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DAMNING REPORT ON FARMLAND RATES HIKE OFFERS ‘SIMPLE FIX’

A new report into Bundaberg Regional Council’s unprecedented rates rises of up to 235% on the region’s farmland has delivered damning findings against the council and recommended a “simple fix” to reverse the damage.

Amid a continuing groundswell of public anger over the rates rises delivered in the June 2020 council budget, Queensland Economic Advocacy Solutions (QEAS) has been researching the impacts of the massive financial blow to the farming and general community.

The QEAS report says: “This report indicates the dangerous situation when land values are reassessed upwards and councils take no action in their rating practices - instead capitalising on revenue windfalls.”

“The  simplest fix for Bundaberg Regional Council is to adjust the agricultural category rate for 2021-22 to ensure overall bill or revenue neutrality compared to the 2019-20 financial year. 

“There is also an opportunity to improve the way rating practices occur for agricultural farms a with a view to ensuring no adverse or unintended consequences when a land value reassessment occurs and the impact this may have on the final rate bill for each farm.”

With a report covering all agricultural sectors now under way, the initial report commissioned by Queensland Cane Growers Organisation shows the financial impact of the massive farmland rates increases on the whole Bundaberg community.

“The fortunes of agricultural producers and the Bundaberg community are crucially intertwined and that is why we need farmer-friendly council rates,” the QEAS report says.

“Farming has a significant value-chain both upstream and downstream including sugar mills, transport operators; ports; planting and harvesting contractors; fuel distributors; fertiliser and chemical retailers; farm machinery retailers; irrigation equipment suppliers; and accountants and insurance brokers. 

“Through the aggregation of all of these individual businesses in the value chain, collectively it makes cane-growing an essential industry in Bundaberg, supporting approximately $436 million in economic activity, over 1,800 jobs and over 1,700 businesses.

“To put these numbers into perspective, one in four Bundaberg businesses and one in 15 Bundaberg jobs is involved in the sugarcane value chain alone.  For every $100 dollars circulating in Bundaberg’s $4.1 billion economy, sugarcane accounts for $10.63 of that.”

The unprecedented council rates rises in June 2020 saw 200-plus Bundaberg farmers have their rates more than doubled, while 64 got a 90% increase, 125 an 80% increase, 167 a 70% increase, 252 a 60% increase and 318 a 50% increase. One farming operation saw a rates rise of 235%. The increases will continue to compound with each council rates round, unless the 2020 rises are reversed.

Farmer groups Agforce, Bundaberg Fruit & Vegetable Growers, Canegrowers Isis and Bundaberg Canegrowers formed a consortium to fight the rates rises, and have received widespread support from the community and both sides of politics, with Labor Member for Bundaberg Tom Smith and LNP Member for Burnett Stephen Bennett publicly standing behind them.

The consortium is now asking QEAS to expand the scope of the investigation to include all producer sectors in the region.

The QEAS report says: “The CANEGROWERS report assesses the competitiveness of 13 Queensland councils with cane farms based on the actual agriculture rate, how that rate has increased over time, the reliance on agricultural rates and how different councils respond when there has been a significant increase in the assessed value of land including limitation of rate increase policies, early payment discounts and concessions or hardship policies.”

Key findings of the report specific to Bundaberg include:

  • Bundaberg Regional Council has a revenue and rates policy but there is little publicly available information explaining the amount of the differential rate applying to agriculture;
  • The Bundaberg differential rate for agriculture is 1.4077 and compares to median cane farm rate of 13 councils of 1.185 cents in the dollar; and
  • Bundaberg’s agricultural rate is approximately 37 per cent above the average residential rate indicating more reliance on agriculture to support council revenue.”

The QEAS report says: “In light of the enormous importance of land values and the potential ‘shock’ that land valuations can have on the final rate bill paid for by the cane farm, the Local Government Regulations 2012 allow for councils to provide a limitation of rate increase, an early payment discount and a concession and hardship policy.

“Unfortunately the Bundaberg Regional Council in 2020-21 financial year chose not to apply any of these initiatives to temper the overall rate increase unlike Councils elsewhere in Queensland.

“The level of frustration is high as local governments can legally determine minimum and differential rating categories without constraint or a requirement to provide reasoning, and there is no real avenue for appeal for entities experiencing significant rate rises.”

Tom Marland of Agforce, speaking for the Farmer Consortium, welcomed the report.

“This verifies everything we have said from the start, and more. Namely that Mayor Jack Dempsey and his Councillors did have, and still have, a choice around these rates rises on farmland. They didn’t have to apply them, and they can choose to reverse them.

“The Farmer Consortium will expand this report to cover all producer sectors in our region so that everyone in our community can see the scope of the damage being inflicted by our own Mayor and Councillors.”

The QEAS report also recommends: “There needs to be greater coordination between the Council and the Queensland Valuer-General and the alignment of timeframes for ample feed into council budget processes to ensure councils are aware of and are able to respond to ensure bill neutrality from land revaluation processes.”

Bundaberg Canegrowers Director Dean Cayley, also speaking for the Farmer Consortium, said: “Mayor Jack Dempsey was more than aware of the implications of the land valuations handed down by the Valuer-General, and made a pre-election promise to farmers just months before the 2020 council budget was released. Jack Dempsey promised that he would work to keep any increase in rates to Consumer Price Index levels. Jack Dempsey broke that promise in full knowledge of the damage this rates hike on farmland of up to 235% would wreak on farmers and the communities and jobs they support. Shame on him.”



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Insurance

CANEGROWERS Insurance Scheme  - owned by growers, working for growers, was commenced in 2012 to look after our members’ insurance needs. Wide Bay Authorised Representative Ray Goodwin has extensive experience in looking after the insurance needs of the rural sector and has assisted many of our members to ensure that their insurance cover is tailored to their requirements. Ray provides a personalised on-farm service to growers, primarily servicing CGU’s Canepol insurance policies. He also has access to a broad range of other insurance products and alternative underwriters so that appropriate insurance cover can be obtained for all aspects of members’ businesses at the best price.

To contact Ray to discuss your insurance needs call 4151 2555 or on mobile on 0418 891 783.

Bundaberg CANEGROWERS Ltd

Our Mission is to provide representation, leadership and services and promote unity in the interest of growers.

Our Goals are to provide an effective and efficient service through a focus on growers' key concerns within a changing environment. To maximise grower and industry proceeds by marketing current and future sugar production through a structure that is transparent and accountable to the industry. To ensure that industry growth is managed and market driven within a sustainable sugar industry. To ensure environmentally and financially sustainable production through managing and coordinating inputs and resources.

Our Vision is to ensure a secure and profitable future for Bundaberg cane growers.