Horticulture an opportunity for the north

David WilliamsJPG

David Williams

Northern Australia has been on the nose for the past 60 years, according to David Williams, the principal of corporate advisor to the food, agriculture and beverage industries, Kidder Williams.

Speaking at the Global Food Forum hosted by The Australian newspaper in April this year, Mr Williams pointed to previous attempts to develop the north had been hampered by disease, the heat, floods, cyclones, bugs, labour shortages and the high cost of getting produce to market.

“That’s what people think about the north. For 60 years those poor buggers north of Kununurra and up in Darwin felt like the poor relation at a wedding, you know, they’re sitting out near the toilet.

“And then in the last couple of years, suddenly the politicians have come out of the woodwork, and especially in the last six months . . . promising dams, roads (and) new ports.

Mr Williams said nobody was going to turn their back on a free gift, but I am worried that . . . all this money and infrastructure doesn’t build businesses.

You can build as many dams as you want; you can build as many roads as you want; but you’ve got to make it so that you’ve got some business development going as well, and you’re attracting new industry.

What you do is you go to Johnny Lloyd at Horticulture Australia and say to him get the 40 best horticulturists.

Mr Williams said taking fresh produce from the north through distribution centres in Singapore would be preferable to sending it to the Sydney and Melbourne markets.

But development projects were likely to take up to 10 years because of protracted negotiations with the NT Government and various indigenous land councils. 

On the subject of foreign investment in the north, Mr Williams said while there was agreement it was needed the Federal Government was at the same time holding proposals up for what seemed like spurious reasons, most of it from Chinese investors.

Unlike other foreign investors often when the Chinese get involved there was this whole uproar in Canberra and it scared many buyers away. “So I think it’s just completely sending a mixed message.

“These people bring capital into the country. It’s not – and despite some of the stuff that was said earlier, it ain’t going to come out of our super funds. You can’t expect them to do it on annual returns of between three to five per cent.”

– JOHN CARSON

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