The National Heritage-listed Martuwarra Fitzroy River in the Kimberley is a step closer to being protected from Murray–Darling style irrigation. A policy position released by the Cook Government this week states clearly that no new extraction of surface water will be allowed.

“We welcome this historic announcement by the Cook Government, which supports what the community has been calling for over several decades: protection of the Martuwarra Fitzroy River from massive water extraction, and dams for agribusiness to irrigate cotton and other broadacre crops,” said Environs Kimberley Director of Strategy Martin Pritchard.

The Fitzroy River catchment has the most intact tropical savannah in the world and the Martuwarra Fitzroy River has been recognized as the last stronghold for the critically endangered Freshwater Sawfish. It also supports a major Barramundi population as well as Freshwater Prawns and other important fish species. The cultural heritage values of the river have been recognized by the Commonwealth Government, which put the river on the National Heritage list in 2011.

Martuwarra Fitzroy River - Damian Kelly

Environs Kimberley was formed to protect the river and adjacent tropical savannah from large-scale cotton crops, and has worked in partnership with Aboriginal groups since 1996 to keep it running free.

“More than 43,000 people called for the Martuwarra Fitzroy River to be protected from industrial agriculture and big pumps. The health of the river system depends on uninterrupted flows. It’s great to see that the Cook Government recognizes this. We know that any water pumped out reduces Barramundi and critically endangered sawfish populations.”

“We are still concerned about groundwater extraction. 100 billion litres are mooted as being available, which would allow the irrigation of 10,000 hectares. That is an unacceptable scale of land-clearing in such an intact and biodiverse landscape.”

We are keen to see more detail on the policies, including those concerning heritage and cultural rights, and we’ll support Aboriginal groups to ensure they obtain all the rights due to them as First Nations.

Work already completed shows that other, more profitable and less damaging industries are possible in the Fitzroy Valley. Such industries should be encouraged and supported.

We know that there are limited opportunities for jobs in large-scale irrigation, which causes massive damage, including complete destruction of tropical savannah by bulldozing and burning to grow cotton.

“The new economy provides the potential for sustainable jobs, including conservation of the world-class landscapes, which Aboriginal rangers are successfully working on. Carbon abatement, cultural tourism, bush foods and renewable energy are all industries that can work in the Fitzroy Valley, and there’s a strong interest in developing them.”

“We need to get behind these new industries, which are more appropriate for the landscapes and culture of the Kimberley,” Mr Pritchard said.

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