Direct compensation for the thousands of stock lost in the weather catastrophe that struck in early February is the key component of the recovery package north west Queensland mayors have put to Prime Minister, Scott Morrison.
“With compensation, graziers can talk to their bank, they can apply for a restocking loan, and helicopter pilots and road train operators can work again,” Richmond mayor, John Wharton, said.
It was a form of assistance that could be verified by NLIS tags and the average of stock sales over the previous three-year period.
“I’m not sure if there will end up being 300,000 cattle lost; maybe there will be 60,000 by the smaller operators we’re talking about,” Cr Wharton said.
Their proposal would exclude conglomerates, who he said had the means to redeploy staff and still earn an income.
Cr Wharton and mayors representing the regional councils of Flinders, McKinlay, Cloncurry and Winton, the shires that bore the weather’s direct hit, hammered home the crucial need when Mr Morrison flew in to inspect the damage last Friday.
“There’s no precedent for what happened in our areas – the cold rain and heavy wind killed those stock,” Cr Wharton said.
“We’ve requested things that will not only keep the rest of the cattle alive but our communities.
“The Prime Minister has turned up and offered us a future.”
Speaking in Julia Creek on Friday, Mr Morrison said his government was working to rebuild the region’s cattle industry, which would be an area of great opportunity and prosperity in the future.
Cloncurry’s Robert and Jacqueline Curley were among those confronted with a scale of devastation hard to put into words.
Their stud cattle were among the hundreds of thousands of livestock that had either frozen to death or been swept away in floodwaters, weakened after standing in water and mud for days.
Knowing it will take 42 months to grow saleable cattle, Jacqueline said either 100 per cent livestock compensation was needed, or a more scaled approach that would include a 50pc debt write-off for producers in the disaster zone.
It would also involve no interest or capital payments by banks for five years, plus rates and rents paid by the federal government for two years.
Jacqueline also called for disaster payments for the young people who don’t own country, that have used all their savings to buy 100 or more head, that are now all dead.
According to Cr Wharton, all spheres of politics had been willing to listen and make help happen; as the rain overflowed, daily meetings took place with Premier Annastacia Palaczczuk, then once the weather event went from a category C to D disaster, it was the PM they spoke with each day.
“The federal $75,000 disaster funding for graziers is already in people’s accounts – that’s the quickest turnaround ever,” he said. “We’ve asked for similar help for small businesses, $25,000 or maybe more, and we want pay as you go tax to be deferred for two years.”
Each of the five shires that bore the brunt of the low weather system’s ferocity has received $1m for clean-up purposes, that will inject money into the community.
Rail restoration efforts are already seeing Richmond accommodation booked out as workers start on the outside and follow the water down, applying bandaid patches.
While the North West Region of Councils has previously made representations to Canberra for a regional deal for the future, Cr Wharton said their current request wasn’t political in any way.
“(Winton mayor) Gavin Baskett isn’t part of the NWROC – this is about the five shires that got smashed,” he said.
Putting a brake on the many assistance measures being mounted, Cr Wharton cautioned that his people were still dazed from the destruction they’d seen and needed time to assimilate what had happened.
“They need time to recover and deal with all the offers.
“Everyone wants to come in and set up a bay to help in some way, but there’s a fine line in how we do it.
“Local people must be the main beneficiaries, and our resources can’t be over-stretched by having them there.”