It is with great pleasure that I rise to speak on the Farm Household Support Bill 2014 and Farm Household Support (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2014 this evening in the chamber. Before I speak directly to the bill, it would be remiss of me not to take charge of some of the comments that came from the other side of the House during this debate.
Members opposite took the opportunity to burnish their credentials, claiming that pricing carbon was a good thing for our farming sector. I was speaking with an irrigator only last Saturday, and when he opened his power bill he was physically sick as he looked at the escalating cost of him doing business in the agriculture sector. Can you imagine what stress that has on a family's mindset? Can you imagine what pressure it puts on the family budget? I challenge anyone in this place to think of the last time they opened a bill and their immediate response was to be violently ill. To come to this place and claim that pricing carbon is a wonderful aspiration for the agriculture sector is fundamentally flawed. It is playing a crippling role.
We heard comments from the crossbench that it was ridiculous that Australia could be the food bowl for Asia. Members from the crossbench, who have spent more than 27 years in parliament, whether it be in state parliament or in this place, are part of the problem. It is those who sit on the crossbench who decide. Go back and look at their years of experience. When they came to the parliament, state or federal, farm input costs were up to six times lower. When those members of the crossbench came in here and said there was not a future in agriculture and scoffed at the coalition when we said that there was, the average cattle property in his electorate would have had 10 full-time workers on it. Today in his electorate, the average workforce on a property would be mum, dad and the odd contractor that would come in on an annual basis.
Input costs are crippling our sector, whether it be through petroleum costs, labour costs or seed costs. We say that we are a smart nation, but a John Deere harvester in America is $400,000. We were at parity with the US dollar not too long ago, and the exact same machine here was $800,000. Why? It is the crossbenchers who have overseen that and then dared to come in and criticise the coalition when we came in and put up packages to assist this sector.
I am proud of the sector in my electorate. We have the Lockyer Valley with Gatton, Laidley and Forest Hill. In addition we have Beaudesert, the Fassifern Valley with Boonah, Harrisville and Peak Crossing, and, to the south-east, Canungra and Beechmont. Each one of those communities relies heavily on the success of the agriculture sector, whether it be beef, dairy or horticulture. When one of my farmers is doing well, they are in town buying new stock or product.
A typical farming business in my electorate is a family business by the name of Dovers and Son. They are third generation and openly saying it is as tough as they have ever seen. And it is tough. We were affected by the live cattle export trade debacle that we saw introduced by the other side of the House and supported by the Greens; but, as a result, when those northern cattle no longer had an export market, they were forced into our southern markets, so our traditional prices that we would have got took a beating.
Our dairy industry is on its knees at the hands of the duopolies of the processors that they sell their milk to. When you go to the processors and put them under the pump, they will make it absolutely clear that the pressure is being screwed on them on the back of dollar-milk processing. In Queensland I now have less than 500 dairy farmers when 10 years ago there were 2,500. It is a bleak future. I have stood in this place and spoken about the dairy industry many times before, saying that I cannot fix this industry with a single piece of legislation for a mandatory code of conduct. There needs to be in the dairy sector in my electorate a muscling up on the processors and demanding a better price for the product at the farm gate. The retailers understand the value of the price of milk; they strategically place it at the back of the store so that you have to walk past all their other product lines to go and get it. They understand the value of milk. They use it as a cost leader to get people in the door so they can take advantage of the market.
I have the seventh-most-fertile valley in the world in the Lockyer Valley, which is situated right next door to the Fassifern Valley. The Lockyer Valley produce is sent to vegetable markets in all major cities and contributes around $250 million worth of product each year just from that area. Next-door, still within my electorate, the Scenic Rim is dominated by agriculture, contributing about $196 million and $13.6 million of the gross regional product of the Scenic Rim. Agriculture is also the largest employer within the Scenic Rim, employing a total of about 1,400 people, or 13.7 per cent of the region's workforce.
The thing that unites my agricultural sector, whether it be dairy, beef or horticulture, is rising debt. A quick synopsis: roughly, if you bought a place in the electorate about 10 years ago you would have paid around $5 million for it. Your debt ratio would have always been skewed at around 50 per cent. Over the last 10 years, the value of your property would have gone from $5 million to $10,000,000. So as a result, your debt ratio at 50 per cent went from $2½ million to $5 million as the price escalated. You have a debt of $5 million on a valuation of $10 million.
In recent years, on the back of the drought and the poor policy decisions by the previous government, the value of land has come back. We have properties now that were worth $10 million but, if pushed for a fire sale, today they would be worth around $6 million—but they are still carrying a $5 million debt. So they are way outside their 50 per cent loan ratio and that is why we as a government are here today introducing the Farm Household Support Bill 2014. We are doing our share in lifting up and trying to help this sector back to prosperity.
There is a responsibility for our banks, who rode the wave of prosperity, who saw the opportunity to lend to the market, who saw the opportunity with rising valuations and who saw that it was a safe bet with security if things went sour, that their money would be secure. So I say that there is a role for our major banks in being part of the solution. There is a future in the agricultural sector in Australia; there is a future in the dairy industry, there is a future in the beef industry and there is a future in the horticulture industry. If you listen to the crossbenchers they will tell you that there is not. Evidence to support my case, that there is a future in this sector, is that when a place worth over $200 million wants to get sold there is a kilometre-long line of international buyers standing and waiting to come to Australia to invest into this sector because they see the future benefit. Why do they see the future benefit and why do they see Australia as a safe bet to invest in? Because we are the smartest in the world. We are the most efficient farmers in the world. We have the most initiative, and we are the most intuitive farmers in the world. We will continue to be because we have to be.
I have a local family in the dairy industry, the Dennis family. They said, 'No more, I am not accepting the processors price.' They pulled a couple of million dollars and did a partnership deal with some friends, some family and some banks. They set up their own bottling plant and they are now distributing their milk, Scenic Rim 4Real Milk brand, to over 200 outlets in the south-east corner. That is the initiative. That is the intuition that inspires us as a nation—that singular type of operator.
As a government, the producers are not looking to us for a handout. They just want us to get out of their way. These are our people; the agriculture sector are our people. Just as the unions are linked at the hip to the Australian Labor Party, the agriculture sector are our people. When we cut ourselves they bleed. The agricultural sector believes in the same political ideologies of freedom, of free market, the values of family and the values of Christianity. These people are the true quintessentials who have made Australia what it is. They need to be looked after—they are our future.
At lunch on Saturday, again, I was disappointed when I heard a grown man tell me that he is spending nearly $20,000 a week on feed to keep his stock alive at his property west of Longreach. He has three kids coming through and I said, 'Do you want the kids to take over the place?' He said, 'Not a chance. This is killing me. There is no way I want my kids to do that.' And he said, 'Do you know what? However tough it is, I will get out of this. I will be better for it.' Then he said, 'I know it is not the right thing. I do not want to push my kids into it. But I know that they will live here. My parents lived here. I lived here. My kids will live on this place.'
There is a sense of pride in the bush. There is a sense of achievement. As a coalition government we need to lock arms with this sector and ride with them for the next 10 years, in conjunction with the banks; by writing good policy and by making sure that we do everything in our power to reduce these horrific input costs. Every day that we have breath in ourselves, we should remember that there are people out there at the moment opening their energy bills and who are being physically sick—ill—because they have no idea how they are going to meet those costs. I thank you for your indulgence, and I commend the bill.