Nats push for Centrelink top-ups to stem job losses
WORKERS in the bush at risk of being laid off or hit with reduced hours could have their wages topped up with Centrelink payments to stop regions haemorrhaging, new federal Nationals deputy leader David Littleproud has revealed as he pledges to muscle up for the bush.
In an exclusive sit-down interview with The Courier-Mail, the former agribusiness banker has signalled he will be more aggressive in Cabinet than leader Michael McCormack, and will push for tax breaks for people in regional and rural areas - a policy that will irritate Liberals.
"I'm probably a little bit more forceful and not afraid of a stoush," Mr Littleproud said when asked how his personality was different to Mr McCormack's.
"Michael's a nice guy and that's good, you've got to have diversity in the party room. I'm usually bad cop.
"But the clear signal from the (Nationals) in the room (during last week's spill) was that we've got to clearly articulate and enunciate our policies to make sure they not only turn up at the Cabinet table but they turn up in regional Australia."
Mr Littleproud, who is now the most senior Queensland Nationals MP in Cabinet, said one of his first jobs was reuniting his colleagues, who had weathered one of the party's first leadership spills in about 30 years.
But he said one of the biggest problems facing his constituents was the drought and those communities hit by it were dying by a thousand cuts.
Mr Littleproud said there would need to be some financial help for workers in the regions affected by drought, otherwise the impact would flow throughout all of Australia.
Workers who had their hours reduced or were at risk of being let go because businesses were doing it tough could have their wages bolstered by Centrelink payments or existing programs to keep them in their jobs.
In many drought areas, bosses have had to reduce their full-time staff to part-time, cruelling local economies and piling stress on families struggling to pay mortgages and their bills.
"What you're going to see, and this is a big challenge too … there's going to be some real problems for the (cattle) processing sector (because of the rain)," Mr Littleproud said.
He said the rain would meancattle producerswould now hang on to more of their herd as they build up stock, meaning abattoirs were in the firing line.
"When there was a drought, everyone was sending their cattle off to slaughter," he said.
"That is the frightening aspect of this drought … drought is coming and invariably (abattoirs) are the biggest employers in these towns. That's why we said to the states, 'Get rid of payroll tax for these people to keep hundreds of people in these towns'. There's 600 people (who work in the processing sector) in Warwick alone.
"Then down the road at Oakey there's probably another 600-700 people there. What we are worried about is job losses. We are trying to work through and see if we can come up with a mechanism that might be able to support workers.
"So it's about using some of our existing programs we have, and possibly topping up wages with Centrelink (payments) so it gives some relief."
Mr Littleproud said the Government was looking at another suite of measures in April or May.
Asked why there should be a different level of financial help for someone in the bush than a city worker who has been let go, Mr Littleproud doubled down, saying without skills and human capital in the bush, Australia would find it harder to eat. He flagged his intention to push for policy work on zonal taxation, meaning paying less tax for living in the bush.
"There's three or four core principles the Nats have been fighting for over many years," he said. "I think it's time we do the grunt work on policy. If you're going to win the argument you've got to have the science behind it. We've lost generations of young people out of regional and rural Australia over the years. We've got to bring our young people home. This is about making sure we do it in a responsible way that makes sure rural and regional Australia continues to develop and grow."
RAIN RAISES THE STEAKS
HOUSEHOLDS will be hit with a higher grocery bill at the checkout as the price of beef increases in the coming weeks, new federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has warned.
The rain event that has swept through drought-declared areas across Australia will be bittersweet as joyous farmers put a handbrake on cattle sent to slaughter to breed up stock, creating a supply problem that will flow through to city supermarkets.
Mr Littleproud said many cattle producers could not afford to keep their cattle during the drought.
"This rain just gives confidence, so … cockies go, 'Right, the grass is going to grow. As soon as it stops I need something chewing it','' Mr Littleproud said.
"They will be lightening off the numbers that go to slaughter (and think) it is time to breed up again. That takes 12-18 months.
"There's going to be a definite (price) increase. It's simple demand and supply."
He said Australia now had the lowest cattle head numbers in 30 years.
Cattle farmer and owner of Emerald's Lonemark Droughtmasters Leonie Davey, 46, said profit margins for farmers have been "decreasing a lot" since the drought started.
"Hay has been in a very big shortage since the drought started, because the farmers have to spend money irrigating it with electricity and then electricity costs go up, and then the price of the hay goes up, and your grain goes up," she said.
Mrs Davey said the heat, drought, and a shortage of hay and feed have left a lot of animals in "poor condition".