Monthly Archives: April 2015

ANZAC Day address – “Unveiling of Toowoomba Anzac Centenary Wall”

23 April 2015

Today – and in the coming days – our nation will commemorate 100 years since a brave generation of men and women stormed the shores of the Gallipoli peninsula and forged a new chapter in our national consciousness.

Now that there are no longer veterans still here to recount their experiences and physically remind us of the Gallipoli campaign, Anzac Day has taken on a new meaning – one of national introspection – about what it means to be Australian and how we can best acknowledge the service and sacrifice of previous generations.

Just as the original Mother’s Memorial was built by mothers to honour their soldier sons who did not return from the war, let this Anzac Centenary Wall and the wider Mothers’ Memorial precinct serve in the years and decades to come as common ground for Toowoomba’s people to reflect on our city’s proud record of national service.

Australia’s official chronicler of the Great War, the legendary war correspondent C. W Bean, was not long off the boat back to Australia, having spent years following our soldiers onto the major battlefields of Gallipoli and the Western Front, when he penned a powerful tribute to the 60,000 fallen soldiers that Australia lost in the war to end all wars.

Almost a century since he put pen to paper, Charles Bean’s words still have as much resonance today and provide as much inspiration to the current generation who seek to both celebrate our veterans and strive to make our nation great:

They gave it into your hands, Australians, when the bullet took them.

Australia lies in your hands now, where those men, dying, laid her.

They started out on it with such pride in their country and what they were going to do for her.

They fought to keep the world (and Australia above all the world) a free place, where men have the right to live according to their lights, provided those lights involve no harm to others, without being dictated to by others who happen to be stronger than they.

They know that if the rule of Might over Right became the order of the day, then Australia was not safe – and they wanted Australia to be the sort of place which we think ideal to live in.

They wanted to make her a great and good country.

That is what Australia was to them.

That is why they fought.

They began the fight grandly.

They established the name of our country amongst the foremost of all brave nations.

They made our people a famous people, though it is only a small people; they made it so famous that every Australian is proud for the world to know that he is an Australian.

That was what these men did for you – all in three or four years.

I don’t suppose that one of those men ever died without thinking of those behind him in Australia.

They liked to think that Australia was as proud of them as they were of her; that Australians were watching their deeds as anxiously and proudly as a mother watches her sons.

But now they have handed the nation building work on to you; when they fell dying they left it in your hands – yours and ours who survive them.

Who is going on with that work for her? Who is going to finish the fight which they began?

Cecil Bean closed by asking his fellow Australians:

Who is going on with that work for her? Who is going to finish the fight which they began?

You – the young people of Australia. You, or no one.

These words remain – and will forever be – a powerful call to action passed down through the generations that we must never forget.

Rural Weekly Op-Ed – “Act tough on tough times”

21 April 2015

There’s an old story about a farmer who is asked about how he continues to cope during hard times.

With a knowing, wry grin he simply replies that he can cope with drought, fire, flood and falling farm gate prices – he just can’t cope with them all in the same season.

This drought is among a terrible string of events that have constantly tested the mettle of our rural sector over the past few years.

What began with the 2011 live export ban and was followed by flood, fire, the cattle price collapse and drought, all seems like the same season for the simple reason that one problem has quickly followed the next.

It is a crying sin to have a man worried into a premature old age and for his family to slave away on the farm or small business, only to have little to show for it at the end of the day.

This drought has pushed people to such limits.

But diversity draws people together, as they say, and I know our rural communities are united as we confront these almost unprecedented hard times.

I have spent much of my first year in the Senate travelling around the state and speaking about the fundamental issues confronting the rural sector – farm gate profitability, rural debt loads, telecommunications, infrastructure and drought.

The more I speak to people, the more it is apparent that this drought, on a scale perhaps not seen before, has moved from the paddocks to the town streets during these past three years.

There are reports that the number of empty houses in Longreach has now reached at least 200 (compared to only a handful 12 months ago) and councils across the state are now being forced to review the number of staff they can afford to employ over the coming financial year.

The Federal Government is taking action – an economic stimulus package is being formulated.

This follows a speech I made to the joint Coalition party room about a month ago.

