Freedom of Information documents obtained from the WA Government have revealed alarming plans by a Chinese company to dramatically change the landscape of the Kimberley.
The FOI documents revealed the Shanghai-based company Zenith Australia had a vision to create an ‘’all-weather” station at Yakka Munga pastoral lease, with plans to excavate drainage channels across the entire 190,000 hectare pastoral lease to enhance grazing, which would change and threaten the Kimberley’s landscape and culture.
In emails obtained through the FOI, the company suggested the design, which was based on a successful model used in China, could be replicated across the Kimberley.
In the emails obtained the company said “…this design is [name redacted] preferred way of improving pastoral purpose into the next 50 years, in line with [name redacted] vision to build an all-weather paddock, further an all-weather station and eventually see an all-weather Kimberly [sic].”
The company came under fire in June, when they illegally cleared 120 hectares to “build a stock watering channel, roads and fences.” according to media reports.
The State Government ordered the company to stop work and rehabilitate the land after Traditional Owners blockaded the site and a petition was circulated which gained more than 2300 signatures.
The FOI also revealed an initial proposal by Zenith in March to irrigate more than 10,000 hectares of land of Yakka Munga to grow castor beans, which would have likely involved drawing water out of tributaries of the Fitzroy River according to Departmental officers.
In the documents, the proposal was deemed ‘foolish’ by government officials, who said it would be likely be rejected by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development.
Environs Kimberley Director Martin Pritchard said the plan to transform the pastoral lease into a grid of drainage channels would be devastating for the Kimberley’s world famous landscapes, nature and culture.
“If this proposal to clear and excavate channels across the whole of the 190,000-hectare pastoral lease, with suggestions this could be replicated across the whole Kimberley, had gone ahead it would’ve been disastrous,” he said.
“The damage caused by land clearing would be complete destruction of the vegetation including boab, bush tucker and medicine trees and the loss of habitat for threatened species like the bilby – it would have been devastating.
“The tropical savannah here is the most intact in the world and we are very concerned that this company has come here with plans that would be extremely damaging to the environment. We call on industry peak bodies the Pastoralist and Graziers Association and the Kimberley Pilbara Cattlemen’s Association to condemn such plans and commit to a sustainable pastoral industry in the Kimberley.”
Mr Pritchard also condemned irrigation proposals which would draw water out of the Fitzroy River.
“We were shocked to also see the proposal by Zenith to irrigate 10,000 hectares of land which government officials advised would likely be watered from the Fitzroy River, but we are glad this was rejected,” he said.
“The amount of water and land clearing in the lower reaches of the Fitzroy would have been devastating for the River and species like the critically endangered freshwater sawfish and barramundi.”