Compost program has merit

A FORMER manager of the Department of Environment's City to Soil program has defended the program's merits in the face of an internal audit of its rollout in Queanbeyan and the south-east.

The Queanbeyan Age reported last week that Bungendore solicitor and book shop owner Allan Powell was attempting to prosecute criminal charges against a number of local government officials involved in a $1.96 million trial of the program across Goulburn, Palerang, Queanbeyan and Lachlan Councils, which commenced in 2008. He's alleging fraud and embezzlement of the state government funds by some officials, however there's no decision as yet by the court as to whether Mr Powell's allegations amount to a criminal case.

But Queanbeyan man and former City to Soil program head Gerry Gillespie said the home-grown composting program has a proven track record in a number of regional NSW towns, and is attracting interest from overseas.

He pointed to a 2003/2004 trial of the program in Queanbeyan, as well as successful take up in Goulburn, Armidale and Condobolin as evidence the system works.

"The intention [with City to Soil] was to demonstrate that we could collect clean organic material, turn it into a quality compost and get it into agriculture for less than the cost to put it in to landfill," he said.

"We demonstrated we could get it into agriculture for $50 a tonne, when the landfill fee cost was $75/tonne.

"The important thing for Australia is that 75 per cent of our agricultural land has got less than 1pc organic material. So you'd think it'd be a no brainer to collect your organic material, turn it into high quality compost and either give it or sell it to farmers or to the community."

Mr Gillespie is now the chairman of recycling NGO Zero Waste Australia and has been working in recycling since 1988. He encouraged Queanbeyan City Council to revisit City to Soil and follow up from a 2003/04 trial of the program in Karabar.

"We send 8,000 tonnes of waste a year to Canberra's landfill at $100 a tonne. Half of that material is organic. If we got it out with this program, the community would save a fortune," he said.

"It can work very, very well for the people of Queanbeyan because of the financial savings. And Queanbeyan people have demonstrated before through the Karabar trial that they're only too happy to get behind it."

Queanbeyan City Council is holding $30,000 of state funding in reserve for another trial of the program, and will revisit the issue in the new year.

Meanwhile, The Department of Environment and Heritage ordered a review and independent audit of the scheme, otherwise known as Groundswell, following a complaint. It examined whether proper procedures had been followed in managing and administering grant funding.

"…The review and audit identified some evidence of poor administration, not maladministration, and two findings are being resolved through administrative means," a department spokeswoman said.

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