Farm lobby group Canegrowers says it has more questions than answers regarding the federal Coalition’s promise of a billion-dollar fund to save the Great Barrier Reef.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Monday announced $1 billion over 10 years to fund low interest loans for energy and water efficiency projects in Great Barrier Reef catchments.
The concessional loans would be for “clean energy” projects that improved water quality by reducing run-off of pollutants and fertiliser, and limiting ocean outfalls from sewage treatment plants.
But Canegrowers CEO Dan Galligan said the loan plan was light on detail.
“It’s very hard to come out and support anything,” he said.
“I have some reservations that the objective here was to get a headline with a big figure in it … and that’s about it so far.”
Energy efficiency, water quality or both?
The money will come out of the $10 billion fund administered by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.
The Prime Minister promoted the scheme as a means to support the installation of more energy- and water-efficient irrigation systems, pesticide sprayers and fertiliser application systems.
It could also be used to finance solar panels on farms.
“Obviously canegrowers are right in the middle of trying to deal with this and doing their bit for protecting the reef,” Mr Galligan said.
“We don’t have any knowledge of how the loans would be structured, what sort of projects, whether you’d have to aggregate projects, what the targets are … we’re assuming a lot here.”
Canegrowers calls for better consultation
Mr Galligan raised concerns that the plan indicated the Coalition was keen to move to a loan-type structure rather than provide further dollar-matching grants, which had largely been used to fund many reef-related programs.
But he gave the Prime Minister the lead in the “neck and neck” battle on reef politics.
“Going to a loan structure, I’m not so sure that’s generally the way we’d see this as being the most efficient way to get practice change on the reef,” he said.
“Today’s announcement, if it was to deliver everything the Government says it will deliver, it would certainly put the Coalition ahead.”
Mr Galligan also called on the major parties to consult with industry groups before making further commitments ahead of the July 2 poll.
“Whoever gets in, they’re going to lean back on land managers to try to deliver it,” he said.
“So we would hope that they would rely on getting their opinions in the first place.”