Oyster farmers on both the South and North Coast are coming together to lodge an appeal against the NSW government for its decision to invest $3.3million into Australia’s Oyster Coast.
The NSW government announced in May it had acquired a $3.3million equity stake in Australia's Oyster Coast (AOC) through its new GO NSW Equity Fund.
The fund was established last year in partnership with superannuation company First State Super and private equity firm ROC Partners, with the aim investing “$150million in approved, high-potential companies which may not otherwise have access to suitable capital”.
The government's stake in AOC was part of a $10m co-investment, which included $6.7m from First State Super. ROC Partners has also invested an additional $10m in AOC, taking the total investment in the company through the private equity firm to $20m.
Caroline Henry, Wonboyn oyster farmer and chairwoman of NSW Farmers Federation Oyster Committee, said they believe the decision breaches competitive neutrality principles.
However, that claim is being strongly rejected by AOC and ROC Partners.
“It is clear this investment is likely to unfairly advantage AOC to the detriment of small oyster farmers,” Ms Henry said.
“In effect you have a private company that has a number of oyster farmers involved now having roughly $30million at their disposal and you’ve got 280 oyster farmers in the state who don’t have the same funds. It will be impossible to compete against some of the things in the industry like tenure for new leases or buying spat.”
Ms Henry said oyster farmers were “disappointed’ with the “lack of transparency” and said government should have consulted the industry better.
“If the government had that amount of money to give away they could have consulted farmers and found out what the avenues for investment could have been,” she said.
Currently in NSW, oyster leases renew after 15 years. Ms Henry said increasing the tenures to a period of 30 years would give farmers a far better chance at obtaining finance to improve or expand their businesses.
“It’s great that businesses want to put money into the oyster industry, but put it in for the right reasons and have it open and transparent so everybody knows why it came in and what it’s going to be used for.”