«Staff present: Mr R Hansen (Research Director) Mr P Douglas (Principal Research Officer) Mr K Holden (Inquiry Secretary) PUBLIC HEARING—INQUIRY ...»
Mr Kealley: Not intimately knowing what Maryborough sugar will do in Maryborough, I see there are quite a few opportunities for expanding our cane footprint in these regional areas. Some of these regional towns are sugar towns. If you look at the Herbert River, it is a sugar town. If you look at Mackay, it was a sugar town which went to mining. Mining has gone and now it is back to sugar being the core industry. A lot of people who have gone off farm, particularly in the Mackay area, are coming back on farm looking for jobs as there are more opportunities.
The cane industry in maintaining that footprint will secure some of those jobs in those regional areas. I know I am probably sounding a big vague and broad, but it tends to be the backbone in those regional areas and communities. There will be a flow-on effect in support services to agriculture such as agronomists, fertiliser resellers and all the things that go along with that. Having some certainty as to how much land we can use and how we can utilise that land into the future supports that community and it supports those job opportunities.
Ms Wade: I will add that there is also a restructuring going on in the south-east corner, particularly horticulture. Some of our intensive animal and bird industries are major employers. For obvious reasons of periurbanisation, with the expansion of urban areas into the south-east corner some of our industries need to relocate over the range. They will need to locate to greenfield sites. If they do not, then the jobs and industries will disappear. That is a very real issue now.
It is a live issue for chickens. They are looking at expanding and putting new sheds on new sites. In terms of horticulture, it is relevant everywhere because lots of the development potential that we are seeing in the south-east corner and in the north of the state will be horticulture—intensive crops that have intensive job opportunities around them. It will not be huge broadacre areas. They Brisbane - 22 - 3 Jun 2016 Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill will be smaller, niche areas. Pineapple growers, for instance, are looking to the north to secure their annual production. There is massive expansion of macadamias and avocadoes—a whole range of tree crops and horticulture. All of those provide opportunities for jobs in the regions they are relocating to.
Mr PERRETT: When we were in Cairns we heard from the Cape York Land Council some fairly strong testimony to this committee that they do not support the current legislation based on the stifling of opportunity in that region, particularly within those communities that have some challenges in and around a number of issues. Do you work with our Indigenous communities, particularly in the north, in looking for agricultural opportunities to assist not only their communities but also the broader agricultural benefit to the state?
Ms Wade: Queensland Farmers’ Federation has not been actively working at the moment, but we are very alert to the fact that because our industries are all irrigation industries as there are opportunities for expansion in irrigation we certainly will be looking at what the opportunities are to engage Indigenous people in employment opportunities but also potentially in business opportunities.
Mr Murray: The cotton industry at various times has engaged very closely with the Indigenous community, most recently at St George where we were running an employment program with the department. Unfortunately, the timing coincided with the onset of the drought so it has not grown as much as we would have liked. In terms of opportunities in the north, I go back to water being made available in the Flinders-Gilbert area. As a very rough rule of thumb, within the cotton industry each megalitre of water will generate about $500 on farm each year. If my maths is right, 300,000 is about $150 million worth of on-farm agricultural activity in those regions. That certainly would be a major boost. It is a long time since all the funding from Crocodile Dundee has been spent in that part of the world so it would be a good follow-up.
Mr MADDEN: As you would be well aware, the bill will add three new catchments for coverage in Queensland—east Cape York, Fitzroy and the Burnett Mary. You have not mentioned that in your submission. Would any of you like to comment with regard to the addition of those three catchments?
Mr Henry: Category R is somewhat of concern in the Great Barrier Reef catchment because of the water quality issues or outcomes. There is an argument to say that the one-size-fits-all bill is not necessarily the right fit for the whole catchment. Some scientific research into the proper riparian zones for certain areas, stream size, creek size, river size and also soil types is probably needed to actually make it a more effective on-ground application of category R. If category R is to go ahead that type of scientific evidence to back up the proposed legislative changes would definitely be worthwhile.
Mr Murray: That reinforces our position that we did not want to come to this committee with a whole range of alternatives. We believe the proper time for that discussion is in consultation with the government in developing a bill. That did not occur prior to this bill. We would like to see this bill rejected and have those conversations. We have raised some key issues and some are more negotiable than others. Basically, we are prepared to talk to get a long-term outcome. As an industry, we are tired of the pendulum swinging one way and then another. We are happy to talk, but we cannot talk with this current bill on the table.
Mr SORENSEN: I was going to ask the same question. With regard to the sugarcane industry in Maryborough and Bundaberg and the river systems there being included in this bill, how is that going to affect the sugar industry?
Mr Kealley: Following on from what Ross said, originally the reef regulations brought in 50-metre setbacks from watercourses to try to improve water quality going out to the reef. I see that the current task force report brought down last week by the Chief Scientist had some recommendations about extending those regulated areas as well. From my point of view, I am seeing that it is going to be inevitable that those areas will include the whole reef catchment.
In terms of setbacks and the detail behind that, when the reef regulations were first brought out we did a bit of a back of envelope view of how much land that might take out of production in a cane area. It comes back to the definition of a watercourse. The first thing is to exactly understand the definition of watercourse and the impacts on the cane area under production.
From our back of envelope work we identified that there is a potential risk on those sorts of numbers that you could actually impact the production area and make the mill unviable which then creates flow-on effects back to employment, back onto the economy and alternatives in the region. I do not have exact figures, but they are some of the issues we are thinking about and how it might impact our industry.
