The North Queensland Livestock Industry Recovery Agency (the Agency) was established by the Australian Government as a commitment to stand by North Queenslanders, and to honour the strength of their spirit, especially in times of extreme hardship.
As the North and Far North Queensland Monsoon Trough took hold from 25 January to 14 February 2019, flooding rains, low temperatures, constant winds and a wall of water more than 700km long devastated the North and North West regions of Queensland. The devastation extended from Burke Shire in the west, Winton in the south and as far east as Townsville on the coast of the Coral Sea.
he region suffered catastrophic and unprecedented losses, totalling an estimated $5.68 billion in social and economic costs. This included several hundred thousand livestock lost, and damage to critical infrastructure such as roads and fences (some 6,420km of state roads, 15,000km of on farm roads and 10,000km of fencing). The flow on effects to local businesses, communities, economies and the environment were, and remain, significant.
In response, on 1 March 2019 Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the creation of the Agency and appointed me as its Chairman and CEO. The Agency was charged with coordinating the immediate response to the floods making sure farmers, their families, small businesses and communities were receiving the support they needed to respond to this devastating event, and begin the long and steady road to recovery.
The Agency’s guiding principle is, and will remain:
“locally led, locally understood and locally implemented”
I’m pleased to say that we hit the ground running. Within a fortnight of the announcement, Agency staff and I were on the road visiting Cloncurry, McKinlay and Julia Creek. We spoke to primary producers, community organisations, industry bodies and Queensland and local government representatives to make sure we were reaching the affected people in the shortest possible time.
From the day the Agency was created to 30 June 2019, Agency staff had travelled over 10,000km, spending approximately one third of the time on the ground promoting a range of Commonwealth grant and loan programs and visiting properties in the most affected regions to hear firsthand what impacted individuals and communities needed.
We didn’t just listen, we also acted, providing access to over $318 million in Australian Government grants and funding, an important ‘hand up’ to individuals, primary producers, small businesses and non‑profit organisations across North Queensland.
Despite its name, the Agency’s remit extends beyond livestock to the full impact of the flood event, encompassing all primary production, small businesses and community considerations ranging from mental health to the environment, education and infrastructure, with respect to immediate needs and longer term recovery and strengthened resilience.
To support its complex and broad agenda the Agency is supported by an Advisory Board, whose members have extensive on the ground and industry experience, as well as experience in government and non‑government organisations.
During the reporting period the Board met several times, including in the affected regions of Townsville, Winton, Mossman and Cloncurry. Within a week of being re-elected, the Prime Minister met with the Board in Cloncurry, where he acknowledged its valuable contribution in providing advice to Government on how existing and new policies and programs could best support the recovery and reconstruction of the region.
Within three months of its establishment, the Agency and the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture and Water Resources led the implementation of a $300 million grants program.
The Restocking, Replanting and On-farm Infrastructure grants of up to $400,000 (dollar for dollar) to assist primary producers who have suffered loss of livestock or damage to crops and infrastructure.
Stories of local producers like Emma and Andrew Forster in Winton, and Michael Bulley in Townsville, embody the human face of the region’s determination to pick themselves up and get back to business supporting themselves and their local communities. They are proof of how the Agency has assisted people and communities: by offering the right assistance at the right time.
Emma and Andrew lost 90 per cent of their cattle on one of their properties, and their on-farm road system was wiped out. Using the Government’s $75,000 grant for initial recovery and $400,000 grant for restocking, replanting and on‑farm infrastructure they are getting back to business:
‘The quicker we can restock and get back into the cattle business the better, and it’s better for our community too. Once we can generate cash flow we can start spending money locally again.’
In Townsville, Michael Bulley used the $50,000 grant provided to small businesses to clean up and refit his Donut King outlet. Without that support, his shop would probably not have reopened, and he’s grateful for the country’s “life changing” support when he needed it most.
It’s important that we continue to show Australians like Emma, Andrew and Michael that the country is behind them. The Agency has a five year life, and the work is far from over. The impacts of the event will continue to be felt over the next few years, particularly for primary producers and the businesses and communities that rely on them.
This annual report shows the rapid progress the Agency has made in our first four months, and lays out the important task ahead of rebuilding the region and strengthening its resilience to deal with a range of future events.
Following its initial efforts, the Agency shifted its focus to the timely development and implementation of a strategy for the long term recovery and strengthened resilience of North Queensland. This long term strategy will focus on locally led solutions that will help the region to be better informed and prepared for future natural disasters. We will consult widely to raise awareness of the potential to benefit from the strategy.
The Prime Minister has highlighted the Agency’s responsiveness, strong on the ground engagement and effective collaboration with the Queensland and local governments as making a crucial difference to the lives of those impacted by this unprecedented event, demonstrating that Government can be there for them when they need it most.
With over $3.3 billion committed to the immediate and longer term recovery of the flood impacted regions, the Agency is uniquely positioned to deliver strategic leadership and coordinate the Commonwealth’s contribution to North Queensland’s reconstruction, future resilience and prosperity.
It is with this compassionate and congestion-busting attitude that we will continue to have conversations around kitchen tables, in the shopfronts of small businesses, walk paddocks with farmers and stand by our communities as they rebuild and contribute to the country’s economy.
The Hon. Shane L Stone AC QC
Chief Executive Officer and Chairman
North Queensland Livestock Industry Recovery Agency