A FURIOUS bid to build Australia's most northern meat-processing plant is happening not in Darwin but some 1700km to the south-east between two North West Queensland towns.
Hughenden and Cloncurry have emerged as the front runners in a proposal that would give beef producers in far northern Australia easier access to a processing facility, without the need to truck cattle further afield to Townsville, Rockhampton or South East Queensland.
Backers of both sites say that either locations is still far superior to AACo's proposed Darwin facility, which company directors approved for construction last Friday, while still wrangling with the Federal Government over funds to build supporting infrastructure.
Cloncurry Mayor Andrew Daniels, who described the relationship between AACo and the Gillard government as hostile, said even without being parochial, Cloncurry was by far the better location because of its access.
"Cattle from this region are already being sent to meatworks in Townsville, Rockhampton and Brisbane," he said.
Regional Development Australia North West Queensland chairman Paul Woodhouse said said there was no doubt in his mind Cloncurry was a better site for a meatworks compared to Darwin.
He said the centre had access to large numbers of prime cattle finished to spec in the region, as well as available power and water supply and the knowledge to market beef.
However, Mr Woodhouse said labour remained the number one concern and that any new facility would require its majority of personnel to be drawn from overseas.
Meanwhile, backers of Hughenden as the preferred site are accelerating plans to win the green light.
Flinders Shire Council representatives have been in talks with the North Beef consortium backing a North West Queensland processing plant.
A statement from Flinders Shire Council said discussions held in Hughenden last Thursday focused on sourcing investment for the project, after a feasibility study and investment report into the proposed abattoir was released by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF Qld) last month.
The report found Hughenden had the largest potential cattle supply in the study area, which also investigated Winton, Longreach, Charters Towers, Richmond, Julia Creek, Cloncurry, Mount Isa, Normanton and Georgetown.
The report said Hughenden led the potential cattle supply number by more than 20,000 for the locations along the tick line.
Flinders Shire Council Mayor Greg Jones said council officials would now search for a suitable partner investor for the project.
"Now that the study in to the proposal, which was only initiated by North Beef last year, has been finalised, an investment attraction document is available," he said.
The study, formally handed to North Beef by consultants Meateng earlier this mont,h shows there are sufficient slaughter-ready cattle in the region to support a new facility.
"While the study indicated a number of possible sites through the Mount Isa to Townsville corridor, Hughenden ticks all the boxes, and with five roads feeding into the town, access to a variety of cattle-finishing regions is second to none."
Earlier this month Agriculture Minister John McVeigh told media he was in support of establishing a meat-processing facility in rural Queensland.
"An abattoir in North West Queensland would provide cattle producers with more options for getting their product from paddock to plate," Mr McVeigh said in a statement.
"Queensland is the largest cattle-producing state in Australia and is responsible for almost 50 percent of Australian beef and up to 10pc of live cattle exports.
"Cattle producers in the Gulf-Savannah and Mt Isa to Townsville (MITEZ) regions of Queensland are faced with expensive cattle transportation to southern feedlots, South East Queensland processors or live export ports in the north.
"There are no abattoirs in the north-western region for producers, so their only option is to face the significantly high cattle transport costs to get them to a port or processor.
"The cost of transporting cattle is increasing due to animal welfare and driver fatigue regulations, rising fuel and labour costs, and insecurities about the live export market.
"Having a local abattoir would lower the cost of supply chains for graziers."
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