AgForce bills state government for consultation

AgForce frustration at doing state government's job results in $25,000 bill

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The cost of AgForce's whirlwind trip around western Queensland at the end of January to ascertain the mood of residents on proposed Lake Eyre Basin legislation changes has been billed to the state government.

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The cost of AgForce's whirlwind trip around western Queensland at the end of January to ascertain the mood of residents on proposed Lake Eyre Basin legislation changes has been billed to the state government.

The rural lobby group spent a little over $25,000 to conduct the hastily convened meetings in the Channel Country communities of Longreach, Winton, Birdsville, Windorah, Eromanga, Quilpie, Thargomindah and Blackall in the middle of Queensland's wet season.

As well as the cost of staff wages, meals, accommodation and vehicle hire, the $900 that was outlaid to hire a plane to reach Winton after rain closed the Landsborough Highway has been added to the invoice.

"Our members funded what should be a government process," AgForce president Georgie Somerset said. "The government didn't even have an online means of gathering people's opinions."

AgForce was one of a select number of bodies invited to government headquarters on Christmas Eve to take part in a 'targeted stakeholder review' of plans to vastly increase the area in the Lake Eyre Basin that would be subject to increasingly stringent regulation.

Read more: Opal miners don't dig Lake Eyre Basin plan

Originally a month was allowed for the various stakeholders to respond but this was increased by a fortnight, closing on February 14.

Ms Somerset queried the Palaszczuk government's commitment to the concept of democracy when assessing the way it had decided to operate the process around changing the Basin's regulatory framework.

"It's part of a government's role to check in with the community," she said. "Listening is part of a strong democracy - government's shouldn't be afraid of governing with the people."

That the government didn't see a need to do this showed a dismissive attitude to a section of the community it was governing for, Ms Somerset claimed.

She said AgForce had been told the consultation process would take place last July, and to leave it until January highlighted the lack of respect the government had.

Crowds made good use of AgForce's consultation opportunities around western Queensland.

Crowds made good use of AgForce's consultation opportunities around western Queensland.

"The Channel Country is a very unique ecosystem, and it's known that people there have down time in January, when the wet season is on and it's so very hot - to ignore that and run this process in that time is just very glib."

Another example of that was the Department of Environment and Science's refusal to include representatives of large pastoral companies in the consultation, insisting instead that they gain their understanding of it and make their views known via AgForce.

"They just don't want to hear from producers in the Lake Eyre Basin," Ms Somerset said.

Related: Traditional elders claim Lake Eyre Basin scaremonger

By the time AgForce had canvassed opinion throughout the region, it became clear that the sentiment was that the group was doing the government's job for them, CEO Micheal Guerin said.

He said the call to bill the government for the costs involved in undertaking the consultation was universally supported.

Ms Somerset described it as a reflection of what AgForce was prepared to invest on its members' behalf.

"AgForce is like every other rural business at the moment - we're well aware members will have to dig deep to pay their membership," she said.

"This was not an expected expense for us, it wasn't budgeted for.

"We had to make a decision about whether to go ahead, knowing it would be expensive."

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