Address to the Bringing Dowerin Downtown Luncheon



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

In a few short weeks, we will all have the chance to recognise our first peoples in our Constitution.

A lot has been said about this, but it’s worth remembering what it’s actually about – recognition and listening, to deliver better results.

Something that will benefit all Australians.

It’s a pleasure to be with you all at today’s Bringing Dowerin Downtown lunch as part of the Dowerin Machinery Field Days.

While time doesn’t allow me to get out to Dowerin, I understand the pride that field days provide to rural communities, having been at Australia’s largest one – AgQuip – in northwest New South Wales last week.

And Western Australia’s agriculture sector has a lot to be proud of, especially in recent years.

From the state’s vast grain production through the Wheatbelt, to livestock in the Kimberley and the southwest, to horticulture in the Ord, Western Australia’s agricultural diversity showcases the ingenuity and resilience of this state’s farmers.

And today I’d like to share with you how the Albanese Government plans to support you, to protect and grow the west’s agriculture sector even further.

Including by strengthening our biosecurity protections and assisting agriculture to adapt to climate change.

Almost from my first day as Minister, biosecurity has been front and centre of our agriculture agenda.

Since being elected last year, our government has safeguarded our agriculture sector against growing plant and animal disease risks.

We’ve kept Australia free of foot and mouth and lumpy skin disease, including through stronger protections at our borders.

Northern Australia, including in the Kimberley, has been a key focus, with increased surveillance, more Indigenous rangers and stronger industry and government partnerships.

And in our May budget, we introduced Australia's first financially sustainable biosecurity system.

The biosecurity budget we inherited was headed for a $100 million annual reduction, due to short-term funding decisions by the previous government.

Given the importance of biosecurity to agriculture, a long-term, sustainable funding solution was necessary.

After lots of lobbying from me and the sector, I was delighted the Prime Minister and Treasurer agreed, approving over $1 billion in new biosecurity operations funding.

The vast majority of this increased funding comes from two sources, increased government funding at $350 million each year, and increased fees and charges on importers at $363 million annually.

And already in the first six weeks following July 1, our regime of increased fees and charges on importers has raised more than $51 million dollars.

That’s $51 million dollars more – in just six weeks - than was collected from the container levy the Coalition promised, then scrapped, and are now promising again.

They talk about making importers pay more.

We’re doing it.

Of course, we are also asking producers to make a modest contribution towards sustainable biosecurity funding - $47 million each year or a mere 6% of the total funding package.

I think it’s reasonable to ask producers – key beneficiaries of stronger biosecurity - to pay a modest Biosecurity Protection Levy, from July 1 next year.

And for the first time, producers will have a say in how it is spent.

In fact, the Department began consultation with industry on the levy just last week.

I’d encourage anyone who hasn’t yet registered to take part, through the DAFF “Have your say” website.

A strong biosecurity system is crucial to both protecting and growing the west’s agricultural sector, but pests and diseases are not our only challenge.

The changing climate poses new challenges for our farmers, with drier and hotter conditions expected over the coming months and years.

ABARES has found that climate change has already caused significant financial losses for farmers, amounting to a 23% in annual farm profits, or around $29,200 per farm.

Our farmers have literally paid the price for a decade of climate change denial and delay.

Worryingly, last week’s Intergenerational Report released by the Treasurer showed that without any meaningful action on climate change, the overall crop yield in Australia would be reduced by 4% over the next 40 years.

The report also found that northern WA is likely to experience temperature increases higher than the national average.

The message is clear – we need to work with the ag sector to reduce its emissions and adapt to climate change.

Just this morning, State Agriculture Minister Jackie Jarvis and I met with key figures from the WA agriculture sector who reminded us of the important work being done - by industry - to reduce emissions.

You now have a Federal Government that matches industry's ambition to be more engaged on climate action.

That’s why we’ve begun work on a new agriculture and land sector plan to help reach Australia’s net zero 2050 goals.

This plan will be developed in partnership with the sector over the next 12 months, but we’re also taking action in the meantime.

Already, we’ve released Australia’s first national statement on climate change and agriculture, developed with the States, Territories and industry.

