It has been hailed by the state government as a Christmas bonanza but the member for Gregory, Lachlan Millar, says western Queensland is no further ahead as a result of this week’s announcement of the successful applicants of the Palaszczuk government’s $5m cluster fencing fund.
They are the Remote Area Planning and Development (RAPAD) Board, which receives $2,350,000; South West NRM being allocated $2,164,400; and $485,600 for the Maranoa Regional Council.
Minister for Agriculture, Bill Byrne, said it was a great Christmas boost for the successful applicants, but Mr Millar said it was about time.
“I welcome the funding but why has it taken nearly seven months to get to the result we should have had back in May, when the premier made her announcement,” he said.
“We knew what we wanted in May and it’s the same now.
“The bureaucratic process this has been through should never happen again.”
Mr Millar said that without it, fences could have been put up in winter and already be undertaking a protective role.
He credited agriculture minister Bill Byrne for “sorting it out what wasn’t rocket science” within a few weeks of resuming the portfolio, and said he knew wild dog fencing commissioner Vaughan Johnson had been advocating hard for the distribution to be finalised.
Mark O’Brien, one of the two fencing commissioners appointed by the premier to oversee the funding disbursement and chairman of one of the beneficiary groups, South West NRM, defended the process, saying he and fellow commissioner Vaughan Johnson had a number of factors to balance up.
“The application from Longreach for an $18m loan, and the contingency loan idea, were balanced against this,” he said. “We had applications from other places, including Goondiwindi, to consider too.”
Different processes questioned
The process from here on is already causing friction – RAPAD has announced that it will undertake a competitive bid process between the 11 groups who missed out in round one of the Queensland Feral Pest Initiative, while Mr O’Brien said SW NRM would invite past applicants, parties that had expressed an interest, and anyone else, to apply.
“It won’t be as complicated this time,” Mr O’Brien said. “The focus has moved from the original demands of collaborative area management and measuring results to just getting fences up.”
He believed a better result would have been obtained if one entity, SWNRM, had been in charge of the whole process.
“We set the idea of cluster fences up in the first place. I’m not sure we’ll be able to compare apples with apples in five years time anymore.
He said the pressure for whole of landscape collaboration to control wild dogs, which had been the reason for beginning cluster fencing in the first place, had gone off and the concentration now was on fast fencing.
“People can go to QRAA for that sort of money. That’s another conversation the two fencing commissioners had,” he said.
“But the best news is, the economy is starting to kick again, and that’s what I wanted.
“We hoped our first fences would be a trial to showcase what could be done, so that people would see they were worthwhile investing in.
“I would say, by the end of this, there’ll be 60 or more fences up.
“Going forward, let’s find the cheapest way to get money to people, and see sheep return.”
Maranoa and Balonne benefit
Mr O’Brien said he wouldn’t be surprised if SW NRM received applications totalling $10m.
RAPAD asked for $3,800,500 to ensure all 11 clusters who missed out in round one could be funded, but this week’s announcement fell short by $1.45m.
Maranoa’s rural services portfolio chairwoman, Robyn Bryant said they would be spending their $485,000 by calling for applications from interested landholder groups within a target area to apply for funding to construct cluster fences.
This area is inside the Wild Dog Barrier Fence and the application was made in collaboration with the Balonne Shire Council.
Mr O’Brien said the two shires had put in an excellent application, showing they wanted to work together on a common boundary.
“They could have done it through us (South West NRM) but there was no guarantee for them that way.”
The oversight group is still considering the best way to utilise the $500,000 set aside for concessional loans under phase two of the Queensland Feral Pest Initiative.