I would like to spend a short moment this evening to pay tribute to the organisers of Beef Australia 2015. This year it was held in Rockhampton, last week.
It was clearly the best Beef Australia expo we have ever had. That has been the overwhelming feedback from all of those who attended. It is an event that has been going since 1988, and it continues to get better every three years, when it is held.
I want to pay tribute tonight to the organisers of Beef Australia 2015, particularly the chairman of Beef Australia, Blair Angus, and his hardworking wife, Josie Angus, and the CEO of Beef Australia, Denis Cox, and his hardworking team. They did work very hard for almost three years. I remember first meeting with them. It probably would have been almost three years ago while they were in the very initial stages of planning for the event. At that meeting, even at that stage, they had a vision for what they wanted to achieve. They wanted to showcase the beef industry to the world. They wanted to help facilitate trade and business with other nations. They wanted to make Australian consumers more aware of the beef industry. They wanted to provide an opportunity to educate other beef producers and share information among them.
They certainly did achieve all those things, particularly through the very successful global celebrity chef program, where they invited celebrity chefs from all around the world. Some of these chefs from the Middle East have hundreds of millions of viewers of their programs and most of us have probably never heard of them. They came out here and produced some wonderful beef-featured meals and have also recorded some shows which they will show back in their countries and promote Australian beef.
I must say, I did my bit to promote Australian beef. I have probably come back a little bit wider and more fulsome after last week. I certainly did not go hungry during Beef Australia week. I am based in Rockhampton, so I basically camped there the whole week. I suppose that I could say that my marble score after last week has certainly gone up after having some very nice Wagyu and other products! I did thoroughly enjoy it, and so did many people in Rockhampton and the wider region. More than 90,000 people attended Beef Australia, last week. The numbers were up from the previous expo. There were around 4,500 cattle that had been entered in the various competitions, from over 30 breeds all across the country. I would emphasise that they came from all across the country.
I was lucky enough to attend the carcass beef dinner and award ceremony last Tuesday night. I was disappointed that Queensland did not do as well as I had hoped in that competition. Tasmania and, I think, Western Australia—Senator Reynolds, through you, Mr Acting Deputy President—were very well represented in the winners list of that carcass competition based on MSA grading levels, but Queensland did have a few victories. We also won the best breed of bull, a Brahman breed, as you would expect in Rockhampton, so that was some consolation.
We also had representatives or visitors from 55 countries come to Beef Australia 2015. That is a remarkable achievement, double the number of countries that attended the 2012 expo, just three years ago. I want to particularly highlight that I think it is a great achievement of the committee to attract so much interest from 55 different countries. It is about one-third of the countries that exist in the world. When you think that the beef production sector is very concentrated in a few of those regions and countries, that is a remarkable achievement. Certainly the beef trade is not so concentrated. I want to pay tribute to our beef industry and the efforts they make on the front line of our diplomatic efforts. Often the beef industry have more people and more communication with the far-flung regions of our world than our diplomatic corps would—they are out there trying to sell beef to everybody because everybody eats beef.
I worked for a beef company for a time. I was not working in the sales team, but I went around to the sales team and asked them, 'Which countries of the world do we sell beef to?' I needed to know for some form or something. One of the salesman pointed to a map and said, 'We sell it everywhere except there,' indicating North Korea. That was a slight exaggeration, but it was not too much of an exaggeration. We do sell beef pretty much all around the world, including to Mongolia and many countries in the Middle East. We should cherish the work that our beef industry do to help our diplomatic efforts, because it is often them who are establishing very strong relationships in South-East Asia—in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia and Malaysia. They bring our countries and nations together more and establish the kinds of friendships that will help us get through more difficult times in those relationships.
Also, there was around a $32 million injection to the local economy thanks to Beef Australia 2015. It was a very well timed injection to our local economy. As some in this chamber would know, the Central Queensland region has been hit pretty hard in the last couple of years, firstly not by a natural disaster but by more of an economic disaster in the sense that the mining industry is a little bit down and something like 15,000 jobs have been lost in the black coal mining industry in the past two or three years. That has been very difficult for Central Queensland to adjust to. Of course, at the beginning of this year a category 5 tropical cyclone hit the Central Queensland region and also did quite substantial damage, particularly to the economy, to local farmers in the region and to local tourism assets. It is great to see that the region has bounced back on its feet. There were many visitors over the Easter period, and I hope there will be many more during the winter months. It is a great place to visit during winter because it is much warmer than this place. Many people took that opportunity during the Beef Australia event.
A $32 million injection was a great thing for our economy and it was showed the great investment that this government made. I am very proud that this government promised at the last election to invest $2.75 million to help Beef Australia to be conducted. We were true to that promise and we helped the committee put on such a wonderful event. I remember helping the committee achieve that funding commitment, and it is a great result for the whole of the beef industry in Australia. I certainly hope that future governments support future events. As I say, they occur every three years.
I want to finish on a couple of policy related matters. We were also lucky enough last week to have great representation from all levels of government. The Queensland agriculture minister was at the event earlier in the week, but we also had the Deputy Prime Minister on Wednesday and the agriculture minister on Thursday, and, finally, on Friday the Prime Minister came to visit Beef Australia 2015. I certainly thank him for making the time to come up to the event. At that event, he made a very exciting announcement for the beef sector and for northern Australia generally. He announced that the Commonwealth government will invest $100 million into a new beef roads program. Some would remember that the Menzies government invested in the first beef roads program in the 1960s. They developed roads like the Burke Developmental Road and the Gregory Developmental Road. Many roads that still exist across northern Australia are only there thanks to the investments made by the Menzies government, and it is only because of those roads that we can eat cattle that are often bought in northern Australia but sent down south to finally end up, through some process I will not go into, on our plates for dinner. Those roads are the arteries that keep our beef industry alive and pumping, and they certainly need further investment.
This $100 million is very exciting because it is going to also leverage a new tool that has been developed by the CSIRO. I am excited about that tool; I do not know about others, but I think the new transit tool that the CSIRO developed is a revolution for the beef sector. I will briefly describe it for those who have not kept up to speed with the transit tool. The CSIRO use NLIS data from the little ear tags that most cattle have in our country. They record when a cow is sold and they have taken that information for 88,000 different transit points—that is farms, feedlots and meatworks—all around the country. On a Google map, they can show you how roads are used more by the cattle sector throughout the year. They can look at where the pressure points are, and we are going to use that information to work out how best we can spend that $100 million to alleviate the pressure on our road network and bring down costs for cattle producers in our country, because often, particularly for our northern producers, the cost of transporting a cow from the producer to a feedlot or a meatworks in the south can be anywhere above $100 a head and sometimes it can even be up to one-quarter to one-third of the final value of that beast. If we can make headway on those costs, we can do more to return value to our beef producers and have a stronger beef sector for our nation.