QUEENSLAND Premier Campbell Newman has ordered Anna Bligh’s husband to begin dismantling green energy programs he helped create, as the new LNP government moved to slash environmental spending to offset the federal carbon tax. The showpiece of the Gillard government’s $1.5 billion Solar Flagships Program is now in jeopardy, after Mr Newman yesterday pulled the plug on $75 million in state funding pledged for the $1.2bn Solar Dawn solar thermal project near Chinchilla, west of Brisbane.
Resources Minister Martin Ferguson yesterday suggested the federal government might withdraw its own $464m contribution, promised only last month. “If the new Queensland government chose to breach the existing financial commitment to the Solar Dawn project, the Australian government would naturally need to consider its own position,” Mr Ferguson said.
Mr Newman yesterday declared his LNP government would axe seven other green schemes, on the grounds the carbon tax would make them redundant. “We now have a federal government that is imposing a great big carbon tax on us and the rest of the country that is meant to solve all these (environmental) problems,” he said.
Mr Newman has given the job of dismantling the programs to the bureaucrat who set them up – Greg Withers, who is married to Ms Bligh.
“We want him to unravel those programs ’cause he’s the bloke who set them up,” Mr Newman said. “There are rumours going around that he’s packed up his office. I want to say very clearly that is news to me; he is, as far as I’m concerned, an employee of the Queensland government, and we would like him to do a few things for us at the moment.”
Mr Newman, a long-time lord mayor of Brisbane, was forced to fend off accusations of “jobs for the mates” after he spent his second day at the helm removing six departmental heads and replacing them with City Hall contacts and LNP allies. They include Michael Caltabiano, a former state Liberal MP and party president, who was yesterday made director-general of the Department of Main Roads and Transport, and Brisbane City Council infrastructure manager Barry Broe, appointed State Co-ordinator-General with a mandate to fast-track infrastructure.
Mr Newman praised his appointees as “highly professional individuals that are well-qualified to do the job”.
“I accept that criticism could be there and I’m saying to all Queenslanders these are people who’ll do a fantastic job,” he said.
“(The Labor government) appointed people who didn’t have a clue what they were doing.”
Mr Newman denied his government was trying to manage out Mr Withers, an assistant director-general who set up the Office of Climate Change when his wife became premier in 2007.
Mr Withers stands to receive a six-figure payout if he is dumped, as he renewed a three-year contract, with a further two-year option, on his $220,000-a-year package in December. “Nobody has taken any action against Mr Withers,” Mr Newman said.
“The rumours of us making some sort of move against him are untrue and unfounded. Since he’s the head of these various carbon reduction programs that we pointed out are now irrelevant . . . His brief at the moment will be to actually unravel those quietly.
“He has got a job if he wants one.”
Mr Withers did not respond to The Australian yesterday.
Mr Newman announced the closure of the $430m Queensland Climate Change Fund, which provides $30m a year for climate change initiatives, and the $50m Renewable Energy Fund, which supports the Geothermal Centre of Excellence.
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