Address to the Queensland Rural Press Club

5 September 2019

To all the rural press in this room, in the media landscape that is becoming about monologues and a monoculture that's increasingly urbanised, your voice, how you use your pen, your Twitter feed, your blog, your newspaper, your radio is increasingly important to ensure that our industries, our communities, our people, our way of life continues to be told and heard outside of our community. So thank you for the work you do each and every day.

I'd just like to acknowledge the traditional owners on whose land we're meeting today and pay my respects to elders past and present.

Today, I really want to touch on the prosperous future that agriculture has and the forward thinking agenda that I'm hoping as the Minister for Agriculture and our government, the Liberal-National partnership in Canberra hopes to provide a framework for our entrepreneurial forward thinking, hardworking primary producers across this nation to use them to do what they do best, to grow and to prosper. But it is great to be back in the great state of Queensland and to see so many from the food and fibre industries here across the state. QFES, AgForce, I know Georgia can't be with us; it took a ball to get her down but she sends her best up.

At the last election, there were a lot of surprises; put up your hand if you were surprised. Come on. But there was one event that really, I think, changed the dial for that election and also really brought a message home that we all know about out in the regions, but much of the broader community. It was the reaction by Central Queensland, in particular, to the cavalcade of cars that drove all the way from Melbourne to Queensland to tell Queenslanders that they couldn't have a mine.

Now, I'm from regional Victoria and I love Melbourne; don't hold that against me. I had the former role of Sports Minister; it took me a while to work out the code of football, but I am a Maroon at heart because we all hate New South Wales.

The fact is that Melbourne was built on mining - gold mining. So who do Melbourners, southerners, think they are saying that Queenslanders can't do the same thing albeit a couple of hundred years later? But the same also goes for our other key regional industries in this country, bearing in mind agriculture, mining, nearly 80 per cent of this nation's exports from those two areas of industry based out in regional Australia.

Same goes for agriculture. We've now got people telling us that farming is bad; that our agricultural industries are morally wrong and that all the animals need to be freed. I seriously got a letter from high school kids the other day asking me to stop forcing the chickens from having to lay so many eggs. Seriously, this is what comes across the desk of the Agriculture Minister. But the fact is that in working to feed and clothe people, there's hardly a morally justifiable industry. And this is an industry, as the new Agriculture Minister, I know my party and my government will fight to defend.

Yesterday, I read a Queensland Country Life article, and well done to AgForce, where Mike was talking of the pride and passion that the agricultural community showed in voicing their opposition to the now justifiably defunct reef protection bill here in your home state. I raised this because it's an example of what we can actually achieve when our community finds its voice and stands united.

As animal activists have admitted in a recent parliamentary inquiry in Victoria, their actual end goal is not about animal welfare; their end goal is to end livestock production in this country. Now, there goes the end of our $16 billion red meat industry which underpins much of regional Queensland's prosperity and yes, I know Rockhampton is the beef capital of Australia.

At the federal level, we're progressing farm trespass legislation for the various reasons I spoke about. People have a right to make a living from food and fibre. In fact, our nation's economy depends on it. Agriculture serves as a cornerstone for our economy, producing $800 billion across the supply chain and employing over 1.6 million Australians; 1.6 million Australians depend on their livelihoods as a result of food and fibre production.

What your stand here in this state did against more red tape designed to stop you getting on with business showed us that when we speak up as an industry and as a community, Australians choose to back us.

In the first three months as Ag Minister, I've travelled to each state and met hundreds of people who contribute day in and day out to this important sector. Mango producers in Barwon, cattlemen in Rockhampton, tuna fishermen in Port Lincoln.

In Queensland, despite considerable impediments that you've been going through for many, many years now - including the droughts and natural disasters - your exports are up from 7.7 billion in 2012 to over $8.8 billion in the last financial year.

