Thursday, March 14, 2024


Mackay and Whitsunday Life

Local Election: No Deals Here

By Kevin Borg, Chairman, CANEGROWERS Mackay

CANEGROWERS Mackay has been attacked on social media in recent weeks by a council candidate, who asserted that CANEGROWERS Mackay had collaborated with a Mayoral candidate to agitate on the rates issue.  

CANEGROWERS Mackay had extended an open invitation via social media to any Mayoral and council candidates to meet with the Board. The Board and District Manager have met with all who have requested such a meeting.

CANEGROWERS Mackay has not assisted, funded or endorsed any candidate in the upcoming local election.  

Rates and other rural issues have been a discussion point with all visiting candidates.

As a grassroots organisation, CANEGROWERS Mackay continues to advocate for ALL members in need. We will work with the new council on issues affecting our members, whether that is an issue of individual or collective concern. 

CANEGROWERS is unapologetic that it has spoken up for members who have had increases of up to 300 per cent in valuations, and who have had consequent substantial rate rises - into the thousands.

CANEGROWERS Mackay leadership went to council, meeting with the CEO, Mayor and Deputy Mayor as new valuations came in, in the first half of 2023.  

Council decreased the rate from 0.0278 to 0.0225, although it did not communicate this result to CANEGROWERS. That rate is still comparable to the rate paid by Paget mining service and engineering firms - many of which are major multi-national corporations. 

The CANEGROWERS Mackay leadership went to the media in September, following the release of rates notices, when it became clear that some growers – family businesses - were facing massive rates increases. 

The organisation’s decision to speak out came in response to member requests for advocacy, and predates any council electioneering. 

While it is positive that 60 per cent of growers have had a small decrease in rates, with the decrease in cents-in-the-dollar rate for the Cane farming land category, it remains a fact that growers on properties closer to the city and along the river – in areas like Richmond, Pleystowe, Habana, and valley areas that is being sought by lifestyle block landowners have suffered substantial Land Valuation increases. These areas are also typically quality agricultural land. While Council is not responsible for State Land Valuations, it does have the liberty to structure its rating system as it wishes, and can mitigate the impact of land valuations. 

Council rates and charges are a significant expense for our members and CANEGROWERS will continue to advocate on behalf of our members to keep all costs, including council charges, at reasonable levels. 

At the State level, CANEGROWERS has worked with the Qld Farmers Federation to raise the impacts of rates on farmers. Together we have advocated for the existing State guidelines for equity and fairness in rating practices to become mandatory and we have invested in 5 years of analysis to benchmark the rating practices of relevant councils across the State.  CANEGROWERS also meets regularly with the State Valuer General in an effort to ensure the valuation process is informed by the best possible data and knowledge.   

CANEGROWERS Mackay considers it vital that land under cane is retained and that productivity continues to flourish. This is vital for the viability of the industry into the future. It is a considered responsibility to speak up when there are issues - such as high rates costs – which challenge that.  It matters for our members, it matters for the sugar industry supply chain, and it matters for the regional economy. Sugar is a keystone sector, and its base is the 1200+ cane-growing businesses. 

Locally, over 5000 jobs rely on the sugar industry, and it is worth over $900M in the regional economy. Mackay Regional Council draws some $14.4 M in rates from the cane growing sector. 

It is indeed unfortunate that the banding system for rural properties that councillors sought to introduce in 2018 did not succeed, and succumbed to internal council conflict and disunity. CANEGROWERS Mackay is on the public record supporting the plan to band rural rates (Daily Mercury, 28/6/18) but ultimately it was a matter for the council of the day to determine.

It has also been distasteful to see the name of deceased CANEGROWERS Mackay CEO Kerry Latter derogated in the context of a chapter that is now history, for the sake of a cheap political rant.  There were no deals made by this organisation, there were no “missed” meetings, as suggested by the councillor in question.

We look forward to working with the incoming Mackay Regional Council, and we will maintain the fight for our members interests. 

We encourage members – and the regional community - to vote this local election according to their own conscience, priorities and concerns and how each candidate meets those criteria. 

Photo credit: Kirili Lamb

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