Address to MINTRAC Meat Inspection Quality Control Conference

SURFERS PARADISE
TUESDAY, 10 OCTOBER 2023

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Good afternoon. 

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

And I re-iterate the Albanese Government’s commitment to recognising our First Peoples in our nation’s constitution, through a Voice to Parliament.  

Just as we will get better outcomes by listening to each other today, we’ll get better results for our First Peoples if we listen to them, through a Voice to Parliament.  

That’s really all it’s about. 

I want to say how glad I am to be here today.  

It’s clear from the breadth of speakers and attendees here today that there’s a lot more to Australia’s meat industry than many people realise. 

This is a powerful, innovative and dynamic industry, and it’s heartening to see people come together to share their passion and enthusiasm for the sector.

You will have seen that close collaboration – with business, unions, community and education leaders, among others - has been a hallmark of our government.

We know that the people in this room have got great ideas for how we can further improve the meat processing industry.

We want to harness those ideas and we want to work together with you, to implement them, to support our farmers, our meat processors, our workers and the whole ag supply chain.  

WORKFORCE 

One of the areas where we can assist Australia’s agriculture industry is in helping it to access the workers it needs, while ensuring protections for workers are stronger than ever.

Just over a year ago we held the Jobs and Skills Summit, which brought Australians together to work constructively on the challenges and opportunities facing the Australian labour market and economy. 

From that we formed the tripartite Agricultural Workforce Working Group, which brought government, employer groups and unions together to find ways to attract, skill, protect and retain workers in agriculture and processing. 

I want to recognise the contribution of two representatives of the meat industry – Matt Journeaux from the Australiasian Meat Industry Employees Union and Patrick Hutchinson from the Australian Meat Industry Council – to that working group.  

And we also established Skills Insight, the Agribusiness Jobs and Skills Council, which will help to tackle the sector’s critical current and future skills and workforce challenges. 

So what do all these meeting and groups actually do? 

Through the working group, we’ve agreed to a number of things to build and protect the agriculture industry’s workforce needs, like: 

  • Funding over 13,000 Fee-Free TAFE places for agriculture courses, to train locals for careers in the industry 
  • Ensuring there are 18 certificates and advanced diplomas on the apprenticeship priority list related to meat processing, meat safety, quality assurance and retailing
  • Agreeing on the principles that should underpin national labour hire licensing, to give workers greater protection against exploitation
  • successfully advocating for a national Food Supply Chain Capacity Study, and the development of a new Ag Trade Apprenticeship
  • Going into bat for the agriculture sector, as we repair our broken migration system.

We’re looking at other practical measures as well. 

The Pacific Australia Labour Mobility, or PALM scheme, has been expanded and improved, with over 37,000 PALM workers in Australia as of August 2023. 

This includes over 10,000 PALM workers employed in meat processing. 

We’ve also accelerated visa processing, to cut the enormous visa backlog we inherited. 

All of these measures have a role to play in our aim to make the agricultural and meat sectors appealing industries to work in.  

This is the work we can do as a government – to operate where no one else can, and to throw our resources and efforts at the issues industries face. 

We are here to do the best by the people who work in the meat industry – employers and workers. 

This is an industry that succeeds through its people. 

There are around 54,000 people directly employed in meat processing and manufacturing. 

They make up the labourers, techies, tradies and managers who keep this industry moving.  

Supporting them are around 1,000 meat inspectors. 

And behind the meat industry is the agriculture sector, employing around 261,000 people. 

And these are just the direct figures.  

When we take into account indirect employment, these numbers are even bigger. 

And the numbers can grow even further, as a result of new markets we are opening overseas. 

TRADE 

Meat processing is a huge export industry for our country, directly contributing to food security in Australia and around the world. 

When this industry does well, we all do well, both here and overseas. 

Not only do we produce enough food for our own population, but we contribute over 1.6 million tonnes of premium meat to the world.  

We’re the fourth largest exporter of beef and the largest exporter of sheep meat in the world. 

Our meat exports alone are worth around $16 billion to the Australian economy. 

And the food safety and quality standards upheld by the industry are the reason we have been able to make such an impact on the global stage.

Through hard work and partnership between the Australian Government and you, the meat industry, we’ve achieved a premium level of market access opportunity that is the envy of the world. 

You provide the quality produce, and we provide the regulation that underpins it.  

You get the produce to market, and we go out and broker the kind of trade deals and agreements that put your food on plates around the world. 

For example, since coming to office last year, we’ve brought two important new trade deals into force – with the United Kingdom and India. 

Both deals have created important new markets for out meat producers and processors. 

They bring new and diversified trade opportunities to Australian farmers and traders. 

And it shows what can be achieved when governments work with industry to get things done. 

All of you will also be aware of our government’s work to stabilise our relationship with our biggest trading partner, China. 

Our approach has been to cooperate with China where we can, disagree where we must and engage in our national interest. 

Over the last few months, China has removed trade impediments on our exports of barley, timber, horticulture, cotton and, most recently, hay.  

Restoring those markets is worth well over $1 billion per year. 