In 2017/18 your meat and live animals represented 29 per cent of all exports in this State and have grown 60 per cent over the last five years. Our Government's role is to support you to do what you're already doing, to get out of your way, to make sure you've got a regulatory framework, a research and development framework that helps you to be your very best. That's what our Government's job is to do - more prosperous, more sustainable.

Despite the tough seasons - and I've been on the ground in Quilpie, and I got a chance to spend New Year's in Alpha - the terrible floods in North Queensland have wreaked havoc and devastation I guess across much of Queensland, and Minister David Littleproud has done a fantastic job in supporting those communities and instilling a range of responses from our Government to support them in the immediate, but also to get them back on their feet through the recovery phase.

Our drought support and flood relief contributes to keeping the foundations of this industry strong and ready for the recovery because we know that we've got to be, not just physically ready for the recovery when the rain comes, but mentally ready to seize the opportunities that will bring. I'm a firm believer that the best days of our farmers, our fishers, and our foresters are ahead of us.

That's why our Government has set a clear goal making each one of our primary producers part of a goal to see this industry grow from $60 billion dollars last year to a $100 billion industry by 2030. That will take a concerted and coordinated push, and government, industry and the State Government in particular have a role to play. We've got to promote more trade, increase market access.

Underpinning everything we do is that biosecurity piece. We need to safeguard that biosecurity pests and disease free status, we've got to boost our productivity and profitability through increasing innovation and research and development and we have to ensure that we've got the right workforce in the right place at the right time of the season with the right skills.

And though there's a critical infrastructure piece to make that all happen, not just physical - inland road, roads, beef roads, et cetera - but increasing the digital connectivity that will really enhance agricultural production.

For me export growth is at the very heart of growing Australian agriculture. We export nearly 70 per cent of what we produce, that's a fact. So we can't eat more, in fact there's people trying to stop us eating more in this country. We need to get more of that safe, clean, green, reliable produce into markets around the world.
But it is increasingly becoming more competitive. Ukraine produces a pretty good grain now. South America produces pretty good beef, where maybe 20 years ago we had the cutting edge. So we need to be increasingly focused on our safe food proposition to the world.

I'll talk about productivity and innovation shortly, but on agricultural trade more specifically we continue to lead the way and open up more opportunities to get our fantastic safe and sustainable food and fibre to markets overseas. We've secured the CPTPP, we're delivering high quality free trade agreements with Canada and Mexico - two of the world's top 20 economies - and we're delivering further improvements to the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement.

Our FTA's with our three northern neighbours - China, Korea and Japan - continue to deliver strong opportunities for our agriculture. And we've concluded our negotiations, as we all know, with Indonesia which is going - and Hong Kong - which is going to open significant opportunities.

We're currently negotiating with the EU and we'll see how that goes, and depending what happens with Boris over the coming days we're looking forward to starting negotiations obviously with the UK post Brexit.

It was great to travel last week throughout Japan, Korea, and Vietnam with a group of producers from across the country. And I think we took Justin, are you here? Yes? Yes, and Ben Martin from the mango industry here in Queensland were part of the delegation that went. I guess that trip really showed me the immense value of the access wins we've had in these markets for agriculture, the preferential deals we've been able to enjoy, and the need for us to continue to build relationships in existing markets because the competitors are coming, the competitors are coming

Minister Takatori in Japan and I, whilst bonding over our mutual love of sports shooting - I'm looking for a property where I can take him feral pig hunting when he comes over to Australia, just put your hands up later - but we also were talking about the increased competition for Australian beef in this market from the USA beef agreement with Japan that is currently being negotiated by Prime Minister Abe and President Trump.

Our longstanding relationship with Japan is evidenced by mutual co-investment in agri-businesses and right across the supply chain, but we can't take that for granted. Opportunities for Australian horticulture in a market like Korea are immense, including the immediate horizon of mainland cherry exports. The proactive work by producers in country, accessing our increased investment as a Government in agricultural counsellors in those three markets means that those producers and exporters that want to engage can.

