Monthly Archives: June 2015

Bush Matters Op-Ed – “Transforming the north”

26 June 2015

Above the Tropic of Capricorn, the environment is one of extremes.

It’s an area where seasonal and unreliable rainfall can still convert a dry creek into a major stormwater drain within a few hours and lush tropical rainforest can yield to semi-desert within a few hundred kilometres.

Its townships have recorded some of the highest mean daily temperatures anywhere on earth.

Throughout most of its history, northern Australia has been seen as a ‘difficult’ frontier region.

With few exceptions, northern pastoral and mineral resources have been exploitable only under conditions of greater relative hardship compared to the rest of the nation.

It is therefore of little surprise that northern Australia has not been the favoured settlement space for Australia’s predominantly European descendent population.

The economy of northern Australia has typically been dependent on the south.

There remains a transient labour force, which is controlled from the southern capitals and even overseas.

Young people comprise the largest age-group of the northern work force.

Whether it is completing a diesel fitter apprenticeship in the mines, working as a ringer on a station or as a trainee nurse or doctor, northern Australia has often been an ideal environment for young people to ‘cut their teeth’ in their chosen industry.

But by the time these young professionals have mastered the basics of their trade, they are often forced to leave the north and relocate if they want to be employed in managerial and more senior positions.

Countless families have travelled north over the decades in hope of improving their fortunes. Many have been forced to return south when their luck ran short.

Other proud communities of families across these areas have endured the droughts, the fires, the rising dollars and the falling commodity prices and have continued to push onwards because they are survivors.

These families now form the backbone of the northern communities.

Remote in distance and often in psychology from more than 95 per cent of Australians, two-fifths of the land area of our continent lies north of the Tropic of Capricorn.

Long before Federation, northern Australia has been perceived as a dangerous geographical vacuum close to populous Asia and has long tugged at the national conscience as territory that requires development.

But whereas once long ago the Federal Government held Royal Commissions and endless debates on how develop the north in order to protect a “White Australia” from Asian threats, we are now making furious steps to realise the true economic potential of the north to capitalise on the benefits of the growing wealth across Asia.

The unveiling of the White Paper for Northern Australia last week is the latest in a series of steps towards reversing years of public policy deficiency and harnessing the true potential of the region.

After decades of rural jobs being sacrificed to satisfy the trendy philosophies of greenies and the armchair environmentalists this Federal Government is taking steps to return some political power back to the farmer and country communities.

From agriculture, mining, tourism to international business, this white paper represents the most comprehensive attempt yet to work through the development possibilities of the north.

I would encourage everyone to look over the range of projects the government is investing in across northern Australia.

The need to focus on the north is clear and justified.

Australia’s north is unique in the developed world. It sits at the base of the great regions of global economic and population growth.

Our major northern centres operate in similar time zones to the most dynamic economies in Asia and are within three to five hours flying time.

Our north is fast developing as a trade gateway for all of Australia. We have growing port developments as Gladstone, Townsville, Karumba, Darwin and Broome.

Many other advanced economies around the world can only dream of possessing such an expansive, untapped landmass that sits at the foot on the greatest economic development in human history.

But for too long business and household living costs have been much higher than they should be in the north, and much higher relative to the rest of Australia and many other developed economies.

High business costs discourage investment, while high living costs can discourage settling in the north.

Government investment in roads, dams, rail and ports is an important first step to encouraging private enterprise to start businesses, employ people and contribute to northern economies.

In the earliest days of our nation, one British Lieutenant-Governor was heard to say that “this barren and forbidding country will not be able to maintain itself for 100 years.”

Defying these cynics and naysayers, the story of Australian economic development is the story of families battling poor soil, a lack of water supply and difficult, thickly scrubbed landscape to carve out a future.

The Federal Government has now opened a new and exciting chapter as Australia looks north towards building wealth and prosperity in this 21st Century.

The plan is bold, but no less bold than the other great steps forward our nation has committed to in past generations.

This White Paper has been developed to stand the test of time — we hope to ensure it is the first, and last, White Paper for the north.