But I have also written to the Prime Minister in the weeks since telling him in no uncertain terms that the Federal Government response must be swift. It must be a here and now solution.

I believe our nation has a responsibility to protect the dignity of impacted communities because their economic contribution is so important to the wealth of the nation during good seasonal years.

For example, in 2010-11, Central Queensland produced in gross value about $1.2 billion in agricultural production, representing 13 per cent of Queensland’s total. Few suburbs in Brisbane could boast such an output.

Next week I will again travel to the Central West to meet with people from all walks of life – graziers, transport operators, small business owners, teachers etc.

I have spoken in these regions several times since becoming a Senator last year.

Each time I leave armed with a little bit more information that I can take to Canberra to push the case for these regions.

Droughts usually end with a bang, not a whimper. When the last drought broke a decade ago, many regions recorded several months’ average rainfall in just a few days.

But in the meantime, we need to keep our rural communities strong.

Trips like mine to the Central West next week are about listening to people on the ground and showing that, at least to some of us in Canberra, you are far from forgotten.

Media Release – “Westpac & Australia Post deal will deliver a win for rural Queensland”

20 April 2015

Queensland LNP Senator Barry O’Sullivan has welcomed today’s announcement that Westpac banking services will soon be available at 571 Australia Post Office sites across Queensland, with news that 320 of the participating outlets will be in rural and regional parts of the state.

Senator O’Sullivan said the inclusion of Westpac Banking services at Australia Post sites would provide a much-needed additional revenue stream for privately-owned, Licensed Post Offices (LPOs).

According to Westpac, the deal will enable participating Australia Post Offices to offer Westpac customers traditional cash withdrawals, cash and cheque deposits, in-store identity checks for new customers and account balance enquiries.

“Post Offices are the maypole that many of our rural and regional communities are built around and so I am an enthusiastic supporter of anything that can generate greater revenue for these businesses,” Senator O’Sullivan said.

“As I have travelled through the state during the past year I have encountered countless stories of post office business owners struggling to pay their bills.

“There are also many local councils operating community post offices at a loss simply because they are trying to stop another service from leaving the town.

“If we are going to attract families to rural Australia, we need to provide basic services, and over-the-counter post office and banking facilities are an important part of that.”

Senator O’Sullivan was a participating member of a Senate Inquiry into Australia Post late last year that found thousands of Australia’s privately owned post offices were at risk of closure because some payments had not kept in pace with the consumer price index over the past 20 years.

The report pushed for urgent action to improve the profitability of privately owned post offices, especially in rural and regional centres.

In March, Australia Post revealed it had worked with the Federal Government on a submission to the ACCC to raise the price of the average stamp from 70 cents to $1. Under the scheme, stamps for concession card holders would be frozen at 60 cents and a special 65 cent Christmas stamp would be offered to Australians.

“The Senate Inquiry was a major turning point in getting political and business leaders to understand how important post offices are to maintaining solid living standards outside the metropolitan centres,” Senator O’Sullivan said.

“It is pleasing to see genuine efforts underway to address the issue.

“People across rural and regional Queensland want to see their post offices stay alive and profitable and this latest announcement by Westpac will provide a new business opportunity for our post office operators.”

 

Bush Matters Op-Ed – “Lest We Forget Our Bush ANZACs”

17 April 2015

The past doesn’t pass away so quickly at Gallipoli.

The thousands of tombstones, erected strong and silent, stand as a permanent monument to the misery and waste of war.

This ghostly, forsaken Gallipoli shore is Holy ground for Australians and New Zealanders.

Streams of our people arrive to follow in the footsteps of long-fallen soldiers whose deaths have given birth to a mythology that has not left our national consciousness in the century since.

We will again see many of these images next week as Australia marks 100 years since our nation entered the ‘war to end all wars’ in a reign of blood, death and fire.

No commemoration of the Anzac Day landings should be undertaken without acknowledgement of the first casualties.

There were 620 Australians who perished on 25 April 1915.

In the early days of the battle, the British Army had no official register to which these battlefield burials could be formally reported with a name and the location of the grave.

Soldiers were buried on the battlefields in individual or communal graves by their comrades.

The dead were sometimes buried where they fell, or in a burial ground near the battlefield.

A simple cross or marker might be put up to mark the location and give brief details of the individuals who had died.

