IT WAS a night of surprises in Rockhampton on Wednesday at the AgForce moderated, Ag Politics in the Pub forum.
Despite it being advertised that LNP’s Douglas Rodgers, Independent Margaret Strelow, One Nation’s Wade Rothery, and Labor’s Barry O’Rourke would be in attendance, Mr O’Rourke cancelled on the day.
He uploaded a photo to his Facebook page stating he was at a “volunteer briefing” instead.
While not ideal, One Nation’s Wade Rothery did attract plenty of laughs from the crowd as he admitted, with a good nature, his lack of agricultural knowledge.
Mr Rothery said while he had “a lot to learn”, he was determined to increase his knowledge if he was elected on Saturday.
The big topics on the night came as little surprise, with Rookwood Weir and vegetation management taking up bulk of the discussion.
About 20 industry stakeholders and landholders attended the forum, held at The Criterion Hotel.
The quote of the night came from Mr Rodgers, who said:
“Cows kill more people than crocodiles in Australia each year - we do get the win on that one though, we do eat a lot more of them than they eat of us.”
The first topic of discussion was foreign land ownership, and of the three panel members, only Mr Rothery came out speaking against it.
“We don’t want any foreign investors buying agricultural land, we want for us to be the, you know, we supply the food to other countries – we want this to be our main source… we have so much good agricultural land,” he said.
“Like I said – I’m not a farmer, and it’s hard for me to say to yous (sic) who are farmers about agriculture.
“All I can say is that what One Nation want to do is make sure yous (sic) aren’t left behind.”
Mr Rodgers took the microphone next, saying that “every single dollar comes from the ground”.
“Realistically our wealth, where we’ve come to be, has been born about by agricultural growth,” he said.
The questioning continued, with Ken Murphy, Rockhampton, leading the charge.
“My question is to Wade – I was just interested in your foreign investment, ever since Australia has been settled we’ve had foreign investment,” he said.
“If we were to take it out of this equation now there would have to be a major re-shaping of the economy – we’re seeing more and more agricultural land with this overseas investment coming in to assist with development.
“How are you seeing that we’d transition?”
Mr Rothery said ownership was a Federal issue, but One Nation didn’t want to “go back and say no”, they instead wanted “to make sure future sales are going to be so the land stays owned by Australia”.
“At the moment we’re selling so much of our mining, our rail, everything is getting sold to overseas investors,” he said.
“They’re just throwing money and we’re just saying ‘yep, yep’, and eventually it’s going to be that we’re going to be owned by overseas.”
Mr Rodgers disagreed with Mr Rothery’s stance.
He said it was important to keep perspective.
“There was a really important report that came out last year that was done across Australia, and of our agricultural land, 1.3 per cent is owned by foreign interests,” he said.
“And of that, I think it was 34 per cent is owned by America, and another 20 per cent is owned by British interests.”
Mr Rodgers said the subject of banning foreign ownership did not take into account the benefits – including infrastructure built on Australian soil.
“To quote a very smart man I heard when I was a very small boy, he said that ‘it doesn’t matter if they buy it, they can’t pack it up and take it home in their suitcase’,” he said.
“If anything we need more foreign investment.”
Ms Strelow agreed with the LNP’s foreign investment stance, however added that it was important to have guidelines and controls.
At the end of the discussion, Mr Rothery said he was definitely taking on board the varying opinions.
“Like I said – agriculture isn’t my forte,” he said.
“I’m just going on policies that One Nation have. Obviously with what you’re saying and listening to what Douglas and Margaret are saying – they bring up some good points.
“I haven’t really covered the whole – I’m going a bit out of my depth here.
“I’m taking everything in, trust me.”
It was local agronomist Ross Newman who did the inevitable and raised Rookwood Weir at the session, with a question aimed at Mr Rodgers, who earlier in the night had said there would be an estimated economic return of $1 billion return from the project.
Mr Newman said after some quick sums, he had reached the conclusion that at that return, it would cost $8500 per megalitre for the water.
Of the proposed 76,000mL from the project, 30,000 would be for the Gladstone region.
There would be 46,000mL of high priority water every year, and also medium priority and harvest water.
Mr Newman said he was working off the figure of 117,000mL to reach his figure.
He also raised issues with the storage of harvest water.
It wasn’t until later in the night with a question from Queensland Country Life that the candidates spoke about how they would get Rookwood Weir across the line if elected.
When questioned on what they would do to stop the political football and get the project over the line – each had a concise answer.
Douglas Rodgers: Get elected, first 100 days, money spent, paperwork done, built in two years.
Margaret Strelow: If I’m the balance of power, I’ll make them do it in 100 days.
Wade Rothery: We’re fully supportive of the Rookwood Weir. It will be done ASAP.
It was moderator and AgForce general president Grant Maudsley who introduced the topic of vegetation management.
While Labor and the LNP’s positions have been extensively covered, it was interesting to hear Mr Rothery and Ms Strelow’s responses to the issue.
Mr Rothery was first to tackle the question.
“I obviously need to do a lot of research. I’m thrown in the deep end here with agriculture, but one thing I can promise is once I’m told something and I don’t know much about it, I will do my best to research it,” he said.
“That’s all I can promise really, a lot of these questions are out of my depth and I’m not just going to sit here and make up lies.”
AgForce’s Sharon Purcell explained the vegetation debate to Mr Rothery.
“The problem is we are not allowed to make decisions on how we manage the trees or grass or balance on our properties,” she said.
“Broadly speaking, do you think that’s a great idea or there should be some recognition of skills.”
Mr Rothery went on to say he has sat down with One Nation’s Chief of Staff, Pauline Hanson, and Steve Dickson, who have run through the issues with him.
“What I’m saying is I need to do a lot more research, but I know it’s not right and I’ve been told it’s not right – I know the answer, I know it’s not right – but I’m not going to sit here and just make up some story on how we’re going to change it when I don’t actually know,” he said.
Ms Strelow said after meeting with Ms Purcell, she had a better understanding of the research.
“I think there are people sitting in offices in Brisbane who have a degree… but that doesn’t make up for really being here and on the ground, or out on the property,” she said.
“We actually need to grow stuff – at the end of the day we’re a part of the environment and the ecosystem, and we need to eat.
“Somewhere in there Australia has to be able to still produce and to grow.”
Ms Strelow has previously stated she supports self-regulated clearing, but not broadscale clearing.