Bush Matters Op-Ed – “Dawning of the age of the ag”
24 December 2014
While it might not be the popular opinion, I believe 2014 will be remembered as the year we stopped relying on easy answers.
With declining terms of trade, falling government tax revenues, stagnant wage growth and the worst drought in a century, Australia has been forced to take a long, hard look in the mirror and make some tough choices about our collective economic future.
The simple fact is that it’s unclear if we’ve passed the test. 2015 will be another year of transformation. Negotiations and delays in the divided Senate continue to hamper the government’s efforts to get our national budget on the road to recovery.
Still, the Treasurer has encouraged us to spend big this summer, and we will await for feedback from the major retailers to judge whether money is flowing through their doors.
One thing is certain – the tourism sector, which fuels the economy along our coastal strips, will be feeling the pinch of the drought this year as few farmers can afford their usual festive holiday at the beach.
Instead we are all studying the Bureau of Meteorology website carefully in the hope that the long awaited summer rains will bucket down so we can begin the rebuilding process for our family farms across the nation.
There is no doubt that 2014 has been a very tough year. It was a tough budget, but it must never be forgotten that it had to be tough.
Just as no one would want to leave a legacy of mountainous debt to their children, the nation has a responsibility to leave our bank balances in a better position for the next generation.
It seems these necessarily tough budget decisions will continue to have to be made in the coming years as we continue to confront an aging population and a transforming economy.
While it is tough medicine for many, it is my belief Australians will soon understand how the exuberant Chinese thirst for our resources that has fuelled our economic growth for more than a decade was always, eventually, coming to an end.
Despite how difficult, or even dire, things can seem at times, I am buoyed about the future of agriculture in this nation.
After more than a decade of our economy being squarely focussed on the mining sector, Joe Hockey last week began grouping agriculture alongside resources as the two fundamental components that underpin our national wealth.
We must never forget that wheat, beef, cotton and wool are four of the top 20 export commodities in this nation.
The central importance of these commodities is coming under increasing analysis as part of the efforts of Infrastructure Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss to roll out more than $50 billion in infrastructure across the nation and, as a direct result, increase our national GDP.
In 2014 we have seen the delivery of the green paper for northern Australia, which lays an important pathway to realising the true economic potential across the north.
Soon we will also see the finalisation of the White Paper for Agricultural Competitiveness.
These are fundamental steps to mapping our future economic pathways.
When added to the work already completed to sign free trade agreements with Japan, South Korea and China, and the finalising of live export deals with Cambodia, Bahrain and Thailand, it’s clear we are providing more market opportunities for our farmers, which will in turn generate more money for our national economy.
This year has been one where we have drawn a line in the sand, between our previous overreliance on mining, and our new economy, where agriculture will feature prominently.
This new found prominence will give more influence to the farming sector within the Canberra corridors, which will provide newfound opportunities for rural communities following decades of neglect.
This should be the last Christmas where seafood consumers are left in the dark
19 December 2014
Queensland Senator Barry O’Sullivan said the release of the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee report into seafood labelling provided a clear path for the introduction of country of origin labelling for seafood in Australia.
Senator O’Sullivan has called on members of Federal Cabinet to support the report’s recommendation, which would enable clear and honest information for Australian seafood consumers.
The report recommends the exemption on country of origin labelling for cooked and pre-prepared seafood sold by the food services sector to be removed within the next 12 months.
Senator O’Sullivan said with Australians lining up to purchase seafood over the festive break, many consumers would welcome the opportunity to know whether they were buying Australian product.
“If I was to stand in the middle of a major supermarket this afternoon and ask people whether or not they would support knowing which country their seafood came from, the vast majority would support some form of labelling,” he said.
“This question would overwhelmingly pass the supermarket challenge.
“Throughout this inquiry we have looked at the evidence and my Senate colleagues have released a report that says labelling is a good thing for the industry. It will also be positive for consumers because it will provide real choice.
“I’ve been talking about this for some months – since I addressed the Australian Prawn and Barramundi farmers Symposium in August. It’s also a matter I know is close to former Senator Ron Boswell’s heart as well.
“We have the means to make these labelling changes. This should be the last Christmas in which seafood consumers are left in the dark over the origin of the product they are buying.
“The introduction of country of origin labelling is just common sense and I call on my ministers to make it happen.”
O’Sullivan to introduce legislation to support drought beleaguered farmers
12 December 2014
“If the drought, wild dogs and kangaroos don’t get you, the banks will.”
Queensland Nationals Senator Barry O’Sullivan has begun seeking support from his parliamentary colleagues for a Private Senator’s Bill that will stop major rural lenders from enforcing penalty interest rates and foreclosing on drought impacted farmers.
Senator O’Sullivan said the bill, which is called the Drought Affected Farm Business Bill, states that whilst a farming property was under declared drought (based on the definition of a one in twenty year drought event), a bank or financial institution cannot;
i. Apply penalty interest rates.
ii. Foreclose on an agricultural business simply due to a collapse of the loan value ratio (LVR) covenant of the terms and conditions of the loan agreement.
Additionally, if a bank or financial institution decides to foreclose on a borrower for any other breach of a covenant, term or condition, they cannot bring effect to the foreclosure until one year after the business is no longer declared to be in drought.
“Landowners across Western Queensland are hand feeding cattle in this drought while they also fend off plagues of kangaroos and wild dogs,” he said.
“Yet every time these farmers put their hands in their pockets, they find their bankers’ fingers there.
“Some people across the bush are on their knees due to the worst drought in a century – and the banks continue to kick these people when they are already down.