The dead were often buried at midnight with the priest’s voice drowned out by the cracking of bullets whooshing overhead.

Otherwise, those who reached the hospital ship and who died of their wounds were buried at sea.

Gallipoli was Australia’s baptism of fire into the Great War.

“And we won’t be back till it’s over, over there,” was the popular chant of our men as they downed tools at their farms, workshops and factories and headed for basic military training in Australia and Egypt.

Many found they could quickly settle into the army because of their lifetime’s experience shooting a rifle and riding a horse.

These were blokes who were comfortable living with a swag, a kit bag and a bit of bush know-how.

But the cruel reality of war is that some men would only survive for a handful of hours when thrust into battle.

Of the 620 Australians who perished on 25 April, 488 have no known grave.

Among them was the 27-year-old West Australian named Arthur Walton, who simply put ‘bushman’ as his occupation on his enlistment papers.

He was among the first to perish as our troops fought the soldiers of the Ottoman Army, up on the ridges, well beyond the beaches on 25 April 1915.

There was 22-year-old Edward Pennell who worked alongside his brother as a stable hand at Northam, Western Australia, and would have been a familiar face at the Northam Race days, which remain a centrepiece of the town to this day.

There was 21-year-old Kalgoorlie mine labourer Percy Williams who was shot in the stomach soon after the landing and was transported to the hospital ship Gascon where he died in agony before being buried at sea.

As Percy lay dying on the hospital ship, his brother, John, was on his way to Gallipoli as a member of the 5th reinforcements of the 16th Battalion. It’s thought that by the time John waded ashore at Anzac Cove, he already knew his brother was dead.

John Williams, who had worked at a sawmill at the gold-mining town of Gwalia, north of Kalgoorlie, before enlisting a few months after his brother, would survive the evacuation of Gallipoli at wintertime before being killed in action on the Western Front in August 1916.

The parents’ heartbreak of losing both their sons was further compounded by the fact that neither man has a gravesite. The body of John Williams has also never been recovered.

There were other young men who had previously travelled to Australia in search of a better life, such as Scottish farm hand Alex McPhail, 25, and Manchester farm hand, David Palmer, 24, before deciding to enlist.

These men all had the potential to make greater contributions to the future of rural Australia. But fate intervened and now Gallipoli is their final resting place.

It is firmly entrenched in our national story that the first landings went horribly wrong – 1.6km downstream from the intended landing sight, forcing the ANZACs to scale seemingly impenetrable cliff-like terrain that Turkish machine guns turned into a death trap.

It is also sometimes forgotten that, amid the carnage of the disastrous landings, the Anzac divisions requested to be evacuated almost immediately.

The request was denied, with the order for our troops to dig in. This decision would doom many more thousands to die on those shores.

It was also amid this tragic backdrop that the Gallipoli mythology was born.

The resolute and unswerving attitude of those Australians who stuck to their commitment to serve despite British command incompetence, impenetrable terrain and unrelenting death remains a solemn inspiration.

The white tombstones and memorials littering Anzac cove will stand tall once more this April as we gather to commemorate our fallen.

Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore.

Queensland Country Life Op-Ed – “Partyroom listens to drought SOS”

16 April 2015

A few weeks ago I stood before my colleagues in the Coalition joint party-room in Canberra and tried to find the right words to explain the struggle facing much of Western Queensland and northern NSW.

Whilst I cannot discuss what is said in the joint party room, I can say that for some time now I have been telling my colleagues that a drought is a natural disaster just like a flood or cyclone. But it doesn’t get the same level of media coverage despite being a much longer battle with often much wider impacts.

I said there is still an artificial oversupply in the cattle market due to the drought conditions, with graziers continuing to make the difficult decision to place excess breeding stock into the slaughter market and even the live export market.

I told my colleagues that economic depression had crept into the bush towns, with school numbers falling, shops closing and local council work stagnating.

While I support the Federal Government taking this action, I said when there is a cyclone that hurls through the Solomon Islands, we immediately send money to assistance in reconstruction.

But I also believe when Australians are confronted with drought, we need to constantly review our assistance measures to ensure we are attempting to steer any help to the people who need it, in the most effective manner.

