Farmers will go broke at these rates

By Tom Marland, Food For Thought

Farmers battle everything from drought, flood, pests, disease, commodity prices and the ever-increasing creep of government over-regulation to feed and clothe us.

It’s difficult to budget for drought, floods and price fluctuations, which is why farmers invest their money wisely to ensure there is enough in the tin in the event of a rainy day, or more accurately a lack of them.

Bundaberg is a proud farming community which grows some of the best produce in the world. But the Bundaberg region is still drought declared and the questions marks over the future of Paradise Dam means that many farmers face great uncertainty.

It came as quite a shock to farmers across the Bundaberg region when they received their rates notices in July this year to find that most of them, without any explanation, had gone up by at least 30 per cent with many over 100 per cent, and some as high as 235 per cent.

In 2019, Bundaberg Regional Council collected $4,960,000 in rates from agricultural land or six per cent of the total budget. In 2020, the figure has doubled to nearly $10,000,000 or 12.41 per cent – all in the one year.

It is well known that unimproved land values are set by the Valuer General. Unimproved land values are a very broad valuation process which are only used to set local government rates, state land tax and state land rentals. You can appeal them, but in my legal experience representing landowners it is often an expensive, complicated, and drawn out process.

However, local councils are ultimately responsible for setting the cents in the dollar which applies to unimproved land values for their region and which determines the amount of rates actually paid.

It makes sense that a local government can apply their own rates to support their required budgets and to support their local economies.

It is acknowledged that Bundaberg Regional Council has reduced the cents in the dollar from $1.54 to $1.40 (to compensate for the loss of the discount), for agricultural land but in comparison, the large majority of regional councils around the state have reduced their cents in the dollar to limit increases to CPI.

Let’s keep in mind, that an increased land value doesn’t put any more money in the farmer’s pocket; unless they decide to sell their farm. An increase in rates for the average farmer will be paid for out of the small funds they need to run their business which puts food on our table.

To put the Bundaberg situation in perspective, the large majority of regional councils around the state have reduced their cents in the dollar to limit increases to CPI.

Councils such as Maranoa Regional Council have a specific cap on rural rates increases.

North Burnett lowered their cents in the dollar directly proportional to the increase in unimproved land values.

Bundaberg farmers aren’t asking for a handout or special treatment – many farmers don’t use town water or sewerage let alone a bin collection. All they are just asking for is to be treated fairly.

In these uncertain times an increase higher than CPI is unreasonable.