Including committed cattle producers in government-subsidised cluster fencing schemes is all about being good neighbours, according to Boulia mayor Rick Britton.
He was responding to claims by fellow RAPAD board member and Diamantina mayor, Geoff Morton that people with cattle as their sole enterprise were benefiting from a program aimed at bringing about a sheep-led economic recovery in the central west.
Cr Morton described some landholders taking part in cluster fencing schemes as “morally bankrupt” for signing up with no intention of stocking their country with sheep.
“These people are wasting scarce government funds that are needed to achieve the objectives of returning economic prosperity to western Queensland,” he said. “This scheme is...to stimulate the economy, and that won’t happen until sheep return in numbers similar to what they were.”
Cr Britton is the chair of the Remote Area Planning and Development Board’s technical committee, the body responsible for assessing the numerous applications received for funding under rounds one and two of the Queensland Feral Pest initiative.
Although a RAPAD director, the Boulia shire is not a beneficiary of the funds being administered.
He said that contrary to Cr Morton’s claims, cattle producers were allowed to be part of a cluster if it was felt it was more economic to include them than fence them out.
“All these things were thrown on the table when we were deliberating,” he said. “I don’t think people were rorting in the sense of just wanting to get help to put a new boundary fence up, I think it’s more of a good neighbour thing.”
He explained that in some cases it was going to cost a cluster group a lot more money to put a fence around three sides of a neighbour running cattle than it would to fence one of its boundaries, and enclose it in the cluster.
“And if that person wants to sell their place one day, doing this allows the neighbour in sheep the option of purchasing the property because it’s fenced,” he said.
To reinforce the committee’s position, Cr Britton said some applications didn’t get up because neighbouring cattle businesses didn’t want to be involved, and the application didn’t make economic sense without them.
“We were looking into the future too, to create potential clusters out of existing ones – there was a lot of planning on maps,” he said.
Speaking from his property at Boulia, home to plenty of reminders of a once-thriving wool industry, Cr Britton said he hoped everyone east of Winton went back into running sheep.
“It might see the price of cattle stabilise a bit,” he said. “But seriously, sheep put my family where we are today.”
He added that he respected Cr Morton’s opinion but said he had been in local government long enough not to listen to all the rumours he heard.
“There are a lot more positives than negatives in this cluster fencing plan, and I have to give the government credit for backing it the way they have,” he said.