Tuesday, 26 August 2014
Maranoa Electorate: Live Animal Exports
I rise tonight to speak about an issue which is facing many farming families in my electorate and in many parts of northern Australia. Madam Speaker, as I know you would be aware, I do not exaggerate a situation; I give it the way I see it. Having grown up on the land, I understand the situation that is confronting so many out there at the moment, and it really does disturb me. I know that we as a government have certainly got a package in place, as do state governments, but I do not believe it is going to be enough to address the situation of the human tragedy that is confronting so many farming families, particularly across the central western parts of my electorate, and the northern cattle industry.
We have had Rob Atkinson and Barry Hughes down here in Parliament House and they are here for the week. They are representing the gulf cattle producers of Australia. They are bringing to me and to many around this House the situation as it is confronting those cattle producers up there and their families as a direct result of the previous Labor government banning the export of live cattle.
There are so many young families that went out there, full of energy and full of experience—backed by a bank, I might say, because there was a product they could produce and there was a market to be had: the market for the export of live cattle to Indonesia. There were over 700,000 head of cattle being exported to Indonesia. So the banks said: 'Here's a proposition. This looks good. We can back this, and we will borrow and we will back the human capital'—that is, the families that have a lifetime of experience. The next generation is wanting to take up the same challenge out there on the land, and to take up the challenge of producing these cattle for Indonesia, through these feedlots, which would create jobs but also a food line for the people of Indonesia.
Overnight, with one decision, the previous Labor government banned those people who had bred a product not for Australia, not for our domestic market, but to go into Indonesia. They were cut off from their supply line. Imagine shutting down a factory that a company had built up, had borrowed for, had workers employed in, with skills, and that it was for an export market, and that overnight the government said, 'You can no longer do that.'
I want to touch on the impact that that has had on the drought—the loss of the capital value of the asset, as a direct result of the ban on the export of live cattle, but also the loss of livestock through the central western Queensland areas of my electorate because people have had to de-stock. They now have, in most cases, no revenue. There is no cash out there. These are pastoral properties with bills still to pay and a limited capacity to continue to borrow. And I know the banks at the moment are putting enormous pressure on these families.
The entire electorate of Maranoa, which covers 42 per cent of the land mass of Queensland, is now drought declared, and has been for the best part of this year—some of it, since late last year. All 17 council regions in Maranoa are drought declared, as is 75½ per cent of the land mass of Queensland. We have an exceptional drought out there that perhaps many producers would have been able to cope with, but they could not cope with the bad decision of a bad government which was the banning of the opportunity for the export of live cattle to Indonesia.
Last Friday, James Walker, a Nuffield scholar, a pastoralist near Longreach, put on a tremendous program, bringing CEOs into Longreach and having, you might say, a brainstorm as to how we are going to deal with the two issues: (1) the debt situation out there now, and (2) when it rains, how people will restock, given that the banks are very reluctant to add any further debt to these pastoral properties today.
One proposition got a lot of air, and that was the tax loss credit swap, which we modelled in this place when we first came to government. They looked at the debt of rural Australia, all over Australia. I say we have to look at that in isolation to the northern cattle industry and the large areas of western Queensland that have had the impact of the extended drought on these properties as well. The people there were CEOs from Melbourne, heads of industry, and they saw this as a proposition that should be explored, and I am hoping that we will be able to explore it.
I also say to the banks: it is about time that the banks got off the backs of these landholders and started to back human capital, because we will need these farming families into the future and we have got to make sure we can keep— (Time expired)