Because the time has begun to finally transform the north into the powerhouse it should be.

Bush Matters Op-Ed – “Shoring up rural communities”

12 June 2015

From the beef producer at the Roma Saleyards to the petrol station owner on the Warrego, a lot of discussion recently has been about the fact that Australia’s economy is in transition.

The decline in revenue from mining commodities and the associated cutbacks and job losses means rural communities are experiencing the impact of this transition more than most.

In my own state of Queensland, there is probably no more notable example than the fewer number of newspaper advertisements for CSG industry workers and contractors.

We know that the CSG to LNG sector is moving from a construction to a production phase.

One of the benefits for government is the public purse will finally start gathering royalties that can be spent on improving other areas of the economy.

The QCLNG plant production is expected to reach eight million tonnes a year annum during 2016, sending around 120 shipments a year to China, Japan, Singapore, India and Chile.

The royalties generated from these shipments will prove important given the steep fall in global prices for our major export commodities – namely iron ore and coal – have more than halved in some cases since the peak in 2011.

Despite these issues, the cold hard facts do not support the arguments of the naysayers who attempt to talk down the economy and Australia’s financial outlook.

While change can sometimes be uncomfortable, the Federal Government has committed to a raft of measures to strengthen business confidence in the short to medium term as our economy makes this transition.

Firstly, we should not forget that we currently enjoy encouraging economic variables – low interest rates, falling petrol prices and a low Australian dollar.

This is being reflected in the latest economic data which shows real economic growth rose by 0.9 per cent in the last quarter to be 2.3 per cent higher over the past year. This exceeds market expectations.

This builds on growth of 0.3 per cent in the September quarter and 0.5 per cent in the December quarter last year.

This result makes Australia one of the fastest growing economies in the developed world and faster than any of the G7 in the quarter.

In addition, exports continue to support our economy, growing by 5 per cent. This is the strongest quarterly result in 15 years.

The Coalition has presided over one of the greatest turnarounds in soft commodity prices, with six new live animal destinations, three new Free Trade Agreements and significant inroads towards deals with India and the TPP, have all contributed to graziers enjoying record prices for cattle and sheep alongside a dramatic turnaround in the Eastern Market Wool indicator.

The recent Federal budget acknowledges the agriculture sector, small business and local government will be crucial to strengthening our regional economies into the future.

Councils throughout the Surat Basin are likely to benefit from a range of dedicated infrastructure grants from the Federal Government in this budget.

For example, the Roads to Recovery Programme will continue to support the construction and maintenance of local roads with $350 million allocated annually (until 2018-19), as well as a double allocation with an extra $350 million being funded in 2015-16.

The Bridges Renewal Programme saw $113.7 million allocated for 73 projects across the nation. Applications for Round Two of the programme will open in the coming months.

Within the $333 million drought relief program announced last month, $35 million has been dedicated to assist councils such as Balonne and Maranoa instigate shovel-ready projects that offer the greatest potential to stimulate local spending, use local resources and provide lasting benefit to the community.

To assist pastoralists to more effectively store and use water and fodder to better manage periods of drought and improve their ability to ward off feral pests through fencing, primary producers are now able to claim more favourable accelerated depreciation on farm infrastructure.  The fences they build are 100 per cent deductible in the first year.

The water infrastructure and dams they put will also be immediately 100 per cent tax deductible. The silos and hay sheds they build can be written off over three years.

Small business has been the biggest winner in the 2015 budget with more than $5 billion in initiatives announced.

Whether it’s a computer, chainsaw or second-hand vehicle, any small business looking to purchase equipment that costs up to $20,000 can now instantly claim a 100 per cent tax deduction.

From reports at Farm Fest at Toowoomba this month, many people from across southern Queensland and northern NSW were keen to take up this budget initiative.

We should not lose sight of the fact that there is deep resilience in the Australian economy despite our transition away from the resource sector.

A rebalancing of growth is taking place with roadblocks being removed. New markets are being opened and our economic plan is working.

But the numbers confirm that Australia is rising to the challenge.