We’ve delivered over $300 million towards the next five years of the Natural Heritage Trust, with a key focus on assisting farmers become even more sustainable.

We’ve signed the Global Methane Pledge and funded trials of asparogopsis and other feed supplements.

Through the various Research and Development Corporations, we’re jointly funding innovation in drought-resistant crop varieties, more water efficient production methods and good soil health.

And we’re investing significantly to help farmers prepare for drought, including $38 million to support long-term trials of new and emerging agriculture practices to build drought resilience in a changing climate.

We’ve also partnered with the WA Government to fund $2 million in drought resilience grants, specifically in the Sourthern Rangelands.

To further bolster our knowledge base, we're also investing more than $38 million in ABARES to better understand the impact of climate change on our nation through data and analytics capabilities.

By arming ourselves with information, taking action now and working with the sector, we can protect our ag sector from the worst and help it continue to grow in a changing climate.

Despite these challenges, the agriculture industry in WA has much to be proud of, and in just our first 15 months, the Albanese Government is delivering for the sector.

Already, we’ve begun stabilising Australia’s relationship with our biggest trading partner, we’re delivering - together with the WA Government and industry - a $400 million upgrade to grains rail and road infrastructure across the Wheatbelt and southern WA and we’re continuing to attract more skilled and unskilled workers to address workforce shortages.

Just this morning I was lucky enough to join Trade Minister Don Farrell and Resources Minister Madeleine King at the CBH grain terminal in Kwinana for the first resumed shipment of barley to China.

These wins for agriculture could only be achieved by a Labor Government, taking a calm and consistent approach to our international and domestic engagement.

I think the mature way in which we have dealt with all parts of society has been a hallmark of this government.

Even when we disagree, such as on our policy to phase out the export of live sheep by sea.

Something we took to the last two elections.

And something that polls have shown is supported by more than 70% of Western Australians.

I have consistently recognised that we need to deal with the farmers and communities this affects with respect.

I recognise our policy has caused concern and that sheep farmers are now dealing with lower prices caused by oversupply, as they are over east.

This is why we have made clear that the phase out will be done in an orderly, consultative way.

But I think we also need to understand that this industry was in decline long before the May 2022 election.

In fact, under the former Coalition Government, live sheep export numbers fell from 1.8 million in 2015 to 650,000 in 2022.

Live sheep exports now contribute less than one per cent of agricultural exports from Western Australia and just one tenth of one per cent of all agricultural exports from Australia.

The proportion of Western Australian sheep turned off for live export has dropped from 49% in 2001–02 to 12% in 2021–22.

This industry has been in transition for some time, well before we affirmed our commitment to the phase out.

Importantly, past changes haven’t spelled the end for the local sheep industry, and our changes don’t need to either.

Because while live export numbers have plummeted, sheep meat exports have increased in real terms by around 200% in Western Australia since 2003.

This – I think – is the future for Western Australia – a strong, ongoing sheep and wool industry, more processing jobs onshore, new markets for sheep meat, like those we’ve recently opened in the UK and India and growing existing markets, like the Middle East, where 46,000 tonnes in 2000 to 73,500 in 2023.

I respect that not everyone is going to agree with our policy.

But we have a responsibility to deliver our election commitment, while doing it with the least impact.

Working that out is the job of the independent panel, which is due to report back to government at the end of September, before being considered by Cabinet.

So, I will continue to treat respectfully those affected by our decision, as I have when I’ve met them on more than ten occasions since becoming Minister.

But I think we owe it to the whole WA ag sector – the sheep farmers, the meat processors, the grain growers, the cattle, seafood, wine, horticulture and other producers, and the whole agricultural supply chain, to see the enormous opportunities the sector has ahead.

In closing, I want to express my gratitude for this opportunity to speak with you today.

The west’s agriculture sector has been a star performer in recent years, and nothing shows that more than the Dowerin Machinery Field Days.

The Albanese Government will keep working with you, to protect and grow this vital sector, through our efforts in biosecurity, climate adaptation, trade, infrastructure and more.

Enjoy the rest of today’s event.

Thank you.