I must admit, I was not unhappy with the response from the joint-party room, which is generally a tough crowd.

I have been contacted by several colleagues since my address who have wanted to know more about this drought.

In the weeks since my party room address, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has driven a plan for a new drought economic stimulus package directed at those businesses allied to this sector.

While the precise projects assistance and funding allocation is still being finalised, I can confirm that I have been working closely with Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and local governments across the state to determine how we can make this package most effective.

It is important we provide assistance to keep services alive in drought-beleaguered towns.  We need economic stimulus for the hardware store, petrol station and road crew to keep the people in town so there are still school and health services when this drought finally ends.

As we approach the budget period there is already news that further falls in commodity prices, especially iron ore, will again weaken our national fiscal outlook.

But this only strengthens my resolve to getting better public policy outcomes for our agriculture sector.

Whether it is wheat, beef or sugar, our agricultural exports not only provide vital employment and build wealth in rural and regional areas, they also contribute significant tax revenue to our Federal Government coffers.

With the mining boom dissipating, we need strong and steady sectors, such as agriculture, to be profitable to ensure we maintain our living standards.

And I will not take a backward step from this along the Canberra hallways.

JOINT MEDIA RELEASE – International banana disease experts called in

14 April 2015

The Australian Government will support international banana disease experts Professor Altus Viljoen and Dr Chih-Ping Chao to meet with industry and government to assist with the response to the incursion of Panama disease, Tropical Race 4.

Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, said the incursion of Panama disease, Tropical Race 4 was a very serious threat to the Queensland banana industry that demanded a coordinated response based on the best available science.

“My department is working closely with the Queensland Government to ensure that the emergency response effort is effective and that full support is provided to the local industry,” Minister Joyce said.

“Australian biosecurity is based on the best available science and it will be critical that our response to this threat is informed by the best international research.

“Senator for Queensland, Barry O’Sullivan has requested the Australian Government fund Professor Altus Viljoen from South Africa and Dr Chih-Ping Chao, Director of the Taiwan Banana Research Institute, to meet with the banana industry and government,” Minister Joyce said today.

Senator O’Sullivan said it was crucial industry had access to the best biosecurity expertise in the world as it determines its response plan to the outbreak.

“Access to reliable information is essential when confronting a biosecurity threat,” Senator O’Sullivan said.

“These experts are among the best in their field and will make an enormous contribution as our response to this disease is executed.

“I was in the banana growing regions of North Queensland within a few days of the first outbreak and have continued to relay information back to Minister Joyce as developments have arisen.

“We both understand how important this industry is to North Queensland and want to see it remain strong,” Senator O’Sullivan said.

Professor Viljoen is a world renowned expert on control options and understanding the physiological basis for tolerant varieties for banana Fusarium wilt, specialising particularly on Panama Disease Tropical Race 4.  He is a consultant on banana Fusarium wilt activities throughout Africa and Asia.

Dr Chi-Ping Chao is best known for his work to develop diagnostic techniques for Panama disease, Tropical Race 4 and development of tolerant varieties. He will address the stages the Taiwan industry went through in dealing with the disease, and how they have arrived at their breeding program using selection from tissue-culture plantings to find resistance.

“Professor Viljoen and Dr Chao will provide the Australian industry with critical information to inform our national response to this issue and forge strong international networks with local industries into the future,” Minister Joyce said.

“This is an important initiative that I am very pleased to support.”

To date, the Australian Government has delivered $210,000 to fund a range of biosecurity measures for the emergency response effort.

“In addition, the Australian Government is contributing specialised personnel to help with tracing and planning activities and facilitating access to specialise equipment to allow rapid diagnosis of high volumes of plant material,” Minister Joyce said.

“We are also supporting the emergency response through on-ground surveillance teams that will assess the extent of infection and funding communication activities to ensure awareness of biosecurity protocols that will be essential to reducing the risk of spreading the disease.”

Panama disease is considered to be one of the most destructive diseases of banana. It is spread by soil and water, and with movement of infected planting material. Panama disease, Tropical race 4, is present in South East Asia and the Northern Territory.

Panama disease poses no threat to human health.

For more information, visit daff.qld.gov.au/plants/health-pests-diseases/a-z-significant/panama-disease2.

