The Queensland Government is being criticised for its management of public forums on its plan to introduce a 2 per cent mandate on ethanol.

The first of the nine events was held in Bundaberg, but key environment and industry representatives were not there.

Energy Minister Mark Bailey said the government was serious about growing the biofuel industry.

“We want to create to create a market for ethanol that’s much larger than it is at the moment,” he said.

“It’s a renewable energy source so it helps our energy security and it creates regional jobs.

“It’s an area we’re very serious about, but we want to consult industry and stakeholders to get the policy as good as we can.”

The plan requiring all petrol sold in Queensland to contain 2 per cent ethanol has bipartisan support in parliament, but has been criticised by opponents as placing pressure on grain prices, and by supporters for being too low.

Mr Bailey said the mandate was about making sure the policy was sustainable.

“If we have too large a mandate to start off with and we don’t have the production capacity, what you’ll see then is cheap imports coming in, which is totally not what we want,” he said.

“What we want to do it start it at a level that’s sustainable and then ramp up gradually so that Queensland jobs can grow with it.

“That’s why we’re consulting. here’s various points of view and we want to soak up what people have to say about it.”

But despite that sentiment only a handful of people showed up at the Bundaberg event.

Canegrowers in the dark

Isis Canegrowers chairman Joe Russo said key groups like his had no idea the Minister was in town, or that the public meeting was on.

“I suppose from the Minister’s remarks, when he was looking for consultation and discussion with cane growers, I’m not sure who was present but I was unaware of it,” he said.

“It’s a shame because the announcement is good news for growers, but at 2 per cent it’s very symbolic.

“It makes no difference whatsoever to the sugar industry, very little anyway, but the concept’s good. It would have been good to have some questions and thoughts on the matter.”

Mr Russo said an ethanol mandate at any percentage was worth discussing, and there were a number of issues he would like to see addressed.

“It would have been nice to know where the potential is, what investment will the government do, how will they go about ramping up the mandate, what’s their future plans?” he said.

“[We’re] wanting to understand what their future is and how they do actually attract investment to actually see some benefit for the industry.”

Environmentalists left out

Also among those unaware of the meeting was the Wide Bay Burnett Environment Council, which ostensibly supports the introduction of an ethanol mandate.

But manager Emma-Kate Currie said there was not a lot of detail on how it would work.

“It’s a good move for the Queensland Government to look at actually seeking feedback and opinion from the public on what a mandate like that is going to look like and how that’s going to affect the community,” she said.

“We’re quite disappointed that we were unaware that this event was occurring and therefore were unable to actually participate and provide the perspective from the Environment Council and how we might go about achieving this mandate and also what impacts there might be.”

She said using ethanol would be critical to meeting future renewable energy targets, but green groups were worried it might lead to an expansion of farming land at the expense of the environment.

“Ethanol does comes as a result of sugar cane production and so the question there would be if we are going to increase sugar cane production to meet these targets, what are the potential impacts that they may have on environmental values to achieve that?” she said.

“And therefore looking at how we’re going to weigh up those to things against each other.”

Ultimately, Mr Russo said that at 2 per cent, growers were unlikely to get any incentive to grow more cane.

“We’ve always lobbied hard for an ethanol blend to give us another revenue stream, because it helps the industry so much,” he said.

“If we could get a reliable revenue stream at 10 per cent, we would start seeing a real change, but at 2 per cent it’s a very token amount.”

More meetings planned

A spokesman for Mark Bailey said the event in Bundaberg was advertised in the local newspaper on Saturday, and a session in Dalby on June 15 attracted 40 people.

He said anyone who missed out could still make a submission by visiting the Department of Energy and Water Supply website.

The Mareeba Leagues Club will host the next forum on June 16, before it heads to Townsville and Ingham on June 18, Ayr on June 19, Mackay on June 22, Brisbane on June 25 and Innisfail on June 26.

Extracted in full from ABC.