Traditional owners the Miriuwung Gajerrong see the Ord expansion as a golden opportunity to create jobs, businesses and farms for Aboriginals and have warned developers about their high expectations.
MG Corporation chairwoman Edna O'Malley warmly embraced Shanghai Zhongfu president Pui Ngai Wu yesterday but said the corporation would not be rushed into decisions on the Ord project or its expansion into the Northern Territory. "Before any conversation regarding future development of Aboriginal lands can gather momentum, the wishes, needs and aspirations of the relevant traditional owners must be met," she said.
The MGC settled a native title deal with the State Government in 2005 which set up a process for the Miriuwung Gajerrong to negotiate with big investors on employment and business opportunities.
Regional Development Minister Brendon Grylls said the Ord expansion was an opportunity to create jobs for the Miriuwung Gajerrong and others. He said about 300 jobs would be created during the construction stage of the KAI sugar mill and that it would employ a similar number when operational.
Mr Grylls said the release of an additional 1700ha on the Ord west bank would create up to 25 locally-run farms and ensure agricultural diversity, adding that KAI intended to create a network of farms on its land and then sub-lease to local growers. He said the scale of the KAI proposal and its plans to push irrigation into the NT had helped it win preferred proponent status ahead of Australia's biggest cattle and land company AACo, which had planned to grow cotton, and sandalwood company TFS.
AACo refused to comment yesterday but Opposition Leader Mark McGowan and the Wilderness Society attacked the decision.
Wilderness Society WA co-ordinator Peter Robertson said all big irrigation schemes in northern Australia had been expensive flops.
Mr McGowan said WA taxpayers would get no return and no food for their $311 million investment in the project. Though Mr McGowan blasted the State Government, his Federal ALP colleague Gary Gray - who has worked closely on the Ord expansion as Special Minister of State - praised Mr Grylls and Premier Colin Barnett.
"Colin and Brendon have brought together an investment into the east Kimberley that is measured at well over $1.1 billion. It is a fantastic achievement if it all works its way through," he said.