Address to BEEF2024 - Australian Beef Sustainability Framework Annual Update

ROCKHAMPTON
TUESDAY, 7 MAY 2024

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G’day I’m Murray Watt, it’s just wonderful to be here again for Beef 2024.

I’d like to start by acknowledging the Traditional Owners on the lands on which you’re gathering, the Darumbal People, and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.

Thanks also to Mark Davey, Chair of the Sustainability Steering Group.

It’s great to be here today at the launch of the 2024 annual update of the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework.

I know that things have come a long way since the first version in 2017.

I understand that at that time the idea of establishing the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework caused a bit of tension within the industry.

I think now we can recognise the foresight this industry had in establishing this framework.

A really good example that spells this out happened last year at ANUGA, Europe’s largest and most important food fair held every two years in Germany.

Our largest customer of beef – a supermarket in Japan – turned up to this fair last year and told MLA that they had to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals in their business and wanted to know how Australian red meat would help them do that?

That customer also made it clear they would be asking Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and every other competitor we have, the same question that day.

MLA were able to talk in detail about our Australian Beef Sustainability Framework and how the industry has set a goal of being carbon neutral by 2030.

We can also see the direction that the EU is taking with deforestation free supply chains for another example.

There is understandably very real concern about what that will mean for Australian businesses that are either already exporting to Europe, or want to have the opportunity to do so in the future.

The Australian Government’s strong view is that it won’t, and should not, impact Australian beef exports.

I acknowledge that there is a lot of uncertainty and confusion within the industry about what this rule will mean for our producers going forward.

Now - I’ve recently written to the EU Commissioner for the Environment outlining Australia’s concerns with the potential impact of this regulation on trade with the EU.

I have requested that the EU Commissioner delay its implementation until all requirements are fully understood and to avoid any adverse impact on our agriculture trade.

The EU is another indication of the overall mood that we can see across the world towards greater sustainability.

So, you can see that developing and implementing the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework is incredibly important and will only continue to be more so.

I think we can now say, gladly, that there is broad alignment between the goals that the industry has set for itself and where the government is heading.

This is a big change from the past and a fantastic opportunity to set industry up for the future.

Today I am going to touch on the four themes that industry has set out in the Strategy and some of the work government is progressing is these areas.

Best Animal Care

Animal welfare is also growing as a consumer concern, so it’s right that industry and government acknowledge this and adjust.

The government is progressing with its commitment to renew the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy.

$5 million over 4 years was committed through the 2023-24 Federal Budget to renew the Strategy.

This will encompass all animals and be delivered in ‘chapters’ across six animal groups over the next 3 years. The final renewed strategy is expected to be published by mid-2027.

The first will focus on production animals and reflects a commitment of all Agriculture Ministers to renew the Strategy.

It also supports industry as it will provide confidence to our trading partners that Australia has a strong framework for animal welfare, and that industry is at the heart of that framework.

Producers have the primary responsibility for managing livestock welfare so, importantly, the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy will be informed by broad consultation and underpinned by science and evidence.

Consultation is currently underway – with a survey open for responses on my department’s website. I know some cattle industry groups have already been involved in discussions about the Strategy with the department.

I encourage you to have a say in what is a mutual priority for government and industry.

Economic Resilience

We all understand the important economic contribution that this industry makes to our nation, but particularly to rural and regional Australia.

Our government wants to protect it - through more action to preserve the economic resilience of this industry going forward.

One of the best ways we can do that is to help the industry build resilience for events that we know are going to be a challenge in the future.

Earlier today the Prime Minister announced the next round of funding from the Future Drought Fund for programs that will assist farmers and rural communities to be better prepared for drought in the future.

This reaffirms the government’s commitment to supporting innovation & practice change across the country, and in supporting farmers to find what works for their businesses.

Already it has allowed thousands of farmers to gear up their agribusinesses with the latest knowledge and technology and improve their livelihoods.

This is a really important investment from government to partner with farmers, researchers and rural communities to make sure we are prepared for the future rather than only reacting after the event.

