The $9m funding commitment no one wants to talk about

James Nason, 03/04/2012

It is the $9 million funding commitment that seems to have disappeared into thin air.

At last Friday’s Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association conference in Darwin, Northern Territory agriculture minister Kon Vatskalis announced $9 million in local infrastructure funding to support AA Co’s planned northern abattoir.

However, since that announcement in front of more than 200 cattle producers, the minister has been reluctant to talk about the funding commitment.

Mr Vatskalis' office did not return Beef Central's calls seeking further details on the funding yesterday, and AA Co executives say they have also been unable to contact the minister to confirm details about what the funding involves.

The announcement came as news to members of AA Co who were in the audience last Friday, because the company had not been briefed about the funding commitment prior to the minister’s address.

Adding to the surprise was the fact that the NT Government has still not signed off on the environmental approval required for the greenfields project to proceed.

AA Co's plans to spend $80m on a new export abattoir on the Stuart Highway 50km south of Darwin are contingent upon the Federal and NT Governments bringing forward about $36m of planned highway, port and energy infrastructure upgrades.

After more than two years of planning, and with the window of opportunity to commence construction during this year’s dry season almost open, AA Co recently asked both levels of Government to make a decision on funding either way by March 31.

However the deadline has now come and gone, and the only news the company has received in terms of funding was Mr Vatskalis’ $9m announcement last Friday.

When contacted by Beef Central last night, AA Co’s General Manager, Northern Australia Beef, Stewart Cruden, said the company was just as baffled about the funding announcement as everyone else.

“We have not heard a thing from them,” Mr Cruden said.

“We have had no confirmation on anything that Kon Vitskalis came out with on Friday.”

He said the company was still working with the NT Government on its envrionmental application and believed it was close to an answer on whether approval will be granted.

“That is progressing as well as could be expected,” Mr Cruden said.

“But the big concern is what, if anything, is the Government going to do around funding the support infrastructure.

“We have had nothing formal from the NT Government and nothing from the Federal Government."

Mr Cruden said AA Co managing director David Farley had been unsuccessfully trying to make contact with the NT Government since Friday, and was due to meet with the Federal Government later this week.


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