Address to Farmers for Climate Action
It's my privilege have the opportunity to address you today, as Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
Can I start by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the lands on which we each gather and pay respects to Elders past, present and future.
Our first farmers, fishers and foresters, from whom we can still learn so much.
34 years ago, then Prime Minister Bob Hawke delivered a landmark speech on the banks of the Murray River.
In that speech, Bob Hawke launched Landcare. The revolutionary centrepiece of a major statement on the environment.
Bob began by saying… “This morning’s launch symbolises two realities about our environment.
“The first is that the damage being done to the environment is a problem for us all.
And the second is that the solution to this problem is found through collaboration between all those who care for the land.”
Often in my travels around the country I am reminded of the former Prime Minister’s wise words.
I am reminded of them when I listen to farmers telling me how a changing climate is already impacting their rainfall, their yields and their bottom lines.
I am reminded of them when I see the price of fruit and vegetables rise, every time we experience a major natural disaster.
And I am reminded of them when I meet the farmers, the farm workers, the environmentalists, the Landcare and industry groups, the researchers, Indigenous rangers and more, who are solving these challenges. Through collaboration.
SUSTAINABILITY AND COLLABORATION
In 1989, the Hawke Government’s vision for agriculture had sustainability and collaboration at its core. In doing so, it tackled the environmental challenges of its time and set Australia’s agriculture industry up for future growth.
In 2023, the Albanese Government’s vision does likewise. Just like the Hawke Government, sustainability is central to our vision for agriculture. And it is through collaboration that we will tackle the challenges of our time - in a way that benefits farmers, our environment and rural communities.
Collaboration was something Bob Hawke encouraged, when he brought the National Farmers Federation and Australian Conservation Foundation together to form Landcare.
It’s collaboration our government has fostered, to deal with a range of challenges our agriculture sector has faced, like workforce shortages and the threat of foot and mouth disease.
And it’s collaboration that will help us manage the risk and opportunity presented by climate change.
Working together to address the issues our agriculture industry and our environment face right now.
Setting the industry up to meet the changing expectations of consumers and world markets.
Protecting our land and water assets, so they remain healthy and productive for generations to come.
And growing our industry, to secure a positive future for farmers, workers, rural communities and the whole nation.
NOW IS THE TIME
I have spent my first nine months as Minister meeting with farmers, industry groups, unions, businesses and more, listening to their issues and ideas, through a range of meetings and roundtables.
I thank Farmers for Climate Action for their participation in those discussions. You have given voice to the very real concerns of farmers and their suggestions on how to tackle them.
What is clear to me from those wide-ranging discussions is that there is an urgent need to support Australian agriculture to become even more sustainable, that farmers are up for the challenge and that we need national leadership to take this forward.
You may have seen some reporting about my recent trip to London and Berlin to discuss trade and sustainability with my English and European counterparts.
The one consistent message I heard from our trading partners is that, to create and maintain important markets, Australia needs to produce food in an even more sustainable way.
And my message back to them was that, on that front, there is bad news, good news, and better news.
The bad news is that Australian farmers are already intensely feeling the impacts of climate change, whether that be through violent storms, intense flooding or prolonged drought.
ABARES modelling shows that over the last 20 years, changing seasonal conditions due to climate change have reduced the average Australian farm’s profitability by 23 percent. It’s already hitting farmers’ bottom lines.
The good news is that farmers and wider industry are already taking steps to lift their sustainability credentials.
We should celebrate the fact that Australia’s agriculture sector has led the way in reducing emissions since 1990. Our red meat industry is committed to carbon neutral production by 2030, with pork aiming to get there by 2025.
Farmers are increasingly turning to precision fertiliser techniques, improving soil practices, reducing water use and introducing hybrid technologies to reduce fuel emissions. Industry is already forging a path and showing the way to the rest of the world.
But the better news is that - finally - Australia has a government that is matching industry’s ambition.
The decade of denial is over. A decade of inaction and government leaders sticking their heads in the sand in a way that simply held our agriculture sector back.
