General News

29 May, 2024

Stop the steal...steel

Scrap metal theft

By Elizabeth Voneiff

Member for Southern Downs, James Lister in parliament.
Member for Southern Downs, James Lister in parliament.

There are too many growers in the Southern Downs who have gone to the shed to discover their machinery has been stripped of copper or any other metal easily fenced on the black market.

It has to stop, MP James Lister has told the State Parliament, during a discussion on an inquiry into scrap metal. Mr Lister has put forward his opinion on the hallowed chambers of Parliament.

According to records of the debate last week, the inquiry originated from increasing reports about thieves stripping metal, particularly copper, from critical infrastructure, from community infrastructure, from rural properties, from agricultural industry sites and from housing estates. Scrap metal is one of the most recycled materials globally. Sourcing the easy-picking metal and copper has become a lucrative enterprise for thieves. The metal is stripped and sold to scrap metal markets for export. The Australian Energy Producers advised the committee that, unlike precious metals such as gold and silver, metals like copper, brass and aluminium contain no intrinsic value. The value is realised when they are sold to scrap metal dealers who arrange for the metal to be melted and reshaped for other uses.

Mr Lister gave his colleagues an “authentic view” of the issue in the Southern Downs. He related a story brought to him by a group of “primary producers, producers of grain, cotton and so forth”, a group who live in broadacre properties in the area, “where a lot of money is invested.”

“One of the difficulties they have expressed to me surrounding scrap metal theft is that it is not just a question of the cost of repairing the infrastructure which is damaged when felons go in and steal copper from their electric motors, their augers, their machinery and so forth; it also means that, when that machinery is needed, it is not available. To give members an indication, there are irrigators there—that is, farmers who produce crops with water that they are entitled to draw from the Condamine River, but they are only entitled to draw at certain periods of time.

“There has to be a certain amount of flow or height in the river for them to be able to do that. When that happens, they go in like Jack Robinson. They want to start pumping the water that they are entitled to, but then they find out that the motor is stuffed, that the copper has been taken from it. The water that they miss out on can be several orders of magnitude more in value than the cost of repairing the infrastructure involved.

“It is not just the electric motors and so forth; it is machinery on the property—headers and so forth. Again, when a sorghum crop is ready to go, it is ready to go. It is the same with wheat or cotton. If the farmers get there and discover that the machinery they need is unavailable because thieves have taken copper or parts from the vehicle, that costs an enormous amount. The costs can run into the hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of dollars. We are talking about sums of that kind of value.”

Mr Lister asked for statistics from the police minister involving rural crime in this electorate in order to make a “campaign of public awareness” of the impact to productivity this type of them causes.

“I want to stress that the theft of copper and scrap metal is something that ought to have been investigated, and I am glad that that has been done,” he continued.

Mr Lister implores members of the Southern Downs to understand that he is listening and plans to get the crime stats from the police minister and do something constructive to “improve security”.


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