra van Holthe said his Government had the "political courage and the political will" to make it happen and was preparing to begin negotiations with native title holders.

A cross-border legislation and operations study has just been completed and flags no major legislative hurdles in extending the channel, which stops 9km from the border.

"I think it has been a long time coming and we'll be very pleased to get this over the line," Mr Westra van Holthe said.

"This is important for the NT and WA, but it is also important for Australia as a whole."

The Northern Land Council is representing traditional land- owners in their negotiations with the NT Government.

"We are in the early stages and need to know we have got some money on the table so we can go into those negotiations in good faith," Mr Westra van Holthe said. "We are in close communication with the Commonwealth about matters around that."

Chinese-owned Kimberley Agricultural Investments is eyeing about 15,000ha in the NT to add to the 13,400ha it is developing into farms in WA as part of plans for a major sugar industry.

The NT Government can choose to take the land to market with native title settled or unsettled. Early indications are that it wants to call for expressions of interests with the issue settled and that the successful bidder will finance the huge capital works project.

"We've got to find a mechanism for building the infrastructure as well and we'll be talking to proponents about the possibility of their investment," Mr Westra van Holthe said.

"Fundamentally, this is about producing a commodity that will eventually be shipped over to perhaps China and that contributes to their food security so they have a big buy into this."

KAI said it would put its best foot forward to secure development rights. It has been buying a fleet of heavy earthmoving equipment and agricultural machinery as it gears up for major infrastructure work on its WA farms.

"We said from very early on that we wanted to build capacity with local people and the only way to do that effectively is to have a core of our own equipment," KAI general manager Jim Engelke said.

KAI will start building tail water recycling dams, supply channels and other farm infrastructure once the wet season ends.

Mr Westra van Holthe said it was conceivable the NT could take its land to the market by the end of next year, depending on the progress of talks with the NLC.

The West Australian

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