My encouragement, though, is to get out there and get into market and make that happen. Finally, there is such an exciting opportunity represented by Vietnam. My meeting with Minister Cuong was positive and constructive. I made clear to the Minister that any importation of whole uncooked prawns from Vietnam will have to wait until we've conducted our comprehensive review following the white spot outbreak, but didn't stop you from asking. But our two nations have decided to double our agricultural exports, trade between each other over coming years. The two prime ministers agreed to that.

It is an exciting proposition of partnering our know-how, our product, into their supply chains and then export it to third countries in our region. Super opportunities in Vietnam and we are incredibly excited to extend that. We've reinvigorated the Australia-Vietnam Business Forum, and I invited him to Australia early next year for a Vietnamese beer made with Australian barley. So he's eagerly accepted that, and he'll be bringing a delegation over of Vietnamese agribusiness entrepreneurs to connect with our community over here. So watch out for that.

There's new breakthroughs every week on the trade front - they may not make headlines, but they're all helpful to our farmers to develop new partnerships. Just last week, we regained access to the United States for all pork products, as well as access to Singapore for our free range egg producers. Announcements like this help keep the value of our food and fibre exports ticking up. And on the trade front and across every front, you can rely on our government to keep fighting to secure the best free trade deals for our farmers, and to be there negotiating market access protocols as quickly as we can.

Our reputation as a nation, as a reliable supplier of safe, sustainable, high quality produce, is down to our biosecurity system. But increasing pressure from people movement, increasing cargo trade - we've had a 172 per cent increase on mail over the last decade -means the risk is increasing, and it's our entire value proposition to the world. We're not cheaper to produce things, our competitors are increasingly getting as green, we need to continue to promote our safety as a food supplier. And so, if we're going to get to $100 billion by 2030 we've got to jealously guard that competitive advantage and protect the $6 trillion worth of environmental, economic and agricultural assets from pests and disease.

African swine fever, you might have seen it in the paper recently, is potentially the biggest animal disease that the world has ever seen, and it’s marching south through Asia towards Australia. That's why tomorrow, I've called an emergency roundtable to be chaired by our Chief Veterinary Officer Mark Schipp who's also President of the International Organisation for Animal Health.

The roundtable will serve as an initial discussion of the market effects of African swine fever on the global protein and grains supply, and the challenges and opportunities this presents for Australia. If you're a beef exporter at the moment with certification into China, they cannot get enough of the product you're selling and because of our trade tensions, obviously there's reasons for those still waiting in the queue for that certification. But that's why there are opportunities present before this.

So we've got AMIC coming, APL, MLA and sheep producers, as well as scientists and state governments from across the country tomorrow. So I'll be holding a press conference following the roundtable and that discussion around the next steps. To grow, we also need to be clever and courageous we need an innovation system that supports farmer productivity and profitability right across the supply chain. We're pretty good at it. Did you know the surf ski? Put up your hands if you do, because I actually didn't. Did you know the surf ski that is now so useful in rescuing our tourists at Bondi Beach? It was actually invented by two brothers outside Port Macquarie so they could actually check the oyster beds back in 1912. The youth from Geelong, the cask wine from Renmark, the self-propelled rotary hoe from Gilgandra and the stump jump plough from the Mallee. These inventions really showcase the innovation that has always been a natural part of our scientists and our primary producers.

The CSIRO has some great inventions, including BT cotton, which has actually reduced the use of insecticides by 92 per cent in Australian cotton production. Which has actually helped cotton grow to the $2 billion industry it is today, and it's been great for our environment. Taxpayers have been part of funding our past innovation breakthroughs, whether it's through the CSIRO or our research and development corporations. And they'll continue to do so.

We need to ensure our research delivers value for both the taxpayer and the levy payer. Each year our farmers through the levy's invest almost half a billion dollars in research development and marketing. The Australian Government and the taxpayer provides matching funding of around $300 million for eligible R&D expenditure.

