Tuesday, 7 February 2017
As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I would like to convey my feelings of pride and the way I have been inspired and excited and raised with hope from visiting with people across south-west Queensland during the summer break. Across 2,000 kilometres of Queensland, from the coast across to near the South Australian border, covering various climates and topographic regions, I have inspired by the Queenslanders I have been listening to, starting with farmer Trevor Cross and his wife, Wendy, in Bundaberg; moving to the vineyard of Tony Brierley of Brierley Wines at Childers; the butcher at Biggenden, Eddie Chandler and his wife at the post office at Biggenden, a family business; and Poppy and Robyn Cross at Mondure, a sawmiller and timber getter—a real character; Poppy should be a national treasure.
We had an evening dinner there, hosted by Poppy and Robyn, with food brought by the local farmers and town folk. Then we went on to Mike and Andrea, cotton farmers and beef graziers, along with their friend from a neighbouring property, and then had down-to-earth conversations with David Wheelahan, a Dalby automechanic. We then moved west to Chinchilla and met Hamish and his wife, who own and run the McDonald's at Chinchilla, a very new establishment. He is a very proud chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry at Chinchilla. And then we met Tyson Golder, the Maranoa Regional Council's mayor at Roma, who took us to listen to butchers and cafe owners, and Bruce Garvie at the Royal Hotel, a very enterprising entrepreneur. And we went to the little town of Mitchell, to a bakery.
Then we went to Bonus Downs, a cattle property and farm stay hosted by Madonna and Lyle Connolly and their son, Grant. We learned about their cattle property and the problems and challenges they face. We met Sharon Lohse who for 12 years has fought for property rights, as well as her daughter, Amy. We had a lovely evening meal with locals from the local properties, and their relatives. We then met with Nigel and Rosemary Brumpton, sheep farmers—meat and wool—near Mitchell. And then we went further out west, to Charleville, and met with Annie Liston, the mayor, and Neil Polglase, the CEO. We met with the owner of the sheep and goat abattoir there, whose name I have forgotten. Then, due to an illness, I visited the emergency room at the Charleville hospital, where I was given fabulous care by Sarah and Bridget and the emergency room doctor, whose name I have forgotten, unfortunately, but it was really down to earth care.
I would like to share with you some of the things I have learned. At Mondure I met with cotton farmers Mike and Andrea. They have developed a cotton farm through water management allocations, a scientific approach to management measuring all facets of the crop and its growth, taking responsibility for their lives and their products, watching markets and prices through the internet daily, sometimes hourly, and coming up with the idea of multi-peril insurance instead of subsidies. They do not have any employees there, because of the red tape and the taxation. But they have invested massively there. They do it all: harvesting, planting and ploughing—no employees; they do it all. That was a theme we saw recurring in the agricultural industry.
And I mentioned Poppy and Robyn at Mondure earlier on in the list of names. They brought on an evening with their friends and their relatives from town and neighbouring properties, and every single person echoed what Cory Bernardi said this morning and we have been saying for a while: people disillusioned with politicians and politics—all of them—but delighted to see a politician actually out listening, and they appreciated that I understood the taxation issues they face. They are being crippled by tax and red tape that is cutting employment.
Then we met with David Wheelahan, a mechanic in the town of Dalby, who is finding that technology is also confronting him, because, as cars become better and stainless steel takes over exhaust systems, he does not have to do the replacement work and the repair work. So he is looking at ways of improving cars and providing a service that gives customers the best facilities he can.
Hamish, the chairman of the local chamber of commerce, said that Chinchilla is facing a gas price slump but the town is obsessed with making the town better to live in, especially the chamber. He says, quite rightly, that business is fundamental to community life and to the quality of life. Unfortunately, as the price of gas has gone down, crime is increasing, but it is still a wonderful place for families to live, and there is the potential of the Condamine River. But, again, it is difficult, even though there is a gas downturn, to get people to work there. They had to import four Indians to work in their local McDonald's, and they find the Indians wonderful people to work with.
Perhaps for me the highlight of the trip was meeting Tyson Golder, the mayor of the Maranoa Regional Council. That was a real highlight because he ran on a ticket of localising regional council, and that has become very popular with the people. It develops accountability and information and connection for the people who are giving the service to the people who are overseeing the service to the people who actually receive the service. What we see in amalgamation of councils is dis-economies of scale, because of the disconnection of information. He also echoed tax systems. He showed me a cafe where the owner was being squeezed by the GST because all of his costs accrue GST but he cannot pass it on. They are being hit with drugs—ice in particular.
And the Royal Hotel: what an amazing building, in the middle of Roma—a brand-new investment there by Bruce Garvie, really based on the customer. It was one of the best meals we have ever had—a delicious sauce that could have been something we got in Paris. Again, listening to people in the pub: the biggest saleyards in Australia, sophisticated ways of moving cattle. Again, a downturn in the price of gas is hurting the town. But it was wonderful seeing a great, stormy cloud covering the whole of the sky to the west and the north-west and bringing rain, and the smell of the rain in the dry Roma area.
In listening to the people of south-west Queensland, there are many opportunities to learn about future state policies and perhaps even federal policies, because de-amalgamation is necessary in many areas, because we need to give the power back to the local people and give them the accountability and the control. That is a lesson for all of us in this parliament: to move services out of the Commonwealth's responsibility and back to the state's responsibility and to get the work done closer to the people, because that is where the information is; that is where the needs are understood. A very impressive mayor is Tyson Golder, in touch with the people and with a vision of serving the people, a combination of retailing experience and management—customer service—and a grazier who is in touch with the people in the area.
We visited Mitchell, where there is a wonderful bakery, and then we went to Bonus Downs, a property that is hosting people from the city for overnight stays and even holidays. The owners were delightful, friendly people, and there was a wonderful barbecue at night. There I learnt a really big lesson that contradicted what I had always assumed. I saw it, because farmers have been telling me this for a while. Instead of planting woody weeds we need grass, because the woody weeds decrease the sunlight getting through—there is very little grass—and there is massive erosion occurring. Farmers are forced to not clear these woody weeds, which are known as little trees. Instead, we need to let the farmers manage the land. Sharon Lohse has been fighting this for 12 years. She has now become a candidate for One Nation at the state election.
These property rights are fundamental, and the destruction of property rights is allied to red tape, green tape and blue tape, which are choking the farmers in our state. We need to get it back to grasslands—the original vegetation—remove farmers' restrictions and let them be competitive through their own innovation and scope for innovation. These people manage trucks, aircraft and all kinds of tools and equipment. It is just amazing what this small family does. Sheep graziers Nigel and Rosemary Brumpton cannot comply with the tree clearing guidelines, which are senseless. Nigel said to me, 'This land does not need to be subsidized,' and he makes a very good explanation of that.
To finish, I want to say to people here in the Senate that these farmers are full of innovation, creativity and energy, and they are excited. (Time expired)