WWF-Australia is calling on Prime Minister Tony Abbott to use his visit to Cairns today to announce more funding for the plan to save the Great Barrier Reef.
Yesterday the Federal Government announced $1.2 billion in new funding for Northern Australia in addition to $5 billion in concessional loans for the region.
“New federal funding for the Reef announced earlier this year is only a fraction of what’s now on the table for the Northern Australia plan,” said WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman.
“But the Reef is the North’s most important natural asset generating $6 billion a year and supporting nearly 70,000 jobs.
“We should prioritise investments in assets which are proven economic performers – the Great Barrier Reef is the real economic powerhouse of the north.
“Local land managers say reducing water pollution harming the Reef will cost $785 million over the next five years.
“The Federal Government’s investment of $100 million over five years is nowhere near the level required and must be boosted,” he said.
A major part of Australia’s pitch to UNESCO to avoid a World Heritage “in danger” listing was a plan to reduce nitrogen run off by 80% by 2025.
Mr O’Gorman said Queensland’s Chief Scientist Dr Geoff Garrett had already raised doubts that this target can be achieved by 2025 and a communique from the Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce said:
“…the investment to achieve the targets in the timescales proposed would likely be well beyond the funds currently allocated by the government.”
WWF’s concern is that not only is there no new money for the Reef but the Northern Australia plan could further damage the Reef by proposing expanded agriculture in catchment areas.
Up to $5 million is provided for an economic feasibility study of Nullinga Dam, near Cairns and the Burdekin River is identified for agricultural expansion.
“The subsequent risk of increase in fertiliser and sediment pollution would add more pressure to a Reef already in decline,” he said.
“Nitrogen fuels outbreaks of coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish and sediment harms coral and seagrass.
“The Northern Australia Plan itself even says that agricultural expansion in key Reef catchments should only happen “subject to overriding concerns of sediment and reef water quality management”, so we call on the Government to ensure adequate protections are in place.
“We should be investing in existing farms to both boost productivity and cut Reef pollution.”