There's no doubt the way the rural development corporations were first created about four decades ago—around the same time as this press club—the system was world-leading. Back then, though, as a journalist, you manually sent the papers out each night, and there was no Google search for the tough questions or research you needed to do to finish your article. Just as journalism has changed, so too must the R&D system. Agricultural productivity is slowing, it has been since the 1990s, and as the Treasurer has highlighted, our country's productivity growth is also slowing down to 1.1 per cent over the last five years from 1.5 per cent.

The RDC system needs to evolve to focus on delivering benefits to producers, to enable them to jump ahead of global competitors. We need less duplication, greater collaboration to deliver real productivity and profitability back to the farm gate and the taxpayer. The Ernst and Young report- former agriculture minister ranked our rural innovation system as twentieth in the world, even though we've got more researchers than the US or the Netherlands - who by the way are the top 10 - but tellingly, during that report's construction, 80 per cent of those interviewed about our research and development, our innovation system called for reform. As I've travelled around the country and spoken with levy payers, spoken with RDC chairs, there has been similarly a recognition that this system that served us so well needs reform for the next section of the twenty-first century and beyond.

In looking at reform, we need to consider all the options. One theoretical policy option is to let the market decide how much is invested in research and development, take the public investment out of it altogether and many countries overseas have used that approach. Another was proposed by Labor at the last election, where they referred back to the 2011 Productivity Commission report and were going to halve the taxpayer investment co-contribution into research and development. These are both valid approaches, but they won't be approaches that our government will be supporting.

I remain completely committed to the co-contribution of the Australian taxpayer and the levy payer in funding research and development. It is unique in the world. And it actually, I think, particularly at this point in time where there is a disconnectedness between the broader Australian taxpayer and the contribution that agriculture makes to their own way of living and their standard of living, that they get a broader benefit from agriculture doing well, so that won't be being changed.

The current funding arrangements RDCs provide a shared commitment and I consider our government's responsibility to ensure we put this money to work and make a real difference on the ground for our producers and our regional communities, not just now but in decades to come.

I've heard a range of views about the possible future shape of what our RDC model could look like. Some of the suggestions are structural. So, do we want an additional RDC, as well as the current 15? Would the new RDC focus on work across industry sectors? Should there be fewer RDCs? If so, how many and with what role, and I noticed the red meat industry has had a go at grappling with some of those incredibly difficult questions.

Should the RDCs be mandated to spend a minimum across common questions through the system? Should they be performing advocacy? What's the role of marketing? Do I need to pay five levies plus my SFO plus my PIC? I mean these are serious questions that when you're on the ground talking to producers, they want answers to. There are many, many different ideas. It's a complex area but we need to be open and constructive about a future state that will put the investment of levy payers and the taxpayers to best use.

Now in flagging these ideas, I don't want RDC coming- or farming bodies for that matter, advocacy bodies, coming and saying why their organisation is super awesome and are better than all the rest because I've started the Senate inquiry a few years ago into the red meat industry following a boycott at the Barnawartha saleyards by processors. And what that taught me, I guess through listening and hearing various views, is that there's a lot of informal and formal conflicts in these systems that we have, and to get the best result for producers and our nation we need to leave our vested interests at the door and behind, and work in the national interest for reform that will put our agricultural industries, our primary producers in the best position for the twenty-first century.

So today I announce I'll create an advisory body to provide options on reform opportunities for the R&D system by early next year. I'll be making specific announcements of the roadmap in coming weeks, including a discussion paper that will be released on 23 September to guide our engagement.

I'm committed for this process to be inclusive and ensure that all who have a stake get to have a say on the future of our innovation system. The key areas, guiding questions if you like, of that discussion paper and the things I've heard. That we're spending too much time on short term priorities and on the concerns of individual sectors. Some consolidation of our mechanisms for planning and procuring research is needed. The only people benefiting, some levy payers would argue, are the academics. How much and in what form needs to be worked through. The scope for reducing duplication through better collaboration and organisational structures. High quality industry advocacy is needed.

