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Wednesday, 23 October 2019
Page: 5188

Mr KATTER (Kennedy) (16:38): The Prime Minister very kindly gave me some of his time to talk about the Julia Creek and north-west Queensland floods, and I pleaded with him to go up there and see it. He saw it as a good thing to do, so he went up there. He went, he saw, he acted, and we got an excellent outcome. And I don't think I could use any other word except 'excellent'. I've been a member of parliament through Cyclone Larry, the second worst cyclone in Australian history, and the cyclone that followed it, Yasi, which was very, very bad indeed. But I have seen massive flooding—74 floods. I worked on the flood relief committee as a very young man. So I would use no other word except 'excellent'.

Nothing is ever perfect; we forgot about the roo-shooters, the kangaroo farmers. That's a very, very big industry. There are the vegans that we have with us—the brainless class, in my opinion. You've got to explain things to them, but it's a bit of a waste of time. Because there's water everywhere there now, we have a massive kangaroo population and there is enormous pressure on the grasslands, the native grasses, that wasn't there before because the kangaroos weren't there before. With cattle, it doesn't matter too much. With sheep, because we have a drought, the land is spelled for a couple of years. It takes a while for them to build their numbers up again, and we get a reasonably good outcome as far as nature goes. But we do need the kangaroo harvesters in there, otherwise nature's going to get very badly out of balance.

Having said those things, and turning to the bill, I thought the government had a fair bit of an idea, particularly the drought minister, in saying, 'What we're doing for the drought is the family farm assistance.' Well, the ALP did the family farm assistance. It had absolutely nothing to do with the government side of the House. The Rural Action Council—one of the most aggressive and one of the best groups of people I've ever worked with in my life—wanted a drought summit. My own little political party—with Rowell Walton, our president, along with me—secured agreement from Wayne Swan for a drought summit. We wanted a lot of things. We didn't get the drought summit, but one of the things we did get was the family farm assistance grants. We thank very much the Labor government of Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan for a huge breakthrough for rural Australia. I really don't think it helps any of us for the current government to be running around claiming credit for something that the other side did.

As Alan Jones has delineated in a very emotional and a very aggressive manner, the cattle numbers are simply vanishing. The cattle numbers are simply not there. We had 32 million head of cattle. We were down to 24 million head of cattle two years ago. Now we're down to 22 million head of cattle. We're not all in love with farmers. They're not some special breed that we all look after like a protected species or anything of that nature. As a cattleman, having had cattle almost all of my life—I'm not cattleman. That's a very honourable thing. I'm not in that category, but I've had cattle all my life. We need money for fodder. The previous speaker, quite rightly, said that the dams are decades away. Well, with her government in Queensland, they're centuries away. They're on another planet, with her government in power in Queensland. It's the worst government I have seen in 50 years in parliament. It's easily the worst government. I would hate to be an ALP member in Queensland at the next election. They were given their notice, they were given their warning in the federal election, and they took no heed of the warning at all. They want to close down the sugarcane industry and they want to close down the coal industry. Queensland only has two industries: cane and coal. And, if there is a third one, it's cattle. We've got as much chance of getting money for fodder from the state government as I've got of becoming the abominable snowman in Bedourie! It's simply not going to happen. They are naive to state that. I plead with the Prime Minister to not go down that pathway. They will never help us, and we know they will never help us.

Let me give you an example of how they're looking after drought affected farmers in Queensland. There is a tree called mulga—I think that's the technical name for the tree—and it grows in the desert, in country which is called Heartbreak Corner—right out there like the corner of South Australia and the Northern Territory; it's in the corner of New South Wales and Queensland, in the corner which is just getting onto the desert. People forget that 52 per cent of Australia is in the world register of deserts. This is not on desert country, but it's adjacent to desert country. The mulga tree grows very deep roots and survives through droughts and dry times. When you buy a station, you don't buy a station for the dirt. You're not a miner. You buy the station for the vegetable matter upon the land, which the moo-cows or the sheep will be able to eat. Since time immemorial, in the days when there were no whitefellas here, blackfellas broke off the trees, kangaroos would come up to eat the trees and they would catch and harvest them. Today we break the trees, and the moo-cows, sheep and kangaroos come up to eat them, and the tree keeps growing. It's called coppicing. Some trees coppice; some don't. Some you can damage by breaking their top off. But these are not coppicing trees; in fact they flower—that's not the word I'm after. They are much more successful at growing—a crude expression, I know—when they're cut, so continuously cutting them gets more and more foliage. They yield more vegetation.