There’s more work to be done, particularly around wine, lobster and some beef establishments, but this progress affirms the calm and consistent approach that the Albanese Government has taken. 

We’re also working hard to diversify our trade markets with agreements for new market access or reduced export tariffs in emerging markets like India, Thailand and Japan. 

BIOSECURITY

But in order to grow the industry around the world, we need to ensure we protect it here at home. 

Almost from our first day in office, the Albanese Government has taken decisive steps to protect our agriculture sector from growing biosecurity threats. 

Strong measures on foot and mouth and lumpy skin disease to protect the livestock industry. 

The first ever National Biosecurity Strategy, to map a cooperative way forward, with States, Territories and industry. 

Lots of new investment, from new detector dogs, to improving our biosecurity surveillance, especially in Northern Australia, to assisting our neighbours with their own biosecurity challenges, which helps keep our own industry safe. 

And in our May budget you might have seen that we delivered Australia's first ever sustainably funded biosecurity system. 

I was pretty shocked to learn that the biosecurity budget we inherited was on track to fall by about 25%, because it was built on temporary, short term funding. 

At a time when we face more biosecurity threats, I couldn’t believe - and wouldn’t accept - the cut to biosecurity funding that our predecessors had built in. There is simply too much at stake to cut corners. 

So I was very pleased that my Cabinet colleagues supported my request to approve new funding of over $1 billion over four years for our biosecurity operations.  

Importantly, this included ongoing funding of $267 million per year from 2027- 28, so we don’t have a return to the temporary funding of the past. 

Now, there’s been a lot of talk about who will bear the cost of this increased funding, so I’d like to take a moment to explain. 

The key point is that the costs of this new sustainable system will be shared between taxpayers, risk creators and the direct beneficiaries of the biosecurity system. 

As I’ve explained, taxpayers - through their government - will chip in a significant increase to biosecurity funding. 

Those of you who travel overseas will now pay an extra $10 per ticket, in recognition of the risk created by travellers entering Australia.  

But something that many haven’t recognised is that importers are now also paying more.  

I listened to the calls from producers to charge importers more, seeing as their shipping containers and other goods are one of the largest creators of biosecurity risk. 

In fact, we had already begun increasing fees and charges on importers in January this year, to help reduce the risk of hitchhiker pests, like khapra beetle. 

And then in our May Budget, we decided to raise fees and charges on importers, so that they actually pay the cost of the biosecurity services we provide. 

As of 25 September 2023, cost recovery from importers has totalled $83.2 million.  

This includes an extra $9.4 million in additional revenue as a result of the increased fees and charges, which were not paid by importers previously. 

Again, I was surprised to learn that biosecurity fees and charges had not been properly reviewed by our predecessors since 2015. That meant that importers weren’t paying the full cost of the services they received, with taxpayers picking up the tab. 

With our changes, importers will pay their fair share. 

So government and importers are paying more, for the improvements we are making. 

Which leaves producers. 

My view was that our farmers should not bear the full cost of biosecurity operations, but as the direct beneficiaries of the system, it was reasonable to ask them to make a small contribution – around 6% of our biosecurity operational costs.

A very small contribution, when you consider the billions of dollars at stake.  

So that’s why we’re implementing a Biosecurity Protection Levy on domestic agriculture, fisheries, and forestry producers, which will commence on July 1st, 2024. 

There is a lot to be done and a lot still to be decided.

The consultation period on the new biosecurity protection levy closes this Friday and I encourage you to get involved via the Department of Agriculture website. 

Of course, you’re probably aware that our biosecurity standards have recently put to the test, with our friends in Indonesia dealing with outbreaks of Lumpy Skin Disease and Foot and Mouth Disease.

As good neighbours, we’ve provided Indonesia with vaccines, technical expertise and diagnostic capability to assist them control their outbreaks. 

This helps protect our own livestock industry too - if we had an outbreak here it would cost us up to $80 billion over a ten-year period.  

So when Indonesia recently expressed concerns that Australia may have LSD, and imposed various trade restrictions on Australian live cattle exports, our biosecurity standards were put to the test. 

I’m happy to say that the depth and breadth of our relationships with Indonesia meant we could resolve our differences in a calm, considered and transparent manner. 

From the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and me—to our biosecurity officials, diplomats and industry leaders—we all worked with our counterparts to underscore our disease-free status and address Indonesia’s concerns. 

Something that was only possible because of the mature, respectful relationships that had been built between us.  

It was the best of Team Australia at work, at all levels – Ministers, officials, industry.

It got the outcome we needed, with restrictions lifted relatively quickly.  And that’s how we’ll deal with any similar challenges in future. 

CONCLUSION 

I hope that I’ve been able to demonstrate today how our government is working in collaboration with industry, unions and farmers to protect and grow Australia’s agriculture sector. 

This is a partnership, and I’m proud to be part of it. 

Because as I said earlier, we get better results when we listen to those affected. 

We all have a role to play to advance this industry towards its lofty goals. 

Let’s seize the opportunity we’ve got to make a difference.  

Thank you.