In the Albanese Government, Australian farmers now have a willing partner, prepared to work together to meet this shared challenge.
ACTIONS TO DATE
In our first year, we’ve started work, committing to things that were in the too hard basket or made the subject of baseless scare campaigns.
Of course, we’ve now legislated real national emissions reductions targets, with real plans to get there.
We’ve finally joined over 100 other nations, in signing the Global Methane Pledge.
We’ve invested $29 million in the Methane Emissions Reduction in Livestock program, and I’ll have more to say on the first exciting projects as part of the program later in the week.
We have supported the NFF to develop the Australian Agricultural Sustainability Framework.
We have invested $20.3 million in the Carbon Farming Outreach program, announced in the October 2022 Budget.
This program will help train trusted and independent advisors to work with farmers and other land managers to understand carbon markets and decide whether, and how, to participate.
We have provided funding to support Australian farmers demonstrate their sustainable farming practices, leading the way on developing a provable product-claim that assures key export markets.
We allocated more than $8 million in last year’s budget toward grants for research into asparagopsis and other feed additives to reduce methane.
We are helping farmers prepare for the next drought, by investing $100 million through the Future Drought Fund for programs that support proactive efforts to build preparedness and resilience to inevitable future droughts.
This includes investing in drought resilience products and services to make them more commercially available.
We are working with farmers and land managers to ensure our soil's sustainable use to meet today's needs without compromising the needs of future generations.
In consultation with the State and Territory Governments we have taken the first step in rolling out our commitment to livestock traceability, a $46 million investment in improving the sustainability and provenance of the industry.
We are also taking decisive action to tackle the threat of established pests and weeds by investing in targeted programs as well as our research and development corporations.
All of these things have been done in collaboration with farmers and the wider agriculture sector.
In 2023, I want us to build on these early steps.
I want us to bring this sustainability focus to the whole agriculture supply chain. To act on some of the long-term opportunities that can catapult the industry even further forward.
Key to that is national leadership. To that end, at our very first meeting after the election Federal, State and Territory Agriculture Ministers resolved to make agricultural sustainability one of our shared national priorities. A far cry from the situation that came before, where Ministers were not permitted to even raise climate change for discussion.
And today, I’m very pleased to tell you that Ministers have agreed to develop a National Statement on Climate Change and Agriculture. This national statement - a first for Australia - will present a broad and unified vision for the agriculture sector and will demonstrate that all levels of government are committed to supporting the sector to sustainably manage the impacts of climate change.
This statement provides an opportunity for real and genuine collaboration on this shared national challenge. An opportunity to acknowledge and showcase the work the sector, including your members, is already undertaking.
This is the kind of national leadership that farmers and the wider industry have been looking for. I know that from my visits to farms, meatworks and grain terminals around the country.
We also know that from the surveys conducted by Farmers for Climate Action.
Those surveys tell us that most farmers want to take action on climate change - by trialling new technologies, products and farming practices - if it will benefit themselves and the environment.
But those surveys also tell us that most farmers haven’t been involved in that sort of adaptation and extension, and that one of the main reasons is that they lack the information on how to do it.
This bridging role - between the desire to act and actual on-farm uptake - is something that can government along with trusted partners can assist with. I am in discussions with my ministerial colleagues about how we could do that, right now.
We’re also working on ways to help farmers develop new income streams, through good environmental stewardship. What farmer doesn’t want their hard toil to be rewarded with more money!
On the banks of the Murray that day 34 years ago, Bob Hawke said that through the co-operation of all Australians, we can seek a sustainable future.
Likewise in the ag sector, by listening to each other, collaborating and co-operating before taking decisive action, we can tackle the big issues and achieve our lofty goals.
My focus as Minister will continue to work in partnership with industry to ensure that change and challenges are tackled in lockstep.
We are working from strong foundations — but we can always do better.
We have a once in a generation opportunity, with government and industry now united on the risks posed by climate change and the opportunities it creates. We cannot afford to waste it.
I look forward to working closely with you to ensure a more sustainable and prosperous future for this industry that we all love and that our nation depends on.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak here today.