Senator O’Sullivan’s announcement comes following strong warnings from Federal Agriculture Minister and Deputy Leader of The Nationals Barnaby Joyce in The Australian that government intervention may be necessary to force the banks to be more fair, decent and patient with rural landholders.
It also comes days after the release of the Murray Report, which has recommended several significant reforms to the banking sector.
“The Drought Affected Farm Business Bill will reduce an abuse of power by the banks and allows landholders to keep some of their dignity,” Senator O’Sullivan said.
“I have been working on this Private Senator’s Bill over the past couple of months because government needs to intervene to protect family farms and rural communities.
Senator O’Sullivan said he had written to the Australian Bankers Association, which would “leave them with no doubt about my resolve on this issue.”
“I have actively campaigned since taking my Senate position for the major banks to end its sledgehammer approach to dealing with rural debt loans.
“The banks have continued to be obstructionist and have denied almost every reasonable request. I warned them some months ago that time was up!
“All the while more and more farmers have been driven to the wall.
“The banks are living up to their reputation of being unreasonable bastards.
“The banks could reprieve their position by ending its application of debilitating measures, such as penalty interest rates, that only serve to drive people further down the road to financial and emotional collapse.”
Bush Matters Op-Ed – “Hard realities of a rocky parliament”
12 December 2014
While cigars, burkas and barnacles dominated the political headlines this year, I believe the simple rock best typifies the year in parliament.
Just consider the political landscape.
We’ve seen an unpredictable and largely unknown crossbench join the Senate, which has ‘rocked’ the chamber, causing instability and uncertainty for our government.
All the while, Labor has continued to throw rocks in the glass house by impeding the process of essential fiscal adjustment – ignoring its ownership of the nearly $50 billion national deficit and opposing $28 billion of savings in the Senate.
And, most importantly, the collapse in price of two precious rocks – iron ore and coal – has plunged our budget revenue position onto the rocks.
So, what does this all mean?
It means we must confront the fact that the federal government finds itself between a rock and a hard place, and that responsible measures need to be implemented to shore-up the economy so we don’t leave a negative fiscal legacy to the next generation.
In an already tough political environment, the Abbott government must deliver the bad news that 23 years of unprecedented economic growth has come to an end and we are entering an era of readjustment.
It means the government must face the public and explain why budget revenues have fallen.
In a matter of days, Treasurer Joe Hockey will deliver the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook.
Joe has spent these past weeks preparing Australians for the hard reality that the already depleted government revenues have been further impacted by a larger-than anticipated decline in our terms of trade.
Take iron ore for example, our largest export commodity, worth about $70 billion in 2013.
The May budget forecasts an iron ore price of around $US95 per tonne. It is now $US69 per tonne.
Similarly, let us consider coal, which is our second-largest export commodity, worth about $40 billion in 2013.
Prices for coking coal now sit at about $US120 a tonne – a price that has left many coal operations unprofitable.
The price for thermal coal has recently averaged only US$73 a tonne – this is down 16 per cent year-on-year.
Iron ore and coal account for more than one third of Australia’s total annual exports.
This means government will collect less in tax, which makes it harder to pay for government services.
Hockey has said that other treasurers have been able to facilitate spending programs through commodity booms and borrowings.
At the peak of the boom in 2007, the revenue bonanza was adding about $80 billion a year to government revenues.
This is simply no longer an option.
All governments want to deliver a budget program of fulfillment, not austerity.
But responsible governments bite the bullet and accept their role as the bearer of bad news.
Australians should ignore the crossbench for a moment and concentrate on the actions of the Labor party. This is their mess, and they have a national obligation to support us in fixing it without playing games for short-term political benefits that are not in the national interest.
While some short-sighted activists and politicians will attempt to win cheap points from any downgrade in tax revenue, it should be a wake-up call for the nation.
Not only does it remind us that Australia cannot afford to live beyond its means, but it calls on us to evaluate how we can build a more rock-solid economy, which decreases our exposure to the boom and bust cycles of mining.
$250,000 community infrastructure boost in Ipswich
4 December 2014
The Federal Government is delivering a $250,000 funding boost to the Ipswich Hockey Association.
Queensland LNP Senator Barry O’Sullivan today announced that funding for a lighting refurbishment programme had been approved through the Community Development Grants Programme.
Upgrading and installing more energy efficient lighting will allow the Ipswich Hockey Association to host night games in both the State and National Hockey Championships. It will also provide better visibility for spectators watching these games.
The upgraded hockey grounds and facilities will be used as a training base by competing nations in the 2018 Commonwealth Games at the Gold Coast.
Senator O’Sullivan said the upgrade would provide an important economic boost to the City of Ipswich with visiting teams and their supporters visiting local businesses such as restaurants and hotels.
The project is jointly funded by the Australian Government providing $250,000 and the Ipswich Hockey Association contributing $64,755.
The project will involve replacing 14 light poles and associated lights, underground cabling and electrical boxes.
The lighting upgrade is due to be finished by 31 December 2014.
Senator O’Sullivan noted the Ipswich Hockey Association recently won a City of Ipswich – Sporting Association of the Year award.
“The club plays an important role in the Ipswich community,” Senator O’Sullivan said.
State Member for Ipswich Ian Berry said the announcement was a clear indication how both the Federal and State Governments were working together to strengthen local communities.
“It is great to see the Ipswich sporting community receive the support it deserves,” Mr Berry said.
“Throughout my long affiliation with the Ipswich Hockey Association, to see the club grow and continue to be competitive both across Queensland and Australia, is a credit to the greater Ipswich Community,” he said.
“The refurbishments will be a great asset to Ipswich and will enhance the opportunities for the Ipswich Hockey Association, well into the future.”