Thank you so much for it is indeed a great honour and a privilege to be here as the Minister for Agriculture.
When you’re a National Party MP or Senator there’s no better portfolio. It’s very much in our DNA—representing rural and regional communities—being a party borne out of a farmers union 100 years ago.
Along with our Liberal colleagues, our side of politics is absolutely committed to seeing the growth and development of regional communities and agriculture.
So today I’ll briefly touch on why I’m here, how I got here and what we’re looking to do to work with each and every one of you, your businesses and your communities to ensure we’ve got vibrant, sustainable and prosperous regional communities right across Australia.
Thanks Lou for having us. It’s fantastic to be on your country and, as the first generation born off the farm, I absolutely appreciate how precious it is to be able to keep your land in your family’s working possession. So well done to you, past generations and I’m sure future generations of Archers, here at Brickendon.
Belinda, thank you very much as chair of Tasmanian Women in Ag. This organisation is SO important right across the country.
Now it’s all quite normal to see women in agriculture—woopty-do—we’ve got a female agriculture minister at the federal level—women in ag is kind of normalised now.
But it hasn’t always been the case. Despite the fact that partnerships in farming have always involved the husband and the wife getting on as partners—building, pioneering and developing the land, raising the family, raising the next generation and making sure that that business remained profitable.
So despite the hype, women have always been in agriculture. They’ve always been critical to the success of agriculture, particularly the family farm.
I just want to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders past and present. And I’ll give a big shout out to Deanna Hutchison and Carl Cooper my fellow Nationals colleagues down here in Tassie. And Bridget Archer—a fabulous advocate for your community—who it is my great pleasure to work with in the federal Parliament as part of the Morrison McCormack Government.
I guess when you’re working hard at whatever you do, you don’t realise that you happen to be a woman. So it’s really now that I am the Minister for Agriculture that people are acknowledging that it’s a first. And young women in particular have really been acknowledging and letting me know how important it is to them—that’s when you realise that you’ve done something noteworthy just by getting on and doing the work in front of you. So I think it’s really important that we all work to ensure that women see a career pathway in agriculture—in research, in advocacy, in politics and on farm.
I’m loving what Tasmanian agriculture is doing at the moment. You are at a renaissance, you are a place recognised worldwide for your amazing provenance.
The Freight Equalisation Scheme announced by the National Party Assistant Minister Andrew Gee has been long advocated for because it helps to actually overcome the barrier to export your fabulous produce.
You’ve been exporting to the world. It’s been great to be on the ground, meeting with the Tasmanian farmers in Bridget’s Launceston office this morning, and yesterday, on the ground with Johno Duniam to see what innovation is happening right here in your local community.
It’s incredibly exciting because we as a Liberal National Government want to see agriculture right across the country grow to a $100 billion industry. Here in Tasmania you’ve already made some decisions and said you want to make our local industry here $10 billion by 2050. I’m very excited to add what you’re doing locally to our national picture.
In terms of the $100 billion agricultural sector we’re well on the way. It’s not just about growing ag for ag’s sake. It’s actually about the local jobs it provides in your communities. Even the Burnie Advocate this morning was talking about the growth in agriculture and reported that over the past five years agriculture has produced an additional 2900 jobs in that local community. That’s super exciting. I mean that’s what it’s all about—families having sustainable career options out here in regional communities—not having to go to Hobart, not having to go to the mainland to have a successful future. So when we grow ag we’re growing our regional communities and that’s why I’m particularly passionate about making that happen.
We’ve got to make sure we invest in our international brand proposition and for me that means our biosecurity. That’s not very sexy. But if we don’t, there are a lot more nations around the world that can produce what we produce but a lot cheaper. That’s just a reality. So we need to make sure our pest and disease free status remains high in the face of increasing and very real risks.
I want all Australians to see keeping our pest and disease free status as core business. So scrub your hiking boots on the way back from climbing the Tibetan mountains. Make sure you fill in your incoming passenger card properly when you come back into Australia. The New Zealanders do because they know that their entire nation’s profitability and way of life relies on having a profitable agriculture sector that’s underpinned by a strong biosecurity status.
A worrying statistic that I’ll let you know, so you can tell all your friends, so they start scrubbing those boots. African Swine Fever! Now China has just had to slaughter over 200 million pigs. That’s 25 per cent of the world’s pork slaughtered as a result of that disease. And it’s just on our doorstep and it’s marching south.
So about five months ago we started scanning 100 per cent of the mail, and significantly enhanced out import conditions and ramped up our nterventions on people arriving here from China because of that heightened risk. Since we stepped up intervention we’ve seized 16 tonnes of cooked pork products—16 tonnes. Coming in in suitcases for little Johnny and Sally who are studying at Melbourne Uni. This disease can exist in cooked meat for up to two years. It’s one example that highlights the very real risk.
