FARM FIGHT: Canegrowers Isis's Susan Bengtson, Bundaberg Canegrowers' Dean Cayley, Agforce's Tom Marland and farmer Joe Lyons launch a petition over rates rises at Canegrowers' Bundaberg office. Photo: Crystal Jones.
FARM FIGHT: Canegrowers Isis's Susan Bengtson, Bundaberg Canegrowers' Dean Cayley, Agforce's Tom Marland and farmer Joe Lyons launch a petition over rates rises at Canegrowers' Bundaberg office. Photo: Crystal Jones.

TENSIONS RISE: Farmers launch petition over rates increase

THE region's growers have intensified their push against a rise in rates on agricultural land by today launching a petition to call on Bundaberg Regional Council to reverse the increase handed down in this year's budget.

Farmers have been vocal in their criticism for weeks saying some properties have had rates jump by 235 per cent and accusing Bundaberg Regional Council of treating growers "like rubbish".

Council meanwhile has maintained its stance on the issue.

The petition demands that the council agree to not increase any rates in the region by any more than the Consumer Price Index, a rule farmers claim most other local governments have adhered to.

Agforce's Tom Marland spoke from the Canegrowers office in Bundaberg today, saying that such a sharp increase in a single rates period was "unsustainable".

"Ultimately, land valuations are determined by the State Government, but the council are

responsible for setting the cents in the dollar and in this instance they have applied a cents in the dollar which has led to unreasonable increases in rates right throughout the region," Mr Marland said.

"It's important to remember that many farmers in the Bundaberg region are dealing with Paradise Dam and water security issues, we're dealing with drought, we're dealing with Covid restrictions, with unemployment problems and to have a rate rise of 235 per cent at this time is just unacceptable."

Mr Marland said he believed nearly every other local government had capped their rate increase to CPI.

"It's very unfortunate because Bundaberg Regional Council's always been very supportive of the farming community and we're completely lost how the council can justify such a ridiculous, large increase in rates and sit there and try to justify it so we've got a situation where all the agricultural farming groups in the region - we've got Agforce, we've got Bundaberg Canegrowers, Isis Canegrowers and Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers - we've joined forces to go to council and try to have some common sense dialogue with them about how me might be able to have this situation."

Mr Marland said farming families were having to make tough decisions whether they could even continue to farm.

A spokesman for Bundaberg Regional Council said analysis showed farm rates have only increased by CPI over the past five years and hit back at claims the council had given nothing back to farmers through their rates.

"Farmers benefit from council expenditure on roads and bridges, biosecurity, land management, animal control, etc and many of their families use services in towns such as pools and libraries," he said.

He said water and sewerage charges only apply to people who are connected to council services.

Council finance portfolio holder Steve Cooper has previously said the rate in the dollar has gone down across all categories (9 per cent for agriculture).

"The rate in the dollar for the agricultural category is the lowest since the 2013/14 budget," he said.

"Council is heading for a $5.2 million dollar deficit and we reduced our capital expenditure by more than $20 million. The only thing that's gone up is state valuations.

"Some people made objections to their state valuations and had them reduced."

Cr Cooper said it would be unfair to other ratepayers to reduce the rate in the dollar even further for farmers alone.

"It's not fair that pensioners, battlers, workers and struggling small businesses should subsidise

farmers," he said.

"Canegrowers say Bundaberg should have adopted the equalisation policy of Mackay but this

overlooks the fact that Mackay farmers already pay higher rates than Bundaberg.

"A 150ha farm at Finchhatten (Mackay) with a valuation of $340,000 pays $9078 in gross general rates per annum.

"A 149ha farm at South Kolan valued at $520,000 pays a gross general rate of $7320."

Cr Cooper said the Bundaberg region had $80 in levies ($50 community and environment, and $30 Rural Fire).

Mackay, however, has $253 in additional charges. He said a similar sized farm in Mackay would attract fees of $9331 while in the Bundaberg region it would attract only $7400.

But farmers say their battle will go on until they reach the outcome they believe is best for the region.

"Council may wonder how long this campaign will go on," Peter McLennan of Canegrowers Isis said.

"The answer is - until we win. This community cannot afford to lose its farming industry and farmers cannot afford to pay a rates rise of up to 235 per cent. We ask everyone to sign the petition."

The petition can be signed at Stockland until September 26, and Hinkler Central from September 28 till October 3, or online at GoPetition.com, titled 'Don't Treat Our Farmers Like Rubbish'.



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