The Queensland government is prosecuting Dan McDonald and has fined him the best part of $250,000 because he broke the trees off. We've been doing that for 30,000 or 40,000 years, and he has been fined $250,000. This is the help we're getting from the Queensland government in drought? This is the government we expect to provide us with funds to buy cattle fodder? They believe their greenie wet dreams where, if you have a moo-cow, all the ground collapses and it goes into the ocean and destroys it. I challenge the greenies continually: we can get in a motorcar and drive from Townsville to Mount Isa, about 1,200 or 1,300 kilometres; you can stop any time you like, climb onto the bonnet of the car and look out; and, if you can count more than 2,000 hard-hoofed animals in those 1,300 kilometres, I'll give you $2,000. I don't have a hooknose for nothing; I don't like parting with money! You have just seen something like 40,000 square kilometres and you can't even count 2,000 hard-hoofed animals on it. We do not have intense vegetation, so we have an extremely light footprint.

We're here to talk about family farm assistance. We applaud the government for extending that to four years but, unfortunately and sadly, if you want to look at an average figure for droughts—not that there is an average figure—you're probably looking at about seven years. Under intense pressure they have added a cash payment at the end of the four years. We appreciate that as well. But you did not institute this vitally important measure. You did participate, with the ALP, in the sell-off of all of the banks that provided us with reconstruction money. I hate to use that word. Every government in Australian history, state and federal, since the time when King O'Malley set up the Commonwealth Bank, has had a very simple reconstruction approach when farmers get into trouble. All they do is go in and buy the bad debt. The farmers are in trouble, so they pay out the bank. If the farmer owes the bank $1 million, they say, 'Mr Bank, we'll give you the $1 million; we now hold the mortgage.' This protects the government's money, because we now hold the first mortgage. If we take a second mortgage, the government is not protected and almost certainly the government will get none of its money back. So we take a first mortgage. Since we are buying a bad or in-danger debt, we expect a discount. We buy for 100 years in Australia. We bought the farm debt at a discount of 15 to 20 per cent—in that sort of range.

I speak with authority because I was the minister responsible for the state bank when the sugar industry in Queensland went down, and went down badly. At that time the sugar industry in Queensland was our premier industry, our biggest employer. It was still bigger than coal at that stage. There was a drop to one-third in the price of sugar and it stayed down for two or three years. So we had to consider going in. Even there, you don't go in unless the industry is viable. The government should not be in the business of propping up non-viable industries. Our cost of production was lower than southern Brazil, so we knew we would be the last man standing. We had very solid property values. The sugarcane farms are in the super-wet belt, where it's green—the only part of Australia that's green—and in the area of holiday land, such as Airlie Beach and Port Douglas and all of these places. So we borrowed the money—I think it was at about 2.5 per cent—and, if memory serves me correctly, we loaned out about $700 million. We took all the mortgages. When I was told that I had responsibility for that, I said, 'Like bloody hell—I'm not taking the reconstruction bank. No way. I'm not taking all the cripples.' They said, 'There aren't any cripples.' I looked into it and found that there were only 13 farms that had to be foreclosed on. Over a 10-year period, we had loaned out to thousands of farms, but there were only 13. At the present moment, if you're on $1 million you've got to pay the bank about $55,000 every year. If they've only got to pay interest-only at two per cent then you're coming down to about $16,000.

So there has to be a grant for the fodder. The cattle numbers have gone down from 32 million—this is arguably the third-biggest export earner for this country. After coal and iron ore, the cattle industry is No. 3. We are not doing it to help farmers. As Alan Jones said, we're doing it to preserve for the future this great and wonderful treasure: the Australian cattle herd. It's gone from 32 million down to 24 million two years ago. In the last two years, it's now gone to 22 million. When are we going to act? When it's down to 10 million? How many meatworkers are we going to throw out of jobs? Thousands in Australia. So we need money for fodder, and that's got to be from grants. There's no other way out. The reconstruction board accounts for the debt and should bring almost all of those farmers through. We're not going to bring people through who are stupid and lazy and irresponsible. There's always got to be some people who go down with the ship. (Time expired)