ANDREW 'Twiggy' Forrest says he would like to attract "passive" Chinese investment to develop 5000 gigalitres of water from existing aquifers in Australia to irrigate and drought-proof land for agricultural production.
The mining magnate said on Tuesday he planned to use his Minderoo Group to pursue the project and that he would like to have a scoping study prepared by the end of this year.
Speaking at the Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) Outlook 2015 conference in Canberra via videolink, Mr Forrest said Australia could be drought-proof if it greatly improved its water use, saying he wanted to attract long-term passive Chinese investment to bring the project to fruition.
"Let's not set it up to fail by casting it as a complete project (because) it is not," Mr Forrest said.
"But everything I know starts from a dream, and the dream I want to share with you is an Australia which does not fear lack of water in any part of its agricultural industry.
"Minderoo's plan is to harness the huge potential of northern and trans-Australian underground water resources to support increased agricultural production on a major scale," he said.
Mr Forrest said he had set a "ten-year aspirational challenge" to develop the plan to harness at least 5000 gigalitres of water from existing basins to irrigate new areas for agricultural production and drought-proof other areas. He did not put a price on his plan.
He said he had asked some of Australia's top universities to investigate the ways in which Australia's water aquifers could be tapped to fulfil his plans.
His announcement comes just days after he issued a statement saying he believed the minerals development cycle was bottoming and he would therefore like to create a new venture to collect abandoned and undeveloped mining projects across Australia.
Citing the malaise in commodity prices and the availability of cheap debt, Mr Forrest said the time was right to begin work on the next generation of mining projects in Australia, and he would like to build a new venture with many of the people who were involved in the early stages of his most successful venture, Fortescue Metals Group.
But he did not mention those plans on Tuesday.