Just about every concern expressed since a renewal of Queensland’s stock route network was first mooted early in the new millennium – a lack of revenue to maintain infrastructure, the bogey man of fencing, and overgrazing – was raised for scrutiny when the Stock Route Network Management Bill parliamentary committee took public hearings in Longreach last week.
As well as hearing from three councils, Desert Channels Queensland, one drover and a private grazier, another 30 observers packed the dining room at the Jumbuck Motel, indicating the intense interest in the outcome.
Described by the Palaszczuk government as “modernising and simplifying the legislative framework used to govern the management of the stock route network”, it says the aim of the Bill is to simplify administration under one piece of legislation.
It proposes to give local government the flexibility to charge and set cost recovery fees for processing applications and long term grazing, and to issue permits and set fees for short and long-term grazing on related roads and reserves.
Local government representatives from McKinlay, Longreach and Flinders appearing before the committee all said they doubted they would receive enough money to manage the routes the way the proposed legislation outlined.
McKinlay environmental services director Andrew Boardman went as far as to say that because of very low usage in the last five years, with only two travelling stock permits issued, land currently in use for routes should be sold to adjoining landholders.
The shire has 61 permits to occupy and Mr Boardman said that income from short and long term grazing was a greater priority for it than travelling stock.
“The priorities are wrong in our shire – travelling stock shouldn’t be given a high priority,” he said.
Later in questioning he said primary routes, about 8 per cent of the total network, should probably be kept, but “secondary routes are an asset needing maintenance, and no-one has the money to do that”.
This was in stark contrast to Drovers Association representative Bill Little, who said the preference clearly was for travelling stock.
He put the lack of mobs on routes in the far west down to overgrazing by graziers using the pasture “for free”.
“It’s like saying, drive to Brisbane but we’ll take away all the petrol stations along the way.
“You can’t blame the landholder, he might not have seen a drover and doesn’t realise he has public land.”
He wanted to see grazing permits removed from the primary route, and he believed a state government control panel should administer permit reviews to remove any perceived bias.
This was similar to the proposal put forward by the Longreach Regional Council, which held up the NSW model of a Rural Lands Protection Board as a way of taking the emotion out of the equation.
“If council through this legislation has to go out and negotiate with long-term landholders and put in place a grazing agreement, it is going to pit landholder against council; it is going to give council a very bad reputation and it is going to make it really hard for us to work with our constituents,” corporate services director Paul Hocking said.
He proposed “regional collaboration” to set a grazing authority fee, and said it should be based on unimproved capital value, similar to rural rates.
Mr Little had no time for the NSW system, saying the $2.50/head for a grazing permit in the Moree Plains area was extremely dear.
“I am sure Queenslanders will not wear that rate. A walking permit was $1.10/head a week. No livestock producer can afford that.”
He was in favour of fencing, saying that if a landholder refused to take out a permit or to fence his land, it should be put up for tender for others.
“That system would encourage people to take a permit on the land they have been getting for nothing,” he said.
Flinders councillor Bill Bode agreed, saying the state government had “for too many years abrogated its responsibilities and not forced people to fence when the times were good”.
“It is very hard to force people to fence now when you are talking about between $3000 and $5000 a kilometre just to put a cattle fence up, let alone a sheep fence,” he said.
He disagreed with argument put up from the hearing at Boulia that landowners were paying rent on all the land, as well as rates, saying that as far as he knew, most in the Flinders shire weren’t paying rates on stock routes, unless they had a PTO.
He said permit fees should be increased in line with commercial rates, and he saw the necessity for a reporting agency rather than pushing councils into a regulatory atmosphere that jeopardised good relations with landholders.
Barcaldine grazier Peter Doneley told the hearing water improvements had a very high cost when their only use was once every five years by people walking for grass.
He agreed a state-managed network was the best model.
“There are a lot of people on local government today who would not know the difference between a sheep and a goat. You need to have practical experience.”
Committee chairman Jim Pearce said there had been good feedback, which would be used to “come up with the best balance” to recommend to the responsible minister.
Committee member and Member for Warrego Ann Leahy said Boulia mayor Rick Britton summed up the situation in a nutshell when he said the state government never gives away something that is making money.
- 50 per cent of the fees local government collects under current regime are remitted to the state.
- Local governments are day-to-day managers of the networks, but are limited in the fees they can charge, and only recover a small proportion of their administration costs.
- Under the proposal, the state will continue to regulate travelling stock fees, in recognition of the state interest. Local government will retain all revenue generated.
- No increase in fees for travelling stock is currently proposed.
- Grazing approval fees for emergency, short-term and long-term grazing on the network will be set by the local government at or above a minimum fee set by the state.
- Fees for stock travel, grazing and pasture harvesting on roads and reserves that are not part of the network will be set by local governments.
- Local governments will be able to charge cost-recovery fees for processing applications on or off the network.
- For other fees, local governments will set them. They will retain 100 per cent of the revenue generated from all approvals they issue. They will also retain all revenue from water facility agreements.