REGIONAL Australia Minister Simon Crean says AACo’s David Farley needs to stop making “stupid comparisons” about federal funding and instead submit a commercially viable plan to the government, so they can take his Northern Australia abattoir proposal seriously.
Last week the Australian Agricultural Company (AACo) managing director Mr Farley questioned the government’s funding allocation priorities, which drew the ire of Minister Crean.
He said his company has poured $14.5 million into a 600-hectare site 60km south of Darwin to build an abattoir facility with the capacity to process about 200,000 head of Australian cattle per year, for selling processed meat into Asian export markets.
The project’s estimated cost is $85 million but needs another $25 million in government funding to build community infrastructure assets, like access to power, water, gas, roads, rail realignment and port infrastructure.
Mr Farley said the proposed northern abattoir ties in with Minister Crean’s plans to implement an economic sustainability strategy for Northern Australia and also complements other government policies including energy use reduction, with road transport in the north set to plunge by about six million truck kilometres a year.
The abattoir’s design phase is now complete and the Northern Territory government has granted various planning approvals.
Mr Farley said the abattoir will also create jobs and improve animal welfare standards, but in an interview with Fairfax Agricultural Media, he asked why the project doesn’t match the government’s strategy for Northern Australia.
The project wasn’t funded in the last federal budget.
“When northern cattlemen see the federal government investing in the movie industry and car manufacturing, but not backing projects like this, it makes them wonder where they sit as an industry,” Mr Farley said.
Despite Mr Farley’s serve last week, Minister Crean said the Federal government remained committed to assisting the northern beef industry with any genuine plans to increase diversity and economic sustainability within the region.
He said he’d been in “constant discussions” with Mr Farley about the AACo proposal, which has also been an agenda item for the Northern Australia Ministerial Forum (NAMF) over the past two years.
Minister Crean said he’d been at the forefront of discussions about the sustainable development of Northern Australia, of which the northern beef industry is a major contributor.
He is also the Federal Arts Minister, which heightened his objection to Mr Farley’s comparison between arts funding and investment in the proposed abattoir.
“It’s just a cheap shot,” Minister Crean said.
“Mr Farley seems to think that going public and blaming the government will help progress plans … but the government is yet to receive a solid proposal.
“The government is committed to diversifying the northern beef trade and building processing capacity.
“But so far he’s (Mr Farley) only talked about concepts and initiatives; there’s nothing that the board has actually signed off on. They’ve got to come up with a commercial proposal that stacks up.”
Minister Crean defended the government’s decision to provide funding assistance for filming a local chapter in Hugh Jackman’s latest Wolverine film series.
The federal government pledged $12.8 million, in a deal estimated to be worth $80 million to the NSW economy in production expenditure.
It’s estimated to be creating more than 2000 jobs for Australians in the production sector and up to 1500 indirect jobs through other service provision industries, like transport, catering and hospitality.
Minister Crean’s NAMF has also looked into an abattoir facility in Queensland which he says also needs to stack up commercially, to receive any government funds.
A feasibility study has already analysed several potential locations with Cloncurry being identified as the most suitable for potential investors.
Mr Crean said the crisis of the live cattle trade suspension last year had brought the northern cattle industry’s need for diversification to a head due an over-reliance on the one market.
He said the federal government was prepared to commit funding to support that diversification, but any proposals had to be done in partnership with industry and must be supported by the three tiers of government; not just the Federal Labor government.
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