Pricey power keeping industry out of small towns
BRINGING industry back to the Burnett was top of the agenda for Callide MP Colin Boyce and the Opposition' chief of Employment and Small Business, Fiona Simpson, this week as they toured our region's towns to discuss economic development.
They met with residents, business owners and community groups to get feedback on the North Burnett's business prospects and develop a vision for the region's future.
A rapidly decreasing population and out-of-control power prices were identified as the main challenges to overcome if the Burnett is to prosper.
An Eidsvold irrigator said a quarterly power bill of $15,000 during dry spells had brought their lucerne operation to its knees.
The same farmer, who said they wanted to do the right thing by the environment, had been quoted $140,000 to install a solar package.
Others said prices were so high they had resorted to running machinery on diesel generators.
Mrs Simpson blasted the lack of competition caused by Ergon's stranglehold on the electricity market.
"It's unethical and killing local business,” she said.
"The Government is getting a huge return from the Ergon monopoly and it's sucking money out of the rural economy that could be invested elsewhere.”
People in Monto pleaded for the Government to bring back the district's once-booming timber trade.
Mr Boyce said farming alone could not sustain small towns in the long-term.
"Traditionally, an agricultural base has supported the Burnett economy,” he said.
"In Monto, we've seen the demise of the timber and dairy industries detract from what was a thriving little town.
"The reality is the renewable energy technology cannot sustain industry yet.
"We're losing our young people because there's nothing here for them.”
Monto grazier Trevor Gleeson said the North Burnett Regional Council needed to assign a facilitator to come up with a plan for the region's economic development.
"I've been farming here for 40 years and I've seen it all - floods and droughts,” he said
"The biggest impacts to our region have been caused by dairy deregulation, council amalgamation and shutting down the sawmills.
"Us old farmers just sit on the verandah and stare out at the paddock.
"There's so much fertile land -so much potential - but if my sons wanted to take it over there's no guarantee they can support their family.”