Queensland’s peak agriculture body AgForce and global conservation organisation The Pew Charitable Trusts have joined forces to fight for funds to manage a noxious weed that could devastate western Queensland’s wildlife and pastoral industries.
AgForce and The Pew Charitable Trusts believe a joint plea by producers and conservationists may be the only way to force the State Government to honour its $5 million funding commitment to manage the prickly acacia infestation.
Seeds from the highly prolific and difficult-to-eradicate prickly acacia, an introduced pest plant native to Africa, have been spread throughout vast tracts of western Queensland by the floodwaters flowing south across the Channel Country and north into the Gulf.
It is estimated that 33 million hectares are already infested with the weed, and with floodwaters spreading the seed and providing perfect growth conditions, the problem is expected to intensify.
On March 29, then Federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud and Queensland Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Mark Furner jointly announced each government would contribute $5 million over five years to create a $10 million war chest to combat the infestation.
In a media statement on 14 June, Mr Littleproud confirmed that the Commonwealth’s $5 million contribution was assured as part of the disaster recovery fund.
However, the State Government’s share seems less certain. The funding did not appear in the Budget and Minister Furner subsequently claimed in an interview on Queensland Country Hour that the $5 million was to fund the entire Queensland Feral Pest Initiative, not just prickly acacia.
Fiona Maxwell, Queensland Manager of the Pew Charitable Trusts, said the risk to the environment was becoming more severe the longer the standoff went on.
“Millions of seedlings are now emerging, particularly in the Diamantina river system,” Ms Maxwell said.
“Left unchecked this could become an environmental disaster putting large areas of western Queensland at risk.
“This noxious tree grows rapidly into large thorny thickets. It chokes out native grasses vital to native wildlife and the grazing industry and significantly degrades our waterways.
“Local people are reporting that some stands that germinated after the flood are already more than half a metre high, so action needs to be taken immediately.
“The State Government must urgently honour its promise to the disaster hit people of western Queensland and address this problem before it becomes a catastrophe.”
AgForce General President Georgie Somerset said the funding squabble between the Federal and State Governments threatened to compound a flood disaster into a weed disaster and was a low blow for communities already doing it tough.
“Prickly acacia is recognised as a major threat to primary production for the region – it chokes out pasture, making it difficult to graze livestock and resulting in both soil erosion and stream degradation,” Mrs Somerset said.
“The State Government acknowledges the threat that prickly acacia poses to the environment and to agriculture but are prepared to allow this crisis to worsen over what is a relatively small investment of resources.
“The producer-led group tasked with managing the program in the channel country – Desert Channels Queensland (DCQ) – say they are ready to go to work but are waiting for the funds.
“They have a highly sophisticated, long-term eradication program using drones which has been working.
“Similarly, the Southern Gulf NRM group are ready to continue strategic prickly acacia work across the Lower Gulf country.
“But this lack of certainty from funding, coupled with the blow from the floods, could result in all previous gains made being lost.”
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