Help needed for North Queensland farmersby News WeeklyNews Weekly
, March 10, 2001
Debt collectors in Townsville are describing North Queensland agriculture as being not in a state of recession, but of "depression". Virtually all rural industries in the far north are in a state of serious crisis - sugar, grapes, dairying, tea-tree, bananas, durians, other fruit and vegetables and fishing - and the tobacco industry is closing down.
Largely, the problems stem from deregulation; imports or proposed imports from nations that heavily subsidise their farmers; prospects of exotic diseases from imports resulting from the weakening of Australian quarantine enforcement; increased competition among supermarkets which have the lion's share of the groceries market; and over-investment and production in certain rural industries as wealthy city people attempting to minimise their tax by using generous tax breaks the Federal Government has given to certain rural investment schemes.
The closure of the tobacco industry is now dividing local communities. When the timber industry was closed down under the Hawke and Richardson plan, compensation was paid not only to the timber mills, but also transport operators, and a variety of local businesses that suffered directly and indirectly from the closure.
Now the tobacco industry is closing and the Federal Government is offering compensation to tobacco farmers. The problem is that these farmers are now going heavily into pumpkin and sweet potato production, which threatens to flood the market forcing down prices and undercutting established farmers. No compensation is being offered to the latter. Nor are other town businesses affected by the closure being offered compensation.
Attempts to alert the National Party have largely fallen on deaf ears.
Now a series of local Rural Action Groups have been formed to fight for local farmers.