QUEENSLAND MP Bruce Scott has called for investment in “human capital” to help resolve the drought crisis faced by cattle graziers in northern Australia.
Earlier this month Mr Scott called for urgent changes to the government’s drought package to relieve bureaucratic pressures faced by drought stricken farmers and their families.
The veteran Nationals MP continued his push for support last week as parliament resumed after the extended winter break.
In a speech in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, he said the severity of the drought’s financial and emotional toll wasn’t being exaggerated.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Mr Scott said many young farming families entered the beef cattle industry, “full of energy and full of experience - backed by a bank”.
He said that backing was provided due to the solid prospects of selling cattle into the Indonesian market.
“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,” he said.
He said there were over 700,000 head of cattle being exported to Indonesia but the temporary ban on trade by the former Labor government in June 2011 had exacerbated current drought impacts, in particular debt and farm viability.
“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,” he said.
“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’.”
Mr Scott said the capital value of assets had been lost as a direct result of the live cattle export ban and ongoing drought.
He said livestock have been lost through the central western Queensland areas of his Maranoa electorate due to destocking.
He said producers in most cases had no revenue at the moment.
“There is no cash out there,” he said.
“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 75.5 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.
“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 on the land.”
Mr Scott said a forum of CEOs held at Longreach this month brainstormed ways of dealing with the debt crisis and restocking plans, “given that the banks are very reluctant to add any further debt to these pastoral properties today”.
He said one key proposition raised at the forum was the tax loss credit swap which the Coalition modelled when it first come into government after last year’s election.
He said the modelling looked at the total debt of rural Australia but he said the northern cattle industry needed to be looked at in isolation, along with large areas of western Queensland where properties have also suffered extended drought impacts.
“The people there (at the Longreach forum) 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,” he said.