Our Year in Review – December

What made headlines in December

Farm Online News
David Littleproud with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the boys from the Betoota Advocate.

David Littleproud with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the boys from the Betoota Advocate.

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A surprise cabinet reshuffle was among the biggest stories to break in December.

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Littleproud is our new ag minister 

News that the 41-year-old Member for Maranoa was the new Federal Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources took many by surprise, including a few in his own party. 

David Littleproud, a first-term backbencher, said he had big shoes to fill in taking over the ministry from his leader and deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce.

The shock move was heavily criticised by many in Canberra, including supporters of the former Minister for Infrastructure and Victorian MP Darren Chester, who was dumped in the reshuffle, but was seen as a win for Queensland. 

“I never had any expectations of this, but I’m looking forward to building on what Barnaby has already done in the portfolio,” he said. 

“I didn’t seek this. I’ve simply focused on my job of representing the people of Maranoa.”

I didn’t seek this. I’ve simply focused on my job of representing the people of Maranoa. - David Littleproud

Mr Littleproud told Queensland Country Life that the Murray Darling Basin review would be among his top priorities. 

He said it was important to get the Northern Basin review agreed upon for the future of the communities that were relying on water from the Murray-Darling Basin.

“It has bipartisan support from all states and I’ll be working to ensure the umpire’s decision is respected in this,” he said.

While dam construction is overseen by Mr Joyce as the new Infrastructure Minister, he said the Member for Capricornia, Michelle Landry had already rung to put the case for the Rookwood Weir.

Former Newman government minister John McVeigh was also promoted as part of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's pre-Christmas reshuffle.

Mr McVeigh, the former agricultural minister turned federal member for Groom, will be the Minister for Regional Development.

Mr McVeigh resigned from the Queensland Parliament in April 2016 following his LNP preselection for the seat of Groom, triggering a by-election in his seat of Toowoomba South.

The federal seat became vacant when Ian Macfarlane quit federal politics earlier that year.

Mr McVeigh went on to win the federal seat of Groom, which was once held by his father, Tom, in the 1980s.

"I recognise there is a lot of work ahead of me," he said.

Mr McViegh said his role as a minister for the Newman government not only covered the regional industries of agriculture, fisheries and forestry but he also sat on some COAG committee with other states, territory and federal ministers, including the Northern Australian Ministerial Forum.

"So I have had a lot of experience working with other states, particularly across the Northern Territory and Western Australia in collaboration with Queensland so [I have] a good background in reaching out beyond the state boundaries in that role," he said.

"In the last six months or so I've chaired the parliamentary selection committee for regional development and decentralisation and through that role have been to every state and territory in the country in recent months so have had a little bit of a head start there as well."

Grassdale expansion 

Mort & Co’s Grassdale feedlot near Cecil Plains could become one of the largest beef feedlots in the nation if plans to increase capacity to 70,000 head eventuate. The Toowoomba Regional Council approved Mort & Co’s expansion proposal at the start of December 2017. ​One family that live near the proposed feedlot are considering an appeal. 

Jonssons fight ongoing tree clearing claims 

In December, another chapter opened in the ongoing saga engulfing a Far North Queensland family when they were fined by the State Government for illegal tree clearing activity. Warren and Gail Jonsson have vowed to fight the charges brought by the State Government and say any clearing activity on their property, Wombinoo Station, has been undertaken with full approvals. It is understood the charges relate to clearing outside the approved area.  

Queensland Country Life has been reporting on the complicated case of the Jonsson family since ABC TV ran a news story in November, incorrectly alleging the family were under a federal investigation for tree clearing. The Federal Government has since confirmed the family are not the subject of any investigation. AgForce offered their support to the family, calling on the State Government to stop the “grubby political tactics” and instead provide producers with workable Vegetation Management mapping.

Fungus could cause dieback

Earlier this month we learned that research findings into pasture dieback indicate it may be caused by a fungus, which if proven correct, doesn’t have a simple cure and could see producers forced to find management techniques to overcome the problem. 

A team of five external researchers with backgrounds in agronomy, plant pathology and microbiology, have been working with MLA to identify the cause of the problem which has impacted up to 90 per cent of some producer’s pastures. 

The team have been taking field samples, replicating their growing environment in a lab and testing a number of pathogens to identify the one responsible. 

Over the past two-and-a-half years, areas from Cairns down to Beaudesert have been affected with both introduced and native grasses at risk. 

Defence seeks willing sellers

Eleven months after backing down from forcibly acquiring land, the Department of Defence announced it was seeking to develop a new site in the wider Townsville region as part of the Australia-Singapore Military Training Initiative, rather than expanding the existing Townsville Field Training Area.

It also confirmed that following consultation with the local community, businesses, representative groups and landholders, the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in central Queensland would be expanded, but not at the expense of unwilling landholders.

The February 7 announcement by Defence Minister, Marise Payne, of only purchasing from willing sellers, signalled the end of an intense two-month campaign by landholders in the Charters Towers and Marlborough regions.

Based on initial assessments, a training area near Greenvale was pinpointed as best meeting the Australian Defence Force’s and Singapore Armed Forces’ requirements, both now and into the future.

“Defence will conduct due diligence and further engagement with willing sellers near Greenvale.

“Sites near Ravenswood and Pentland will be considered should Greenvale prove not to be feasible.”

AgForce’s central Queensland manager, Sharon Purcell said the announcement had been expected for a while.

“From a central Queensland point of view, this now allows people who want to sell to start negotiations.

“Some have been waiting quite a while so this is a relief for them.

“Others don’t want to sell and won’t be affected, which is the way it should be.”

Ms Purcell didn’t wish to estimate how many landholders might be considering negotiations with the Defence Department, saying that some had changed their mind since initial discussions, and others wanted to hear what money was being offered before committing.

“The ball is in the landholders’ court now,” she said.

According to a statement, the department was also beginning detailed construction design work for facilities and infrastructure. It said construction would occur at both locations in parallel from 2019.

The story Our Year in Review – December first appeared on Queensland Country Life.

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