Parliamentary Speech: Regional Queensland

Just prior to my maiden speech, during the winter break I undertook a two-week regional and rural listening tour of my home state, because on this side of the chamber we take the concerns of the people living in regional Queensland seriously. I had the opportunity to meet with community groups and not-for-profits such as the Royal Flying Doctor Service, mayors and councillors from our state regional councils and of course lots of farmers and small business people. Being a Chinchilla boy, the country is and will always be in my heart. During my two-week trip around Queensland, I visited Toowoomba, Dalby, Chinchilla, Roma, Charleville, Quilpie, Tambo, Emerald, Mackay, Bowen, Townsville, Ingham, Innisfail, Atherton, Cairns, Gladstone, Rockhampton, Yeppoon, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay.

Country Queensland is doing it tough, and it’s not just the drought to which we can apportion blame. The decline in rural manufacturing industries has been made worse by Labor’s continued war on our farmers. The Palaszczuk government are continuing to erode our farmers’ property rights. From their prescriptive land-clearing laws, they have now turned their attention to Queensland’s coastal farmers via the Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill. The Palaszczuk Labor government’s anti-regions, anti-farmer and anti-jobs agenda will see agronomists, extension officers and even chemical and fertiliser resellers required to keep, and produce on request, records of advice, products and services supplied to growers.

Queensland’s rural coastal communities are particularly reliant on the sugarcane industry. Queensland’s $4 billion cane industry employs more than 22,000 in direct and indirect jobs throughout the state, and the majority of them are in regional towns. I had the pleasure of meeting with board members of the Mackay CANEGROWERS when travelling through town. The sugar industry is already doing it tough, with low international prices for sugar putting pressure on the viability of existing cane farms and mills.

A key aspect of the Queensland government bill is the harvesting of farm data. Under the amendments, extension officers and even chemical and fertiliser resellers will be required to keep, and produce on request, records of advice, products and services supplied to growers. Sugar mills will also be required to hand over data on request. Another aspect of the bill is provision for further regulation. The bill provides the Department of Environment and Science’s chief executive with the power to make a standard and to review and change it at any time without sufficient consultation or accountability. While the chief executive must consider submissions, there is no requirement for them to account for the impacts of any changes on the farming sector or the regional communities it supports. In effect, the regulatory goalposts can be shifted at any time. Further, there are restrictions on land use. Under the bill, growers will be required to obtain an environmental authority licence to grow cane on their own land if that land has not been cropped for three of the previous 10 years. Where a licence is required, growers will need to show they can manage water quality risks through farm design and practice standards.

Another key aspect of the bill is expansion into southern districts. Should the government’s proposed amendments be approved by parliament, growers in Queensland’s southern growing regions of Bundaberg, Isis and Maryborough, who are already struggling with drought and soaring electricity prices, will face reef regulations for the first time. These unfair reef laws proposed by the Queensland Labor government have been met with huge backlash from industry groups, including CANEGROWERS, AgForce, the Australian Banana Growers Council, Growcom and the Queensland Farmers Federation. I’d just like to quote some comments by the Growcom CEO, David Thomson, which I think really touch on the vibe of what’s happening out there in regional Queensland:

Agriculture keeps being asked to carry the can on behalf of the rest of the population and the entire economy.

Asking agriculture to continue to absorb the costs of environmental regulation, to take on the increasing burden of protecting the environment, is unsustainable.

It should come as no surprise that under an increasing load, something will give. And what gives first will be the family farm.

Those who are already stretched by market or climate conditions will feel the pain of additional green tape and exit agriculture.

More often than not, when a family farm is sold, it’s aggregated into a larger operation which itself is under pressure to turn a profit.

We need to understand that having fewer people on the land, who are all struggling to make ends meet, is a poor result for the environment.

Australian ecosystems have evolved over millennia, with a strong and purposeful human presence.

We must get our heads around the idea that family farms are not just the linchpin of local and regional economies, but are central to thriving local and regional ecologies …

Part of the increasing pressure on Australian agriculture comes in the form of competition from farmers overseas who are paid by their governments to deliver outcomes for the environment.

For example, the Common Agriculture Policy in Europe and the Farm Bill in the US both provide billions each year in taxpayer subsidies to farmers for reserving land for nature, reducing erosion, and other conservation programs.

Rather than simply write more regulation in their name, our politicians must grasp the nettle and put it to the public, that if they want results for the environment then they’ve got to be prepared to pay for it.

CANEGROWERS alone represent more than 4,000 farming businesses up and down the coast, and they’ve taken the extraordinary step of running ads against the unfair reef laws. The state’s cattle and grazing industry group, AgForce, its deleting their best management practice data to ensure its members are protected from the incoming Labor government laws. The ABGC has described the incoming laws as devastating.

Farmers are our best environmentalists. These proposed laws follow on from Queensland Labor’s vegetation management legislation. They continue Labor’s war on farmers. The Palaszczuk Labor government continue to treat regional Queenslanders like second-class citizens. It was obvious the Queensland Labor government were scared to debate the bill during the recent regional parliamentary sitting in Townsville from 3 to 5 September. I call on the Queensland state government to think again and drop these big brother laws and instead start investing in long overdue infrastructure projects, such as dams and power stations, to get Queensland moving again.