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Wednesday, 29 May 2013
Page: 4477

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (MaranoaDeputy Speaker) (16:44): I rise this afternoon to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2013-2014 and Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2013-2014. These bills will obviously appropriate significant sums of money over the rest of this budget cycle. I was disappointed on the night of the budget to hear very little reference to rural and regional Australia or to that great productive sector, the sector that feeds this nation and still has 60 per cent of its capacity exported to markets around the world. I refer to our farmers and their families and of course the small businesses in those country towns that are so dependent on the wealth that is generated by our agriculture sector.

But first of all I want to say that the $2 billion that was cut from the regional development fund was a great disappointment to me, because we were looking forward in my constituency, in rural and regional Australia, to seeing some of that money invested in the road infrastructure in Australia. If there is anything that we can do to reduce the costs of doing business and increase productivity for our agricultural sector and, for that matter, the mining sector, which is of course located largely in rural and remote parts of Australia, it is to upgrade some of our roads. But that $2 billion is gone because of the gross mismanagement by this government of the economy. The government went looking for savings and of course the $2 billion was an easy hit—it was going to hit rural and regional Australia—because the government, quite frankly, does not understand rural and regional Australia or the communities, the families, the businesses or the farming community that live out in rural and regional Australia.

There is no greater example of the lack of understanding of rural and regional Australia than the situation that is confronting the beef industry in northern Australia and, for that matter, across Australia right now. The ban that this government put on the export of live cattle to Indonesia from Australia still has ramifications not only today for the northern cattle industry but across the beef industry across Australia.

I am joined right now by the member for Kennedy. He and I along with other colleagues—the minister in Queensland; Senator Joyce; and my good friend and colleague Vaughan Johnson, the member for Gregory—attended a crisis meeting in Richmond several weeks ago. I know that some of those people who were at that meeting, proud producers who have been producing for decades and decades as families, who understand Northern Australia, are down here to bring their case to Canberra. I hope to be able to meet with them tomorrow.

By banning those live cattle exports, the government insulted the very market, the very government, the very country, which had been taking up to 700,000 head of live cattle each year, much-needed food protein for their communities, for their people, across Indonesia. The cattle that they breed up there are bred in the tropics of Australia. They are largely influenced by the Brahman breed. They are bred to be exported live. Why that type? Because they are going into a tropical area, into Indonesia, into feedlots and from feedlots into processing works which will provide that much-needed protein source for the people of Indonesia. The ramifications now are not just for northern Australia's beef industry but across the beef industry across the eastern states and many parts of Western Australia as well.

My home town is Roma, in Queensland. It has weekly store cattle sales and weekly fat cattle sales. In fact, it is the largest store-cattle-selling centre in Australia. We have seen many producers wanting to ship these cattle from northern Australia into a market. Many of them know that cattle with Brahman influences—and I know the member for Kennedy would concur with this—are not necessarily suitable for our domestic market because they have been bred for a specific market which is in Indonesia. It is like a factory producing an article for a particular consumer market, and suddenly the market has gone.

I have seen, in the saleyards in Longreach and in Roma, prices back by up to 50 per cent. The net result is that the producers who have bred these cattle—whether they are northern cattle producers or producers across the eastern states or in many parts of my electorate—have seen their projected incomes reduced by up to 50 per cent. The banks are very aware of the roll-on effect of that, and I call on the banks to have patience with the many producers who find themselves in this situation. The net effect of that is to reduce the value of the land, because it is based on what you can earn from the land. That will be reflected in the capital value of that asset.

Some of the largest publicly listed pastoral companies in Australia have been really hit by this decision and the lack of understanding by this government of the importance of the live cattle market to the beef industry in northern Australia. The Australian Agricultural Company, established in 1824, is our oldest registered company. The Bank of New South Wales would say that they were there a year earlier, but that is a debate for another day. They are now called Westpac. The Australian Agricultural Company is the oldest continuous company in Australia. It has just reported a $46.5 million quarterly loss because of the write-down of the value of its cattle and its capital assets, the land, because of the way that the government dealt with the live cattle exports issue by banning the export of live cattle to Indonesia and the way that the government have handled the situation since then.

We have not regained the numbers in quota entitlement to Indonesia. We have not gained any more market share. Something like an extra half a million head of cattle that would otherwise have been exported into Indonesia through live cattle exports have had to find themselves a market in Australia. I am sure the member for Kennedy has seen people putting their cattle on the road in a desperate attempt to save them, because they missed out on the wet season this year. They know, as I know—but obviously this government would not understand—that the northern parts of Australia, the tropics, will not see a wet season or rain until January, February or March of next year. And of course they could miss it then as well. So we have got half a million head of cattle that otherwise would have been exported to Indonesia on these properties.