Brisbane - 23 - 3 Jun 2016 Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill Mr KATTER: I have a question for the Queensland Farmers’ Federation. There appears to me to be a bit a misconception that if you completely deregulated vegetation management there would be the onset of large scale clearing. What I have picked up from these tours is that there is a real commercial inhibitor. It is an expensive activity. In the vast majority of the western areas most of what we are talking about is unviable to do anyway. Can you give us a bit of feedback on that?
We heard from one of the places we visited that they have a budget to do a little bit of this each year because it costs them a lot of money to do it. The commercial barriers to doing this are not acknowledged. Yes it is part of vegetation management clearing but it is an expensive process. Most people do not have the money to go out and do a big heap of clearing. Could you comment on that for us?
Ms Wade: I think there is a misconception that there is wide-scale clearing for clearing sake.
That is nonsensical. No good business operates on that basis. What we have been talking about is a very strategic approach—that is, where it actually delivers business outcomes, it delivers increased productivity, it increases the opportunity for us to diversify our industries into different seasonal environments, water environments or water catchment so that we have year round coverage to supply to our markets. It is all driven by what happens at the market. The final, and probably the last decision, is actually how much you clear and when you clear it and what that will do in terms of the business plan.
I think we need to get over the perception that anybody is out there waiting to just go out and clear. What we are suggesting is that we sit down and work out how we can actually build that into a long-term business strategy that is sensible, careful, considered and delivers all of the outcomes that the business owners want and that our industries need in terms of where we are going and environmentally. The first thing my members will say is that we need to protect our environment because that is what generates our returns year on year into the future.
I think it is nonsensical that we are having a discussion about anybody just blindly going ahead and clearing. What we are talking about is careful, considered and responsible vegetation management that fits with good business plans. Many of my members have full farm plans with full soil types described. They know where they should be farming and how they should be farming. They are doing more of that because that is the future of our industries in Queensland.
Mrs GILBERT: Matt, there were a couple of questions from the other end of the table about the sugar industry in Bundaberg and Maryborough. In my area or Mackay, which is already in the reef catchment area, the farmers are working really well and have improved their farm practices. Have you seen any ill effects on farming by being in the reef catchment area?
Mr Kealley: Ill effects from vegetation clearing or ill effects in general?
Mrs GILBERT: From land management laws.
Mr Kealley: If I quote my chairman, Paul Schembri, the drivers of the environment and economics are aligned. You cannot have a successful business or profitable business unless you manage those two things effectively. The cane industry has its Smartcane BMP, best management practice program. We now have 58 per cent of the area under cane benchmarked in that program in just over two years. I think that is a pretty good outcome. Almost 100 growers are accredited in that program which demonstrates their social silence but also productivity profitability.
The challenges we face is continued water quality and the impact on the Great Barrier Reef.
Managing our vegetation is part of that, as well as managing our farm inputs and production on farm and chemicals and fertiliser use. Riparian zones are all part of our BMP program. There are things in place to manage that.
In terms of adverse effects, it comes back to how you manage the edges of your farm. If a farm is cleared it is managed for cane, but then you have your riparian areas. It is how you manage that.
Some of the challenges we face coming out of these areas is managing pigs, weeds and those sorts of things. That management is for the public good. It does not necessarily get recognised in the community the benefit growers put back into the community. Hopefully that answers your question.
Mrs GILBERT: I just say that the farmers in my area have a really good reputation for looking after the soil and the run-off and their use of fertiliser.
Mr Kealley: Yes.
CHAIR: Thank you very much for appearing before us.
FINNEGAN, Ms Tracy, Member, Vegetation Management Policy Advisory Committee, AgForce LEACH, Dr Greg, Senior Policy Officer, AgForce MAUDSLEY, Mr Grant, President, AgForce CHAIR: Grant, I acknowledge that you have tried to speak to us at a few places, but for the benefit of the committee and timing wise you stood aside. We were thankful for that. That helped us with our tour of the state. We appreciate and thank you for that. Would you like to make an opening statement?
Mr Maudsley: AgForce is the peak rural group representing beef, sheep and wool growing producers in Queensland. Collectively the industries contribute about $5 billion a year in gross farm gate production. Our members provide high-quality food and fibre products to Australian and overseas consumers. They manage more than half of Queensland’s landscape and contribute significantly to the social fabric of rural and remote communities. AgForce members are totally opposed to the changes proposed in the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016.
Since 1999 Queensland primary producers have borne the brunt of 18 major changes and 38 amendments to the vegetation management laws. This has left farmers with a lack of security of tenure and certainty with which to plan for the future. The vast majority of these changes have been made on the back of political promises not on the basis of environmental logic. Yet again, farmers face more changes driven by what the government thinks is good politics rather than good policy.
Queensland agriculture has the potential to grow from $17 billion to $30 billion over the next decade, delivering thousands of jobs and opportunities in our regions. To grow we need sensible land management laws. The proposed changes in this bill are anything but sensible. The proposed changes will restrict supply, drive up food prices, stifle regional development and make it harder for farmers to grow their businesses.
A particularly offensive element of the proposed legislation is the reversal of the onus of proof, making farmers guilty until they prove their innocence. This means that farmers have fewer rights and are treated worse than murderers and outlaw motorcycle gangs. As the committee has heard, the state government’s property and ecosystem mapping across the state is notoriously inaccurate yet these new laws take away that mistake of fact of the inaccuracy defence. This means that if farmers clear land based on the wrong map, it is the farmers who cop the rap not the government.