Increasing intervention is expensive to do. I don’t think we’re doing enough quite frankly so I’ll be pushing it. I’ll be running a national campaign to get state and territory and Commonwealth ministers and treasurers passionate about investing in this because without it our export proposition to the world—and the value of the Australian product—diminishes significantly. So watch out for at hashtag on your Twitter account and help me help all of us.
The second things we’ve got to do is to invest in research and development. We used to be really, really at the cutting edge of this as a nation. Now others, including New Zealand, invest more and more in up-to-date innovation and research. States have typically withdrawn from extension provision so while we might have universities, or our research and development corporations, doing some fabulous research it’s not finding its way to where it needs to be—which is to the farmgate. The whole purpose of investing in research and development in this country is to make farmers more profitable. End of story.
I was talking to a levy payer this morning who was paying levies to MLA and Woolgrowers, who’s also joined the Angus Society, and who’s paying a state farmer organisation. All that is money out the door. That producer is hoping that the advocacy is getting done—that someone is standing up there and fighting at a community and a Commonwealth level for farmers. They want someone also making sure that the breed position is being protected and someone else ensuring that we’re getting research and development that is going to make them more productive. But she can’t be assured that that’s all happening because she’s too busy getting on and doing her work and being a farmer.
So I’m going to be announcing a reform of the research and development operations in that sector in a couple of weeks at the Queensland Rural Press Club. So watch out in this space.
We’ve had this system for four decades and it’s world class in that partnership between the tax payer and the levy payer but it’s not really delivering back to the farmgate. We need growers in charge of the money a bit better—making sure it’s going where it’s needed. And we need stronger collaboration. Everyone is doing something on soil, everyone’s doing something on climate change and everyone’s doing something on social licences and water. That’s great but I don’t need academics getting rich doing the same bit of research 15 times. We need collaboration, sharing and making sure we can then spend the money we save from stopping duplication on other things. So watch this space.
I just wanted to briefly touch on the drought. I know that some areas locally have had four dry seasons in a row and that gets very, very tough; particularly in communities like Tasmania where you’re not used to living without water. You’re known right throughout our great country for being a place that uses their water wisely but also has an abundance of it. So when it’s not available, it’s a bit like Gippsland in south east Victoria, they’re going through some extremely dry conditions—and it’s quite a shock.
We’re prepared to stand with our farmers. We’ve got a $5 billion Future Drought Fund that got through the Parliament a couple of weeks ago, which is a $100 million year-on-year to assist farmers and communities become more resilient to drought. Drought is going to be with us ongoing in this country and we need to make sure that each and every time we go through an event like this we’re getting better at dealing with it—and then recovering from it. So we’re committed absolutely to doing that.
There’s a couple of things that aren’t in my portfolio that will be critical to getting the sector to $100 billion. One is workforce. Farmers aren’t going to be able to make money if they don’t have the workforce they need when and where they need it. Tasmania is known for its horticulture and if you can’t have a cost effective workforce where and when you need it, it makes it very difficult to get your crop off—to get your perishable product to market. So we need to do a lot of work in that space I think. Not just with our international piece with our Pacific Worker Program and Seasonal Worker Program and DAMAs, but also domestically.
We need more Australians to see agriculture as a profitable sustainable career option—and it is. It’s a modern, 21st century, globally connected business and you’re doing something that everyone is passionate about, thanks to My Kitchen rules—and that’s growing fabulous food. So who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? So that’s part of my job, I think, along with all of you, to promote agriculture as a career of choice across Australia.
Our Government is absolutely committed to making sure agriculture succeeds. It’s a fundamental pillar for our economic prosperity as a nation. We’re really good at growing food. We export 70 per cent of what we make and grow. But it can’t all go to China nor should it. So opening up a diversity of markets is very important. That’s why, I think tomorrow morning, about 10am, I’m heading off to Japan, Korea and Vietnam to have conversations with those nations about what we do here and why they should be continuing to open up to different products and making sure we can expand our offering.
We’ve got some Free Trade Agreements obviously with Korea and Japan and they’ve been able to see some exponential growth in products that are becoming tariff free in those two countries. But Vietnam increasingly, and that’s why the Prime Minister is there today I think, to really promote that relationship solidly. I’m also planning on going to Indonesia in coming months to meet the new agriculture minister there. These nations need that government-to-government connection to really promote the role and then it’s industry’s job, I’m taking industry with me by the way, Graingrowers, the Dairy Association and Summerfruits, to make sure they’re getting connected into country and meeting the businesses they need to build those export opportunities with—because at the end of the day it’s about local jobs.
We are feeding the world—safely produced, sustainably harvested, nutritious food based on science. That is our proposition to the world. That is what we need to continue to do as a nation. I know you’re all heavily invested in this industry and I look forward to working with each and every one of you during my tenure as Agriculture Minister. I’m really excited about what we’re going to do. It’s been a pleasure and privilege to be with you.
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