An Agricultural Omnibus Tour

An Agricultural Omnibus Tour - February 2, 2020

I am writing this from parliament as the first sitting week of 2020 has wrapped up. There are limited sitting weeks before the October 31 State Elections, but if this week’s shenanigans are any guide it is sure going to be wearing.

Labor played every trick in the book, dropping in unexpected bills that could have been properly listed for debate to adjourning debates before a vote. But the worst was the use of omnibus bills.

All Aboard the Omnibus!

This should only be used for the administrative housekeeping needed to update existing legislation. Labor uses it as a way to hide a poison pill in the jam spoon.

This week the agriculture minister had such a bill called the Agriculture and Other Legislation Amendment Bill which changed 18 acts affecting agriculture, animal welfare, forestry, fisheries, threatened species classification and two matters concerning the Racing Integrity Commission. Now some of these were very welcome.

Increased Fines for Farm Invaders
The Bill doubled the penalty the court can impose on farm invaders, but at around $2,600 the fine is still not enough to deter the zealot activist. Of course, we rarely see the maximum penalty imposed by the Court. While this is better than nothing, it really does not improve protection for farmers, their families and the biosecurity of Queensland farms.

Broader Farm Debt Mediation Umbrella

I welcomed the changes to the 2017 Farm Debt Mediation legislation, which was always too narrow in terms of who is offered mediation before debt enforcement. This will now cover more parties, but Labor should have consulted more widely in 2017 and got it right the first time. No doubt they will point to this as evidence of how they support farmers, when it really was their own sloppiness that was being fixed.

Tougher Animal Cruelty Laws

The Bill brings in the LNP’s policy on animal cruelty offences, but with softer penalties. Most importantly it grants animal welfare inspectors better entry rights when rescuing animals.

Body Cameras and Ear Tags for Feral Goats

Moving from the welcome to the unwise: compliance officers with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries will now wear body cameras. Landholders will need to be very vigilant when interacting with DAFF officers as they must assume they are being recorded and that such recordings may be used against them in a court.

It concerns me that a landholder asking for guidance on a matter of land or water management from a DAFF officer, may innocently entrap themselves by saying too much. This won’t help land management in Queensland. Nor does it recognise the situation of DAFF officers and their families who are living in rural communities but being told to do more and more enforcement and compliance tasks.

Goat Earrings

The most ridiculous effect of the Bill is the one requiring NLIS ear tags for feral goats. These are sometimes called “rangeland” goats, because they range freely, like eastern grey kangaroos. All an ear tag will show is where the ear tag was put in, not what property it “belongs” to.

There are going to be some fun times round Charleville way. Ear tagging a wild animal will require some cunning! I actually think this is state-legislated animal cruelty towards the live goats.

Oh – A Last Minute Thought …

All these laws had at least been examined by the bi-partisan legislation committee. Not so the amendments repealing the agricultural colleges. The minister just produced these at the start of the debate and they got put through with the rest of the wash.

We’ve been played in a Long Con

No wonder the amendments were kept secret until the last minute. The fact they were needed at all made it clear that Minister Furner did not have the legal power to dispose of either the Emerald Agricultural Campus or the Longreach Pastoral College and their associated properties.

That means the Minister’s reviews were all asking the wrong questions. That means the community consultations have really been about selling real estate, because they only took place once the Minister had emptied the campuses and locked the gates. They should have been about how to update our agricultural training.

A New “Rural Centre of Excellence”

The Toowoomba Chronicle this week ran a story on South West TAFE Qld’s new ‘Rural Centre of Excellence’, which is due to open on February 11. As I told Parliament, I wish them well but let’s just compare it with what is being lost and sold off.

Simulations and Hydroponics

The Centre will consist of a simulated vet nursing facility, three traditional classrooms, a large area where machinery can be brought in and demonstrated and a ‘grow pod’ – which is a vertical hydroponic farm.

 Will the simulated vet nursing facility treat simulated animals?  At the Emerald and Longreach campuses, students interacted with real animals. How else could they become experienced?

Real Animals…

The Emerald Agricultural College also hosted vet students from two different universities so they could learn how to handle large animals like horses and cattle safely and do their practicums in skills such as pregnancy testing. The Emerald Agricultural College was the only facility in Queensland that had sufficient herd sizes where veterinary students could perfect their skills through repeated practice on large animals.

Real Machinery…
Compare the vertical grow pods and a machinery demonstration bay at the new Rural Centre of Excellence with the Emerald campus’ magnificent irrigation farm and Berrigurra. Both these outstanding properties provided students with hands-on experience with farming machinery and hands-on experience with cattle grazing, broadacre cropping and irrigated farming.

Real Farming and Learning Challenges
This is what agricultural employees need in order to be job ready. Watching a demonstration is not the same as getting up in the cab and driving the show. The challenges of vertical hydroponics are just not relevant to most types of farming.

What about the Western Sheep and Wool Industry?

The loss of Longreach Pastoral College makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. It was the only institution that taught the skills needed for sheep and wool.  At a time when landholders in Western Queensland are making major investments in exclusion fencing to expand their flocks, they must wonder where the trained wool classers, workers and shearers will come from.

The Closure Cannot be Reversed

Well, the Minister got his way and now he has the right to sell all the assets.

By doing so, he gives us a final slap on the way out. He has made sure that Emerald and Longreach will never be able to reverse the closures, because they will never be able to amass those particular properties again.

While we will all have to move on, and some community groups will even advance their agendas as a result of these sales, overall both Emerald and Longreach have been conned out of something their forefathers intended to be a permanent legacy. Labor should be ashamed.

A White-Knuckle Ride

We are on a white-knuckle ride to the next election in October. It will be spiteful and I fear further attacks on rural Queensland and on agriculture as that deadline looms. I will write about the Lake Eyre Basin proposals next time.

How to Contact Me

As always, if you have a comment or an issue to raise, you can simply contact me by return email. If you prefer to ring, my Emerald Office is 07 4913 1000 and the Longreach office is 07 4521 5700.