Politicians and administrators have traded blows in the wake of the state government’s announcement last week that it was still deliberating over the disbursement of the $5m in cluster fence funding promised by the Premier in May, but was reserving $500,000 of that money “to investigate a contingent loan scheme to assist producers to construct cluster fences on more marginal land that is suitable for sheep production”.
Wild Dog fencing commissioner and a member of the oversight group that guides the administration of feral pest money, Vaughan Johnson immediately announced his objection to tying up money on a single beneficiary, and was joined by the Member for Gregory, Lachlan Millar and the Member for Maranoa, David Littleproud in scoffing at the bureaucratic process.
“This decision by the Minster (Leanne Donaldson) defies logic because every western grazier knows how bad the wild dog situation is and her decision is especially galling when funds have previously been allocated without this additional process,” Mr Millar said.
“In the central west there are 11 wild dog fencing projects ready to go that have already been assessed by RAPAD and I call on the Minister to stop wasting everyone’s time and immediately release $2.5 million so these fencing projects can get started.
“Western Queensland graziers and contractors have been waiting patiently for the funds promised by the Premier to start flowing, but we’re now told there’s going to be a new and very costly layer of bureaucracy chewing into the funding.”
Mr Littleproud said he was appalled by the length of time it was taking the state government to work out how to spend vital funding.
“Back on Labor Day in May, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk visited Barcaldine and promised $5m for wild dog management,” he said.
“Now, five months later, the state government came out stating that $4.5 million of the total package will simply go towards the existing scheme while $500,000 will be spent on a study to determine whether a concessional loan scheme is feasible.
“This delayed approach misses the mark and proves how out-of-touch this state government really is.”
Mr Johnson’s fellow fence commissioner Mark O’Brien, who is also the chairman of SW NRM, said he thought the bush had moved past partisan political point-scoring.
“All this money is going into electorates where the ALP hasn’t held a seat for a long time, and aren’t likely to. All this comment is just ungracious,” he said.
“It’s very easy for the government to throw money round willy-nilly and not get good results.
“The Premier never said they’d keep funding fence projects until we run out of applicants.
“A lot of people haven’t put in applications because they thought they weren’t up to the cluster criteria.”
Mr O’Brien said the idea behind the loan scheme was to assist people who may never be able to participate in existing schemes due to their marginal country, the need to fund at least half the cost themselves, or existing debt levels.
“The way this will work is by working out a person’s profitability, like HECS for uni students.
“In the long term, this is the only proposal that will fly with the federal government I believe, if we are to get between $50m and $200m that’s needed.
“Government money can’t be given to private enterprise; that’s why people are doing clusters.
“But a loan such as what’s proposed will allow a grazier to buy material for the part of their property that’s good for sheep.”
According to Mr O’Brien, it was a pity for marginal growers to miss out while others who could afford to fence were receiving assistance.
“When I came up with the concept of clusters, it came out of the understanding that a landscape-wide problem needs a landscape-wide answer; that is, getting groups of graziers to work together.
“It’s been proven that there are enormous environmental benefits, and economic ones will come to the fore too.
“It’s not right to keep giving the money to people who’ve got the productive capacity to pay for fencing. Some graziers have invested $300,000 and got it back in two years with increased productivity.”
Vaughan Johnson said last week he didn’t agree with the plan.
“There’s a catch to this – letting one person with 30,000 acres borrow the money and pay it back over a couple of years is keeping someone else out of the equation. We need to get as many producers inside fencing as soon as possible.”
Agriculture Minister Leanne Donaldson said the Queensland Feral Pest Initiative oversight group would now meet to finalise the guidelines for phase two of QFPI grant funding “to roll out in coming months”.
A spokesman for Ms Donaldson said it was anticipated there would be a tender process, adding that the government expects some of the existing projects not able to be funded to date might meet the criteria for round two.