Tuesday, 12 February 2019
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Prime Minister. PM, the mid-west and gulf area is one 10th of the entire cattle industry, our fourth biggest exporter. It is now decimated by droughts, flooding and the resulting terminal health conditions. With no stock, massive existing debt and hundreds of thousands of rotting carcasses to clean up, farmers will have no capacity to pay their mortgages, let alone restore and restock. Will the government commit to a reconstruction authority, cutting existing debt by 30 per cent and providing finance at government interest rates? Surely, PM, without this minimal action, North Queensland's calamity, its misery, and its human and economic hardship will worsen exponentially.
I thank the member for Kennedy for his question and I welcome his remarks earlier in the debate, when he spoke of the impact of the floods on western Queensland. We have already committed to, and the minister for agriculture, as we speak, is putting together, a recovery and restructuring plan for north-western Queensland. I have had now two phone hook-ups, as you know, with all of the mayors across those districts, and that was one of the first things that were raised in those meetings: what is the plan to get the cattle industry in north-western Queensland back on its feet?
There are many options that will be considered as that plan is being brought together, and I was just talking to one of the mayors this morning—getting the data in, understanding the impacts on everything, such as the impacts on the rail link that goes from Cloncurry right across that entire region. That could be, basically, out of order for a very, very long period of time—potentially years, certainly the next six to 12 months.
There are a large number of things that will need to be done in north-western Queensland. But a significant thing in those challenges is the restoration of the Queensland cattle industry. This isn't trying to prop up an industry that doesn't have a future; this is an industry which as you remarked before, Member for Kennedy, has a massive future for Australia, and we need to be there to support rebuilding that industry in North Queensland. What I undertake, to you and to this House and to the people in North Queensland, is that the plan that will come forward from the minister for agriculture will address these issues. Whether or not it is the specific recommendation that you are making, everything will be put on the table to consider. But the one thing that we will ensure is that there is a recovery and restoration plan for North Queensland cattle farmers to be able to return to prosperity, which we know is ahead, and we'll be there to do that in partnership with them.
One of the important things that have been inherent in our response to this is to work just so closely with those local communities, and they are feeding back through those mayors right now. There's a meeting on, I think, tomorrow, where they are going through the recommendations that they will be putting to us in terms of the plan coming forward. So I welcome all suggestions, because I think we are joined together in the great task of ensuring that that cattle industry will be as great as it was always going to be in the future, if not even greater.