Gulf cattlemen take debt survey results to Canberra

James Nason, 27/08/2014
Gulf cattlemen Rob Atkinson and Barry Hughes at Parliament House in Canberra this week.

Gulf cattlemen Rob Atkinson and Barry Hughes at Parliament House in Canberra this week.

Two cattlemen from Queensland’s Gulf region have spent the past two days walking the corridors of power in Canberra banging on doors and seeking out meetings with ministers and senators to highlight the pressures on viability facing northern cattle production enterprises.

Barry Hughes and Rob Atkinson from the Gulf Cattlemen’s Association flew to Canberra earlier this week armed with the results of a rural debt survey recently conducted with producers across a region of northern Queensland stretching from Cape York to Charters Towers and west to Boulia and Mount Isa.

Of the more than 150 producers who responded to the survey, the majority were clearly ‘big players’, with the herd size of all respondents averaging 7700 head.

56pc of those producers indicated that they are no longer confident in the future viability of their industry due to high costs and low prices.

41pc identified debt levels as a significant factor behind their lack of confidence, with respondents identifying an average 28pc decline in property values and a 22pc increase in debt levels since 2010. (More results from the survey below).

Mr Hughes and Mr Atkinson said there appeared to be fundamental disconnect between what was happening on the ground in northern Queensland and what political understanding of the problem was.

“Our main thrust is to push the Gulf Cattleman’s survey results under the noses of as many people as we can and speak to the reasons why we did this and what we hope to achieve in terms of taking industry forward up there,” Mr Hughes said.

“Part of our push into Canberra is to paint the real picture and to get Government to understand this issue and to take it seriously.”

Mr Hughes said there was a view that widespread rain would solve all of the problems facing northern cattle producers, but that was not the case.

“What I have been saying to every minister and Senator whose offices we have walked into is that the traditional fix across agriculture has been a significant rainfall even to break drought and to increase the production cycle.

“The issues we’re faced with in the northern Australian beef industry are far more deeply seated and far more complex than what a rainfall event could ever do to re-establish a profitable return through the farm gate.

“Rain will take the heat out of it undoubtedly but if we want to fix our industry and make it viable and sustainable into the next 50 years then we need to be looking at fundamental change from the top of those three players, Government, industry and banking.”

Mr Hughes said such fundamental change would have to “come from within”

“We’re looking at ways and means through a common sense approach that we can involve the banks in terms of bringing more flexibility into the banking practices with the grazing industry that are impacted by what I term as exceptional circumstances or adverse conditions.

“From Government there are a whole range of issues that we can be talking to Government about in terms of taking a common sense approach so that delivery of service is effective.

“Leading on from there is the issue of putting together a roundtable discussion with key players from Government, industry and the banking sector, and we’re in the process of doing that.

“We’re targeting a number of agencies within the Govt, the ag sector, the small business industry sector, human services to cover the humanitarian impact that is going on right across those droughted areas as well as getting the right ministerial representation in there.”

Mr Hughes said the Gulf Cattlemen’s Association was also in Canberra to support Nationals Senator Matt Canavan’s push for a Senate Inquiry into rural debt issues.

The Gulf Cattlemen’s Association has provided the following key findings from its August 2014 survey of cattle producers. Survey forms were sent to 600 cattle production enterprises across Northern Queensland, resulting in a 25.8 response rate:

  • There has been a 28pc decline in property value regardless of any infrastructure or herd improvements made since 2010, suggesting that much of this decline is a result of the Live Export Ban in early 2011.
  • There has been on average a 22pc increase in debt levels between 2010 and 2014, resulting from lack of cash flow and increased borrowings to cope (even though a large proportion of debt is already at risk).
  • There has been a sixfold increase in debt held with small businesses and service providers in our small towns and regional centres.
  • 58.7pc of businesses have been extremely affected by the changes to financial arrangements made by banks post the Live Export Ban, with 67.4pc saying that these impacts will affect their viability into the future.
  • 74pc say that they have been unable to maintain herd and plant to the same standard and 30% say that the value of their plant and herd has dropped by more than 40pc with a further 32pc saying that their herd and plant have dropped in value by 30-40pc.
  • 58pc say that they cannot maintain land condition (environmental health) to the same standard.
  • 56pc are not confident of future viability mostly due to high costs and low prices, with 40.8pc also suggesting that debt is a significant factor.
  • Better prices and a reduction in debt are the main outcomes needed for future viability.
  • 71pc would like to access financial planning, 45pc will need to access Centrelink assistance, 54pc would like to access counselling for mental health/depression.




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  1. Donald Brown, 04/09/2014

    well done boys

  2. Doug ONeill, 28/08/2014

    Rob and Barry, you are so right, but no one out there cares. We have lost control of our industry,we sell our product [cattle] wholesale and buy everything retail price.We need to be in a position to either value add our cattle or value add meat products.We have to get away from everyone living off us.Red tape.regulations,banking cost[banks do not take a hit at all when we are bleeding,no one politically will take a stand because they are too gutless and they are not in pain.I could go on.Thanks for your yardage,I admire your effort.

  3. Wayne & Sandra Birchmore, 28/08/2014

    These two graziers are doing more for our industry than all our producer organisations, which simply don’t seem to get it. Good on you Rob & Barry.

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