Last-ditch appeal for forgotten flooded producers

Flood-affected Charters Towers, Etheridge producers call for category C help

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Photographs show the extent of the Burdekin River bank erosion that Anthony Caleo needs to replace. Pictures supplied.

Photographs show the extent of the Burdekin River bank erosion that Anthony Caleo needs to replace. Pictures supplied.

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Flood-affected producers in the Charters Towers and Etheridge local government areas say they have been neglected by bureaucracy.

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After losing an estimated $1 million in watermelon damage in February, Charters Towers producer Anthony Caleo is one of two dozen flood-affected primary producers in the Charters Towers and Etheridge local government areas looking at minimal compensation thanks to a strict application of bureaucratic criteria.

Not only did the prolonged wet harm his crop but it suffered from sun damage when he couldn't get onto the paddocks to spray on sunscreen when the heat returned quickly.

Mr Caleo estimates he will have to spend $100,000 to shore up the banks of the Burdekin to prevent future erosion, after losing six metres of soil when the river peaked above major height at 18m on February 6.

"We're between the east coast and Hughenden, which each got category D assistance and we can't even get category C - tell me how that makes sense," he said.

A closer photo of the damage at Anthony Caleo's property, showing his pumping infrastructure hanging unsupported.

A closer photo of the damage at Anthony Caleo's property, showing his pumping infrastructure hanging unsupported.

Under the Commonwealth-set criteria, more than 33 per cent of businesses in a local government area have to be affected for shire-wide category C activation; in the two shires in question it's been assessed that not enough were damaged.

Charters Towers and Etheridge shires are each operating under category B activation, providing freight subsidies up to $5000 and concessional loans up to $250,000.

The category C declaration for most other shires in Queensland's north following February's catastrophic monsoon trough opened up the possibility of Special Disaster Assistance Recovery grants worth $75,000.

Katter's Australian Party state leader Rob Katter has been prosecuting the cases of the producers wanting access to the higher level of assistance, describing it as bureaucratic neglect.

HE said the 33pc criteria that was excluding Etheridge and Charters Towers producers from extra help could be over-ruled by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk for assistance on a case-by-case basis.

"We need someone to show real leadership and barge through the bureaucracy for us on this," Mr Katter said.

"On behalf of these graziers we have tried to go about all the right channels, we have appealed to all levels of government but have hit bureaucracy and red tape every time.

"On this issue so far, the Premier has wiped her hands of responsibility as numerous letters to her office haven't even been acknowledged, let alone responded to."

QCL's query to the Premier's Department last Thursday was answered by agriculture minister Mark Furner, who said federal government guidelines dictated the circumstances under which disaster declarations could be made.

"Under those guidelines, category C assistance can be activated where recovery of the whole community could be impeded without the provision of that assistance," he said.

He reiterated the category B assistance available but Mr Katter said the people he was speaking about had been every bit as affected as primary producers in adjoining shires.

A view at Anthony Caleo's farm looking back at the river bank and the pipeline exposed.

A view at Anthony Caleo's farm looking back at the river bank and the pipeline exposed.

"If these people are able to demonstrate their loss due to the event they should not be restricted because of their postcode," he said.

"These are hard-working North Queenslanders who have exhausted their abilities and means to solve this issue on their own; they are staring down the barrel of a very bleak future without help."

Ray and Pam Doolan are one such couple, who have 275ha of river flats that they irrigate lucerne on, plus basalt country.

They have two sites on the Burdekin that they pump from and were keeping an eye on the official river height indicators.

Mr Doolan said the upstream ones went out but as he saw the river rising he went and pulled up one of the electric pumps.

"By the time I got to the second one, the river had risen two metres in an hour, and it was gone," he said. "Then it didn't drop back for weeks. We've had higher river heights at the house but not for so long - it completely washed out all our infrastructure."

According to quotes received, it will take $60,000 to replace everything.

The Doolans have just paid off a $60,000 low-interest loan, taken out to recover from rain damage brought about from Cyclone Larry in 2006.

They've also been on the wrong side of drought relief assistance, selling off all their cows last year, only to discover that the region's drought declaration had been revoked in the area they lived in.

"We were on the wrong side of the road again," Mr Doolan said, adding that it had been hard enough on their bank account to put in all their water infrastructure without thinking about taking out another loan.

He acknowledged a $5000 grant from Blaze Aid that had allowed them to purchase a new electric motor.

He said he wouldn't give up but at 68, said he may not have enough years left to get back to where they had been financially.

Mr Katter said the frustrating part of the story was that millions of dollars had been appropriated as far as the Australian taxpayer was concerned and was available for the purpose.

"It's federal money given to the state to facilitate," he said.

"I've spoken to a number of agencies in between the federal government and the money and they've all said, all we need is that declaration by the Premier.

"It's still constrained by a large number of checks and balances, so it doesn't mean there'll be a free-for-all of all these people claiming.

"They've got to provide evidence and photographs and invoices.

"And there's no argument about precedence because that's the whole purpose of having people in government, to make decisions and create that latitude where they can say, well, these rules need to be changed in this instance."

The closing date for Special Disaster Assistance Recovery grants is November 29.

Read more: Blackall-Tambo, Cook finally eligible for category C help

Mr Katter said his lobby was far from over.

"Every time they talk about assistance for the floods I'll be reminding them they've left people behind."

Late on Friday afternoon the state government announced more than $100 million in financial assistance had been delivered to flood-affected primary producers, small business owners and non-profit organisations following the north and Far North Queensland monsoon trough disaster.

The Premier said QRIDA staff had reviewed and approved 1719 recovery grant applications from primary producers, 655 from small businesses, and 89 from non-profits since the event.

"In addition, QRIDA has also approved 46 Disaster Assistance Loans totalling $6,151,693, including 14 for primary producers and 32 for small business, as well as three Exceptional Disaster Assistance Loans (category D) for $2,850,000," she said.

More than $260 million in total has been provided to date under the jointly funded Commonwealth-State Disaster Recovery funding arrangements.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a disaster recovery package of $300 million in March.

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