THE Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA kicked off a new Grow Our North initiative last week, which it hopes will influence decisions about the State's northern economy.
PGA president Tony Seabrook said Western Australia's north was at a crossroads and it could either go left down the path of doing nothing with the land, or right to jobs growth and investment.
"For far too long State and Federal governments have placed the interests of pastoralists second to other external stakeholders, many of whom have little interest in ensuring real long-term employment and real economic benefits for the people who live and work in northern WA," Mr Seabrook said.
"While the impact that the current COVID-19 crisis will have on our northern economy is yet to be determined, we firmly believe that this is not the time to adopt a 'wait and see approach'.
"In times of crisis, it is imperative to act with purposefulness and to prepare for the recovery phase - which will come.
"This is why the PGA, WA's peak industry body for the pastoral industry, officially launched on Monday, July 20, WA's first awareness campaign to promote the interests of Kimberley and Pilbara pastoralists."
The "Grow Our North - a PGA initiative" campaign, which will be using digital and conventional platforms including videos, will highlight the important issues that are hindering the development of WA's north.
Included is a dedicated website growournorth.com.au
Mr Seabrook said first off the rank was the State government's announced plan to create the Fitzroy River National Park, as part of its Plan for Parks program which will create an additional five million hectares of new national and marine parks and reserves across WA.
"Included in the proposals for the park are plans that will limit the ability of landholders to maximise water use, reduce grazing areas and limit stock access to the Fitzroy River and its tributaries," he said.
"Water is critical to WA's northern development agenda.
"As identified in the Australian Ggovernment's 2015 Our North, Our Future White Paper, productivity improvements in grazing, agriculture and horticulture requires the need for a more efficient, modern and sustainable water industry, including developing new opportunities for water storage and capture.
"With an annual rainfall of 552 millimetres, the Fitzroy River, which is already National Heritage listed due to its environmental and cultural values, has an average discharge rate into the ocean of 6600 gigalitres, which is 10 times the size of Sydney Harbour."
According to the CSIRO's 2018 Report on the Fitzroy River Catchment, water harvesting during high flow years could support 180,000 hectares of irrigation, creating an estimated 5260 new jobs and boosting the economy by $1.2 billion.
The report said water harvesting into storage tanks could potentially support 160,000ha growing one dry season crop a year in 85 per cent of years.
Groundwater could also potentially support up to 30,000ha of hay production every year.
There would need to be good management of the clay soils to ensure crops were not inundated in the wet season.
"The creation of a new Fitzroy River National Park would prohibit any surface water catchment or harvesting on not only the Fitzroy River but its tributaries as well and will severely impact on all future water allocation and grazing practices throughout the Fitzroy River catchment, placing further development of pastoral stations, especially those who are seeking to develop irrigated fodder crops utilising flood irrigation from water harvested from the Fitzroy River or its many tributaries at great risk," Mr Seabrook said.
"This will fail to facilitate any long-term economic activity by denying existing pastoral operations the ability to diversify into irrigated projects, thus deterring employment and job creation, especially in our Indigenous communities.
"We need a new approach from government - one that supports people, jobs and industry, not one that locks away productive land and limits access to water.
"An approach that recognises that pastoralism continues to be an integral part of growing our northern agenda, making significant contributions to employment and the economy, especially for Indigenous communities.
"We need to stop the influence of foreign-based conservation organisations on our politicians - organisations that have no interest in ensuring real long-term employment and real economic benefits for those people who live in this wondrous part of our State.
"And we need to identify opportunities to increase water supply and reliability; putting the infrastructure in place will create the jobs and industries of the future."
A McGowan government spokesperson said it remained committed to the progression of a proposed national park in the Fitzroy River area as promised before the 2017 election and was also "progressing our Plan for Our Parks initiative to increase the conservation estate by five million hectares".
"The Fitzroy River catchment has significant cultural, environmental and economic values and we are working hard to ensure these are protected through continued close consultation with traditional owners, pastoralists and other key stakeholders," the spokesperson said.
"Claims by the Pastoralists and Graziers Association that a proposed national park in the Fitzroy area includes plans to limit the ability of landholders are misleading.
"The consultation with pastoralists neighbouring the proposed national park is focused on ensuring continued opportunities for diversification into the future.
"We remain committed to our policy of no dams on the Fitzroy River or its tributaries."