Environmental Stewardship

The Albanese Government strongly supports the Australian beef industry’s goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions across its production and processing sectors by 2030.

Last week we saw a report from MLA and CSIRO that showed through improved management that the sector had reduced its emissions by 78 per cent.

Everywhere I go, I remind people about the great work the sector has already done to reduce it’s emissions.

We know that there’s more work to be done to help reduce emissions even further, and we will continue to work with industry to help achieve these reductions.

Long-term, coordinated efforts by government and the sector are vital because, despite advances, the impacts of climate change may still outpace productivity growth.  

The Albanese Government is developing an economy-wide 2050 Net Zero Plan to articulate how Australia can transition to net zero by 2050.

As I have said before, there won’t be any specific industry targets under our government, but every sector has got a role to play. The benefits of every industry putting their shoulders to the wheel of emissions reduction will have a massive beneficial impact on the ag sector.

The Agriculture and Land Sector Decarbonisation Plan is one of six plans that will guide the Australian economy to reach this target.

As part of the consultation process to help develop the Agriculture and Land Sector Plan, we released a Discussion Paper last year.

In response, we received more than 230 written submissions. Feedback was provided on a range of barriers to adoption for farmers to implement and prioritise emissions reductions including:

  • a need for large-scale coordinated funding and long-term investment
  • capacity building for trusted advisors and landholders, and
  • system level investments such as improved greenhouse gas accounting.

In short, farmers have told us they’re up for change, but they want to know what they need to do, and where they can get the information to do it.

We’re currently reviewing this feedback and will continue to engage with industry on development of the Plan.

The Plan comes on top of investment currently underway through Government’s $302.1 million Climate-Smart Agriculture Program under the Natural Heritage Trust.

This program is driving agricultural sustainability, productivity and competitiveness by supporting farmers to adopt climate-smart practices that manage emissions, build resilience to climate change, improve soil health and protect natural capital.

As part of the Climate-Smart Agriculture Program, we were pleased to open the $13 million Small Grants opportunity last Tuesday, 30 April.

The grants will support on-ground projects that empower our agricultural sector to adopt agriculture practices, which improve management of our natural resources and increase sustainable on-farm productivity and resilience to climate change.

New or innovative, as well as tried and tested, climate-smart, sustainable agricultural practices are in scope.  

I’m very much looking forward to the impact the successful projects will have for the sector, and for Australia as a whole.

And I’m hopeful I will see at least some of you at the Sustainable Agriculture Summit I am hosting in Toowoomba later this month.

The idea of this Summit is to bring together leading industry groups, agribusinesses, environmental groups, researchers, community groups and of course governments to come together to chart a united path forward for the ag industry to improve its climate resilience, while improving productivity and profitability.

People and Community

Access to labour is a key priority for Australia’s agricultural industries, including the meat processing industry.

The PALM scheme is a critical labour source for the meat processing sector and I am pleased that we have more than 30,000 PALM workers in Australia at the moment.

I know there are challenges with the scheme, as there are with any program, but I and my department will continue to work with you to make sure the program continues to work for your sector.

The importance of dealing with the workforce challenge is why I established the tripartite Agricultural Workforce Working Group, which in 2023 successfully advocated for agriculture as a core consideration in decision-making on workforce matters across government.

This included fee-free TAFE courses for agriculture, the Food Supply Chain Capacity Study, the Ag Trade Apprenticeship Project, and the Migration Review.

This work is continuing through the Agriculture Workforce Forum.

The government continues to support the agricultural sector to access the workforce it needs, including through the NFF’s AgCAREERSTART pilot program, which we have supported to undertake a third year in 2024.

The program provides young people from all backgrounds with an opportunity to experience work and life in the industry through a placement with host farms.

It’s looking like a record year for intake and so far the team has placed 72 participants on farm, including 39 on cattle farms.  

Conclusion

It’s important that government and industry keep working together to advance the industry’s sustainability objectives.  

I look forward to hearing more about progress being made under the framework today.

Thanks, and I hope to see you around during the remainder of the week.