Address to the ABARES Outlook Conference 2024

CANBERRA (via videolink)
TUESDAY, 5 MARCH 2024

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Good morning everyone and welcome to this year’s ABARES Outlook Conference.

Sorry I can’t be there in person with you today, but it’s great to join you remotely from Melbourne, where I’m attending the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit, celebrating 50 years of Australia becoming the first dialogue partner of the booming Association of South East Asian Nations. 

Being here is a great opportunity to showcase your work – premium Aussie food and fibre – to some of our most important international markets. 

I’d like to start today by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the lands we’re all gathering on today, and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.

2024 PRIORITIES

Each year, ABARES Outlook provides a fantastic chance to discuss emerging trends that will help to shape our agriculture industry over the next 12 months.

And ABARES latest forecasts, released today, show that the industry remains in good shape, rebounding by up to 6%, bringing the gross value of Australian farms, fisheries and forestry to $90.8 billion, the third highest on record.

That’s a testament to the hard work of Australia’s farmers, fishers, foresters, the workers in those industries and the whole ag supply chain.

From a government perspective, I’m pleased that the Albanese Government’s policies are underpinning that effort. 

The next 12 months will be key to building on the work we’ve already done and delivering on our priorities.

You would have heard me talk before about my four big priorities in the agricultural portfolio, being strengthening biosecurity, boosting the ag workforce, opening up new trade opportunities and improving farm sustainability.

The Albanese Government’s work in these areas has provided an important foundation for our ag sector to succeed.

Such as our work to deliver the first ever Sustainable Biosecurity funding model, including more than a billion dollars to protect our nation from exotic pests and disease.

Or delivering tens of thousands more workers through the PALM scheme and our investment in fee-free TAFE courses to encourage locals to get into the ag sector.

Or expanding trade relationships which have seen massive increases in ag exports to big markets like the United Kingdom, India and South East Asia.

And the work we’ve done to begin stabilising our relationship with our biggest trading partner, China, is of immense importance to our ag sector too. 

But while we’ll continue delivering in those areas, my big focus for 2024 will be working with our ag sector to lift its sustainability and tell that story more widely.

To show the world that by embracing climate smart practices, Australian agriculture should be its producer of choice.

I acknowledge that this involves building on work the industry is already doing.

But there are ways in which government can support that work to ensure farmers can reduce emissions and adapt to climate change, all while maximising their profitability and minimising their risk.

One of those ways is to ensure that the climate and carbon data being collected and distributed is of the highest quality.

It’s clear that reliable data on ag production, markets and carbon measurement, is instrumental in informing smart industry decisions.

ABARES has a long-established reputation for providing trusted, rigorous and objective research. 

That’s why the Albanese Government delivered more than $38 million in funding in last year’s Budget to strengthen ABARES climate data capability.

I’m particularly excited by the work ABARES is doing to build new land use modelling capability, which includes analysis of the impact of domestic and international climate-related policies on ag and land use at a regional scale.

All info that will help farmers make decisions about their businesses. 

Plus it allows governments and industry to identify risks, opportunities and emerging issues for the sector.

OUTLOOK 2024

Having been before, I know you’ll get a lot out of Outlook 2024.

Soon you’ll hear about the new ag statistics unit being established to support the ABS to modernise agri-stats.

But another thing being launched today is a new joint initiative between my department and CSIRO to help support our biosecurity system. 

It’s called the Catalysing Australia’s Biosecurity - or CAB - initiative. 

I know everyone here today understands the need for a biosecurity system that keeps pace with today’s needs and prepares for the threats of tomorrow. 

The CAB Initiative is all about creating connections between governments, industry and the community, making the most of our R&D spend on biosecurity issues and delivering practical solutions to the emerging biosecurity threats and risks we face at the border. 

We see opportunities in developments like AI, machine learning, decision-support platforms, genomics, robotics, drones, remote sensing and big data analytics – to name a few of the areas that CAB could leverage. 

DAFF is also working on programs like the National Environmental DNA Program in partnership with the University of Canberra, and the Innovation Pilots Program. 

One of these pilots is Spot the robot dog, who’s being trained to inspect a shipping container for biosecurity risks. 

This has potential to boost risk detection, as well as being good for safety, since Spot can go places where humans shouldn’t.

I hear Spot is at the Outlook Conference today so hopefully you’ll all get a chance to see him in action!

CONCLUSION

I know you’ll hear much more throughout the rest of the conference, so I’ll stop myself there.

I look forward to hearing all about how the presentations go and what you’ve learned over today and tomorrow. 

Thanks for your time today, thank you for your efforts on behalf of this vital sector, and I hope you enjoy the rest of Outlook.