Many of our peak industry councils are struggling for funds to actually do the really critical work of advocating for their industries. We need to make sure they're appropriately funded. Better communications with producers and transmission of the research. As states have withdrawn from extension services, you know, we've got all this great stuff happening at this level of the system.

But is it actually being delivered at the farm gate? I think that's very mixed across the RDC system. And finally, we need to have more of our knowledge products commercialised and make sure that the levy payers can actually see return on their investment at the farm gate.

Science has always driven the profitability and productivity of the Australian agricultural sector. We're world renowned for our use of science. The current regulatory system, a bit like our RDC system, is the big 3-0. So it's been three decades since we've actually set up the national registration for agricultural and veterinary chemicals, and since it's been set up, we had 7000 when we started. We've got over 12,000 now.

These products are needed to keep Australians healthy, our animals, our environment, and they guarantee and underpin the integrity of our Ag sector. But the regulatory framework needs to suit the twenty-first century. So today, I announce a comprehensive independent review of the Ag vet chemical regulatory system.

The review is a first principles review to look at the framework underpinning the national registration scheme for agvet chemicals, assessing the appropriateness, effectiveness and efficiency of the current framework, articulates the goals of the regulatory system, and considers Australia's regulatory requirements. And it will provide me with recommendations for reform of the system. Mr Ken Matthews AO will chair the expert panel to provide these recommendations to me by February 2021.

He's renowned for his integrity, depth of knowledge, and his insightful policy thinking, and he'll be supported by Dr Mary Corbett, Dr Sue Anne, Dr Austen who will together bring the expertise in regulation, agricultural production, veterinary medicines and human health. They'll be consulting widely with stakeholders throughout the review process. So, I look forward to receiving regular updates.

I just want to briefly touch on one of the barriers or handbrakes to us actually reaching our goal of a hundred-billion-dollar industry by 2030, and that's the workforce piece. Whilst it's not my direct responsibility, it is something we absolutely have to get right. We need a system that actually recognises- we need a visa system that has a suite of options to assist a variety of industries to get the right worker in the right place at the right time of the season.

But also, I want to see Australians recognising they can have a prosperous, you know, rewarding career in the agricultural industry for the twenty-first century, so there is a big work to do in the domestic space. You've seen Longreach and Emerald close. We do not be needing to teach young people in Australia to stitch saddles in our vocational education system it’s time to teach them to fly fleets of drone.

That’s why I’m also establishing an agricultural labour advisor committee to be chaired by three eminent Australians each expert in a critical field. One in immigration, one in agricultural education and one with real experience in the difficulties of hiring and retaining skilled staff.

I’d like to comment on the difficulties, in the horticulture industry, given the new horticulture award, ongoing claims of worker exploitation and difficulties sourcing seasonal labour.

Producers who are doing the right thing, and that’s the vast majority of them, in hiring and paying their workers are being penalised by retailers who continue to purchase the cheaper box at the wholesaler.

I call on Coles and Woolworths and other retailers to stand against worker exploitation and back those primary producers who are doing the right thing—because it is more expensive.

Ladies and gentleman, we have the mechanisms in place to support and sustain our fantastic food and fibre producers.

The reforms announced today will create an environment that will help our farmers, fishers and foresters succeed.

Getting ag to $100 billion by 2030 won’t be easy but it’s achievable if we all work together. Success will mean higher income for our producers, buoyant economies in regional Australia, an increased contribution to our nation’s gross domestic product, and happy, healthy customers for our food and fibre around the world.

History shows regional Australians are an adaptable bunch, Innovation and hard work by farmers and exporters has taken agriculture to a $60 billion industry. Further growth will require reform in government systems and regulation.

We need a 21st century system to back your drive and entrepreneurial skills.

That’s my promise to you today.