So many of the producers have told me that, if they send them away to market, albeit in a much lighter state because they have not grown as well as they would have in a better wet season, they could find themselves with a bill rather than a cheque. Cattle that recently went to Longreach—and I am sure the member for Kennedy would be aware of this—made something like $20 a head because of the situation. There was no market for them. The market they were bred for—live export to Indonesia—has been largely taken away by this government. The ramifications are still out there for the Australian Agricultural Company and for other large companies that have been around for more than 100 years. The other one that has reported lately is NAPCO, the North Australian Pastoral Company, a wonderful company of the Northern Territory and the Channel Country of my electorate. It is privately owned, not publicly listed, but it has to report because of the shareholdings in the company. It has just reported a $5.68 million loss for the year. This is all a direct result of the government's handling of the live export market into Indonesia.

I want to touch on one other thing in the time I have left, and that is the real threats to my country towns in Western Queensland. Recent regional population growth statistics reveal that the average growth rates in many towns in the central western part of my electorate are falling. The way the federal government has dealt with the live cattle market has not helped those communities. From 2001 to 2011, in the local government area of Longreach the population dropped by some 318 people. Balonne, based on St George, lost 685 people in 10 years. Barcaldine's population decreased by 265 people, and the Paroo lost some 247 people. Those numbers might sound rather small, but in those populations they are significant because the numbers continue to decline. One of the major contributing factors, in my view—and it is shared by many people I met on the weekend at the Isisford Sheep and Wool Show—is the impact that wild dogs are having on the wool industry. So many people who would have otherwise remained in the sheep and wool industry have sold their sheep and gone into cattle because the wild dogs are just decimating sheep flocks in the central western Queensland region of my electorate.

So why would wild dogs have an impact on the population of those towns? When you go out of the sheep and wool industry is I am sure that the member for Kennedy would understand, you lose the shearers from your towns. You lose their families whose children would have gone to the schools, so you need fewer teachers. They do not shop in town because they are no longer in town, and all of our shearing teams who would have otherwise resided in those country towns have moved away elsewhere. This is a direct result of the economics of the sheep and wool industry. It has had the massive impact of dingoes and wild dogs—call them what you like—on people's decisions to get out of sheep and wool because the dogs, in large numbers, have been eating the lambs that have been produced each year in lambing season, and have also destroyed many adult sheep as well.

There is plenty of evidence out there from experts who can tell you that a single wild dog or dingo can eat or destroy up to 60 lambs per night. I have reports coming in from producers with a what we call scanned pregnancy tested ewes. They put them out in paddocks to lamb; there is a good source of protein in the grass, so you would expect 80 to 90 per cent of those who have been scanned as pregnant, and separated away from those ones that are not pregnant, to lamb. At lamb-marking time there are only 10 to 20 per cent; in other words 70 to 80 per cent of the lambs have been taken by wild dogs. That is part of the reproductive cycle that enables producers to have excess stock for sale. Without that, the economics of that property fall into negative territory and, of course, so many of them have decided to get out of sheep now.

I met with people in Isisford on the weekend, and what they are proposing out there is to establish a very long wild dog or dingo barrier fence, something like 800 kilometres, so that they can fence in the areas of Blackall-Tambo Regional Council, Barcaldine Regional Council, Longreach Regional Council and the Barcoo Shire Council. In those areas they believe that once that barrier is there, they will see people make a decision about staying in sheep and expanding their sheep enterprises.

Right now it would not be an option should anyone want to go and purchase land in that part of Queensland, or even consider going into sheep, because they know the threat from wild dogs and dingoes is too great and would destroy the economic viability of those properties. Obviously, they would just go into cattle.

So we do not have the shearers, we do not have their families, we do not have a rouseabouts and we do not have the trucks taking the wool to market—the transport and railway workers. All of those people were people who lived in those towns and that helped sustain those communities. But they were, to use that old phrase of many old towns, 'much of Australia is riding on the sheep's back'. But right now the dingoes are eating us out of this region.

At the meeting I had with the people, I said that we are going to do a feasibility study. I welcome the fact that Premier Campbell Newman of the LNP government in Queensland has given them some $30,000 to look into the feasibility of erecting this fence. As part of that process they will identify the economic way that that could assist in helping to sustain these communities. I would hope to see a turnaround in those populations should we be able to get the money to build this dingo barrier fence.

Back in the 1800s, what is now called the 'dingo fence' was built in Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia. It was originally built to keep rabbits out, but I believe that in something like 1914 it turned into a dog-proof fence. We need something like about $8 million—that is the sort of money that I would have hoped could have come from Regional Development Australia, rather than what has been taken away—the $2 billion lost could have been valuable, and I will be fighting for that $8 million to ensure that we can get a dingo barrier fence to protect the wool industry— (Time expired)