Rates weigh on farm­ers

Mackay cane grow­ers cop hefty bill

Central and North Rural Weekly - - CATTLE SUSTAINABILITY - KIRILI LAMB kirili.lamb@ru­ral­weekly.com.au

CANE farm­ing is not the highly lu­cra­tive en­deav­our it once was.

This is a key fact coun­cil­lor Lau­rence Bon­aven­tura wants peo­ple to un­der­stand af­ter Mackay Re­gional Coun­cil went into bud­get melt­down on June 27 and is now prepar­ing to re-de­lib­er­ate its bud­get.

The en­tirety of the coun­cil’s 2018–19 bud­get, af­ter months of de­vel­op­ment, was voted down by six of 10 coun­cil­lors over a sin­gle item – banded rat­ing cat­e­gories for ru­ral landown­ers.

The move would have given ru­ral landown­ers the same land val­u­a­tion-based band­ing as of­fered by landown­ers in ur­ban res­i­den­tial ar­eas.

The sys­tem de­liv­ers re­duced gen­eral rates to higher-value prop­er­ties to create a more eq­ui­table dis­tri­bu­tion of cost load among ratepay­ers.

Cr Bon­aven­tura said the quash­ing of the bud­get had been “very dis­ap­point­ing”, es­pe­cially given that the bud­get was mov­ing to sur­plus and long-term fore­casts had been done on the costs of the new banded ap­proach for ru­ral pro­duc­ers, show­ing that it was some­thing the coun­cil could carry into the next 10 years.

Cane grow­ers pay 3.26 cents in the dol­lar, roughly the same rate busi­nesses within Mackay’s min­ing-ser­vices hub Paget pay, at 3.44 cents in the dol­lar.

While a busi­ness, farms are also peo­ple’s homes.

Cr Bon­aven­tura ad­vised the av­er­age rates bill for a Mackay re­gion cane farmer with a prop­erty value of $575,000 sat at a whop­ping $19,068, in con­trast to a res­i­den­tial prop­erty of the same value at an an­nual av­er­age of $5155.

Prop­er­ties un­der “Other Ru­ral” cat­e­gory pay at a 1.50 rate, equiv­a­lent to that paid on a multi-unit res­i­den­tial in­vest­ment prop­erty.

Un­der the pro­posed new ap­proach, ac­tual rates would not have shifted greatly but band­ing around prop­erty val­ues to which they ap­plied would have.

He said the larger prop­erty sizes de­manded to re­main vi­able in the mod­ern econ­omy, pro­duc­ing 15,000 tonnes of cane an­nu­ally fur­ther ex­ac­er­bated the is­sue, as did re­duced ser­vices read­ily avail­able to ru­ral ratepay­ers.

He said the cur­rent sys­tem harked back to a dif­fer­ent, more pros­per­ous time for the district’s cane grow­ers.

“You go back quite a few years and the cane farmer was king, he was the lifeblood of the district,” he said.

“He was the one who bought the new car ev­ery cou­ple of years, who spent money in the ma­chin­ery shops, had a great deal of in­put within the com­mu­nity as far as spend­ing.

“For ev­ery dol­lar that the farmer spent, ev­ery dol­lar the farmer earned did the rounds of the town prob­a­bly three or four times in the way that it as­sisted the town and they had a lot of labour that used to work for the farms.

“It was very prof­itable if you could own a farm go­ing back 40-50 years.

“Things have changed and we are at a point now where farm­ing isn’t the prof­itable busi­ness it used to be.

“For many, it’s al­most sub­sis­tence farm­ing and they keep do­ing it for the life­style.”

Ev­i­dence of this lay in the way that for most farm­ing fam­i­lies there is a ne­ces­sity for cane-grow­ing in­come to be sup­ple­mented by work else­where and of­ten by all adults in the fam­ily.

Cr Bon­aven­tura’s fam­ily has owned a smaller cane prop­erty in the Ha­bana area of Mackay since the 1930s and cited the gen­er­a­tional dif­fer­ences for his fam­ily by way of ex­am­ple.

“In my fa­ther’s day, he was able to make a full-time liv­ing off the farm, buy a new car ev­ery four years and he didn’t work in the off-sea­son,” he said.

“By the time I be­came a farmer, you had to work all year on the farm and in what we used to call the ‘slack sea­son’ I had to find al­ter­nate in­come to make ends meet – and that got to the point where I had to start an earth­mov­ing busi­ness to sub­sidise the farm­ing in­come. So things have changed. What hasn’t changed is a rat­ing sys­tem that treats farm­ing as quite prof­itable. We just want to bring the sys­tem into some­thing that is a lit­tle more fair and eq­ui­table.”

It is ex­pected the bud­get will be re-de­lib­er­ated on July 18, ahead of the July 31 dead­line for Queens­land coun­cils to rat­ify bud­gets.

While the ru­ral ratings bands, which would have re­duced in­come to the coun­cil bud­get by $440,000 an­nu­ally, may be scrapped, the $500,000 cost of scrap­ping non-prin­ci­pal place of res­i­dence (in­vest­ment hous­ing) rat­ing cat­e­gories may be re­tained. A full rates re­view is an­other po­ten­tial out­come.

“I think it’s a sad day for farm­ers, I think we have to look at ways to im­prove things for them,” Cr Bon­aven­tura said.

“When I go out and talk to peo­ple and they say, ‘Oh, my rates are too high,’ I can say, ‘Well, look at what you get – you get a lovely Blue­wa­ter La­goon, you get the MECC en­ter­tain­ment cen­tre, parks, beaches, pools.’ Now I strug­gle to use those same ter­mi­nolo­gies 70 or 80km from the city cen­tre, talk­ing to farm­ers that are pay­ing $15,000–$20,000 in their rates, try­ing to ex­plain to them what they are get­ting for their rates apart from a gravel road and a wheelie bin ser­vice.”

FAIR GO: Coun­cil­lor Lau­rence Bon­aven­tura would like to see im­proved rates equity for Mackay re­gion farm­ers. PHOTO: FILE

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