The Queensland agriculture sector, its farmers and rural communities are no stranger to significant and continuing challenges, from a protracted drought to rising input costs, burdensome government regulations and most recently, a global pandemic. Despite these difficulties, the state’s 24,000 farm businesses have continued to feed, clothe, and provide amenity to Queenslanders, Australians and many others around the world. As the state now turns to economic recovery, the sustainable growth of agriculture within Queensland provides various opportunities for rural and regional areas and their communities to benefit from investment. However, to achieve such benefits, barriers to productivity and profitability must be overcome.
The disparity between Queensland’s farmland values and the associated local government rates is one such example. The Valuer General’s 2020 Property market Movement Report noted increased sales activity in Queensland’s rural markets. As a result, farming valuations this year saw an uplift of around 30 to 80 per cent. However, rate increases in many local governments areas have eclipsed these valuations for farming businesses.
While some local governments, such as Ingham and Mackay, have managed these changes in land valuations well, the 2020-21 budget handed down by the Bundaberg Regional Council will result in a net increase in general rates for all but 16 of the 1,796 agricultural properties. Moreover, some properties face increases of over 200 per cent on their previous bills. Agricultural properties thereby contribute over 12 per cent of the BRC’s General Rates, clearly a cross subsidisation of other rate payers.
The financial sustainability of local governments across Queensland continues to be a challenge with increasing community demand for services, population growth and rising costs associated with maintenance and renewal of ageing infrastructure. In February 2020, the Queensland Audit Office reported to parliament that over half of Queensland councils spend more than they earn.
Rates charges and other council budget processes must be transparent. Land valuation increases do not correlate to a need for more funds to administer the region. We encourage the Local Government Association of Queensland to ensure a level of predictability in the rates levied on parcels of land and businesses, and compliance with the principles set out in the State Government’s Guideline on Equity and Fairness in Rating for Queensland Local Governments.