Bush Matters Op-Ed – “Drought: A War of Attrition”

3 April 2015

Drought forces the landholder to examine even their most basic order of beliefs:

That the family should be on the land; that a simple focus on good laws and good luck will lead to progress and prosperity; that years of research and billions of dollars to improve Australia’s land-use strategies are benefitting agriculture.

Drought throws once-tightly held beliefs and turns them into questions.

When driving through most parts of Central Western Queensland these days you could be forgiven for mistaking it for a moon landscape.

A flat and barren land covered with black dirt and red rocks scattered as far as the eye can see.

It is also an eerily quiet and lonely place, with about 25 per cent of my state of Queensland now completely de-stocked.

As an old timer farmer has said, “there’s not enough feed around to keep a lean goose alive.”

There is still an artificial oversupply in the cattle market due to the drought conditions, with graziers continuing to make the difficult decision to place excess breeding stock into the slaughter market and even the live export market.

The economic depression has seeped into the bush towns, with school numbers falling, shops closing and local council work stagnating.

Whenever there is a drought, rural Australia struggles to find the right words to explain to city people just how destructive it can become.

Wanting to remain independent and not looking for handouts, people in the bush try to manage as best they can and hope improved fortune is just a few downpours away.

Oftentimes, as the drought lingers, the city people lose interest in the issue altogether.

Drought is not an easy sell to the media – it does not provide the action-packed viewing of a cyclone, flood, fire or volcano.

Instead, watching grass grow (or disappear) is a slow grind. Drought is sometimes compared to a war. Every day is another struggle. All too often it is one long battle.

Last week I stood before my colleagues in the Federal Liberal-National joint party room in Canberra and tried to find the words to explain why the people in rural communities across my state were growing more desperate with each passing day without rain.

I tried to explain that rain, and plenty of it, might still be what the bush really needs right now.

But where and how any new batch of government assistance is focussed equally matters when determining whether the worst off can be saved from wreck and ruin.

It is a challenge to explain to people with little or no rural experience that drought recovery is not simply about grass in a paddock but also rebuilding a breeder herd, the frustrating wait for calves to be reared to generate cash flow and how to best plan to assist graziers pay off debt accrued during these bone dry years.

I must admit, I was not unhappy with the response from what is generally a tough crowd. But I also understand it is a long battle, a slow grind, to achieve further remedy for the bush.

In researching this column I came across a speech delivered in 1902 by another politician, W.N Willis, the member for the far-Western NSW parliament seat of Barwon.

Mr Willis’ address was delivered at a Melbourne town hall meeting, organised by the Lord Mayor at the height of the Federation drought (which our current drought has been compared to).

The meeting aimed to provide city people with an understanding of the impacts of the Federation drought.

But rather than go to deeply into the drought detail, Mr Willis began to rage about the fact there were only about 260 people in attendance, compared to 25,000 that attended a bicycle race in Melbourne a few days earlier.

He said there were lessons we needed to learn from the Federation drought. He spoke about how farmers needed to be better at explaining how droughts wreak destruction across the bush.

And yet, more than a century later, despite all our media capabilities in an information age, we are still finding it difficult to explain our message about drought and why the suburban shopper should pay more attention.

Climactic downturns will affect all our livestock regions at different points and it ultimately impacts on the farm gate prices of the entire nation, so it is in the best interests of our sector there is a coordinated approach to tackling the worst affected areas in this current drought.

But such a coordinated approach needs to include a strategy to better take our message to the major population centres.

City-dwellers should be included in the discussion so they understand that drought builds resilience in rural communities and a strong agriculture sector is a pillar that props up the wealth of the nation.

As one anonymous person wrote in a tribute to farmers in a letter to the editor in The Sydney Morning Herald in 1902:

The men who have fought the drought for the last five or six years have gained an experience that will be of lasting benefit to them and the State. They are veterans, have fought a good fight, and thoroughly deserve the fruits of victory.

The fruits of victory in the long battle against drought do not appear anywhere on the near horizon for graziers across the Central West.

But when they come through it, their tough experience will prove of lasting benefit to the nation.

In the meantime, more needs to be done to better equip these people. And we need to better explain this problem in the cities.

Because the people sitting on drought ravaged farms should not be left to think they have been forgotten.