AUSTRALIA: Quarantined Queensland banana growers get $684,000 payment but ‘still out of pocket’

by Craig Zonca and Charlie McKillop, ABC


Two far north Queensland banana growers say they are “surprised and dismayed” to have learned in the media today payments totalling close to $700,000 were the final instalments to be made to them after being quarantined due to the devastating disease, Panama Tropical Race 4 (TR4).


The government said the $684,000 was not compensation per se and instead referred to the payments as a reimbursement for lost revenue while the growers were unable to trade due to quarantine restrictions.


The Robson family lost eight weeks of production on their Tully Valley farm while the industry negotiated a strict, new protocol which would allow fruit from Panama-infected farms to be sold. Meanwhile, quarantine measures on a Mareeba farm were lifted after authorities admitted to a false diagnosis.


Reimbursement costs have been split equally between the federal and state governments and the Australian Banana Growers Council (ABGC), which introduced a voluntary levy to help raise the required funds.


“The [Queensland] Government took this approach after the National Management Group found that it was not technically feasible to eradicate Panama disease Tropical Race 4, and therefore the response could not be cost shared under Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed arrangements,” said Queensland Agriculture Minister Bill Byrne.


“We have coordinated this process and worked closely with the Federal Government and the ABGC.”


A legal representative for the Robson and Reppel families released a statement welcoming the financial assistance but rejecting the inference by Ministers Byrne and Barnaby Joyce that they were now, ‘not out of pocket’ as a result of the payment.


Ian Conrad said the individual circumstances of his clients had not been taken into account by the government in calculating losses. For example, the Reppels had been forced to keep all of their staff on during the closure to address additional quarantine measures and the Robsons continue to suffer retarded production as a result of not being able to maintain their banana crop while locked down for two months.


No compensation had been offered for the 16,000 banana plants destroyed as part of the biosecurity response or the infected 10 hectare block which cannot be used to grow any crop for at least 30 years.


“The families will be setting out for the Department of Agriculture what it has, in fact, cost them and they would like to have further discussions about meeting the gap that’s there between what it has cost them and what has been paid so far.”


“They are both significantly out of pocket and we have sought clarification from the Department… we understand they are open to further discussions and certainly that’s appreciated and welcomed by the Robsons and Reppels.”
Peak body welcomes payments to growers


Chairman of the Australian Banana Growers Council Doug Phillips said he was only made aware of the final payment agreement after a call from ABC Rural.


“It’s certainly a lot better than where we started,” he said.


“I’m certainly glad we got there in the end. I think there’s always going to be some delays in these things, especially when there’s negotiations at the start to get people to the table.”


The biosecurity response to TR4 has already cost the Queensland Government $4 million since the disease was discovered on a Tully Valley property in March.


Another $9.8 million was allocated in the state budget to continue surveillance activities in a bid to contain the spread of the disease, which has the potential to wipe out Queensland’s $600 million Cavendish banana industry.


Mr Phillips said all growers had a role to play in protecting their industry, with most already investing in boosting on-farm biosecurity practices.


“We are really in the early days of this response,” he said.


“We’re four months into it and something that’s probably going to take another 12 months to really get a better feel for the presence of this (TR4) on other locations.”


Lawyer Ian Conrad previously had accused the industry peak body of leaving the Robson family “without a friend in their corner” and criticised the framework by which plant pest emergency cost-sharing arrangements were put in place.



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