National Agriculture Day address to the Queensland Rural Press Club

18 November 2022

National Agriculture Day address to the Queensland Rural Press Club
BRISBANE
FRIDAY, 18 NOVEMBER 2022
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Thank you for your kind introduction.

Happy National Agriculture Day!

The Jagera and Turrbal people were Brisbane’s first farmers, caring for the land in a sustainable manner while providing food and fibre for their families for tens of thousands of years.

We’re gathering today on their lands and I’d like to pay my respects to their elders from the past, from the present and well into the future.

I would like to thank the committee of the Queensland Rural Press Club for their kind invitation to address you all here today.

The last time I was here in front of you I was debating Senator James McGrath during the election so hopefully today is a little less confrontational!

I want to pay tribute to the important role of the Rural Press Club and the important role that our media play in rural and regional Queensland.

Whether it’s the Queensland Country Life, Beef Central, NQ Register, Longreach Leader, ABC Rural Report, Queensland Country Hour, which I did an interview with Arlie for this morning, or even the Betoota Advocate, the reach and impact of your reporting on our way of life is immense.

I am constantly surprised with the amount of people who text me and say “Oh Murray I just heard you on the Country Hour”, or “I saw what you said in Beef Central”. 

Your impact on public policy and our rural communities should be celebrated and I’m glad to do that here today.

Can I also just quickly pay tribute to Pete Lewis as well, his work with the ABC, particularly in Rural News has been legendary and his work in the Rural media space in the recent years has promoted and profiled our industry to the wider community.

So congratulations on your life membership. 

And thank you for allowing me to speak to you on National Agriculture Day.

Of course, every day is National Agriculture Day for me but today is an opportunity for the national spotlight to be on this great industry, which is an essential part of the Australian identity, economy and way of life.

QUEENSLAND

This is my first speech to the Queensland Rural Press Club as Agriculture Minister and can I say how proud I am to be representing your industry in our new government and in our new Cabinet.

But also how proud I am to also be representing Queensland and the Queensland ag sector around the Cabinet table.

Queensland is quite the political powerhouse in Canberra at the moment, I’m one of three Ministers including the man who holds the purse strings, we have the Speaker in the House of Reps, an Assistant Minister, a Special Envoy as well as the leaders of the two Opposition parties – roles that I think they are well qualified to keep for many years to come!

As many of know, I have strong family ties to regional Queensland, with my father growing up on a dairy farm outside Mackay and Mum spending some of her childhood on the Darling Downs.

My career to this point has led me to all parts of the state, whether as a lawyer, policymaker, state MP or Opposition Senator, and I have developed very strong ties to our regions during this time.

I certainly know the difference between Yeppoon and Yeppen!

I have made a concerted effort since taking on this role to get back into regional Queensland and meet with producers on the ground.

My first farm visit as Ag Minister was to Emerald where I visited Ross Burnett’s cotton property and met the inspiring Bate family who have developed incredible ag tech under the Swarm Farm banner.

I have met with vegetable growers in the Lockyer Valley who were impacted by recent floods.

I have been back to Rockhampton with the Prime Minister to visit Raglan Cattle Station and also recently visited the Gracemere Saleyards to announce further funding for Beef Australia 2024.
And recently I visited Brisbane Markets in Rocklea with my colleague Graham Perrett to meet with fruit and veg wholesalers about the issues and opportunities in that end of the supply chain.

STATE OF THE SECTOR

I’m quite conscious that I have come into the role during what is on the whole quite a good time for the agricultural sector.

Three consecutive years of above average rainfall here in Queensland.

Of course there are also downsides to this in specific areas for individual farmers, but on the whole the industry is producing more and exporting more.

Yesterday you might have seen some work that ABARES released entitled Agriculture in Australia – understanding the recent success.

They say Australian agriculture went from 3 years of drought to reaching new heights in 2020–21, and then went on to even greater things in 2021–22, setting new industry records with a gross value of production of $85 billion.

Many agricultural regions transitioned from very poor to very good conditions within the span of a single season. 
This has been combined with the rare phenomenon of very high and increasing commodity prices for almost all of Australia’s major agricultural products.

With significant international and domestic market uncertainty, making the right investments now will be key in protecting the sector from threats and guiding its future growth.

BUDGET

Last month our fellow Queenslander, Treasurer Jim Chalmers handed down his first budget and the first budget since the election of the Albanese Government in May.

It was a budget that put people first, dealing with cost-of-living issues, with a clear focus on improving our skills, health and aged care systems, as well as investing in key job-creating infrastructure projects.

All while getting our nation’s finances back on track, after years of rorts, waste and poor management.

Like our national economy, we know our farm sector has its challenges.

Farmers are paying more for fertiliser and other inputs.

Farm workers’ interest rates are going up.

Rural Australians need access to good healthcare and aged care.

And rural industries need access to good infrastructure to help their businesses grow. 

Like many household budgets around the country we’ve had to carefully consider our spending and make sure it delivers value for money.

That has required some reprioritisation of precious public funds, to focus on what’s really needed.
That’s what good governments do.

There’s no doubt people are doing it tough, and this Budget will deliver targeted cost of living relief. 
I’m proud to be part of a Government that’s cutting the cost of medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, delivering cheaper child care for families, funding more university and fee-free TAFE places to help people advance their careers.

This will benefit thousands of people across rural and regional Australia.

But our first budget also gives you an insight into our government’s priorities for the agriculture sector.

And it was increasing funding to strengthen our biosecurity system which was our top priority.

BIOSECURITY AND FMD FUNDING 

You all know that a strong biosecurity system is vital in maintaining a strong agriculture sector.

The presence of both foot and mouth disease (FMD) and lumpy skin disease (LSD) in Indonesia presents a heightened risk of a large incursion in Australia.

Varroa Mite and a range of plant diseases, like khapra beetle and banana freckle also threaten a range of Australian producers.

In response we have deployed the strongest ever response to a biosecurity threat at our border.

We have supported our Indo-Pacific neighbours, toughened our legislation, stress-tested our preparedness, and aligned ourselves carefully with state and territory partners in the nation’s first National Biosecurity Strategy. 

It’s worth repeating that Australia remains both FMD and LSD free, but the last few months have illustrated the need for a biosecurity system which is up to contemporary challenges.

To that end, I’m pleased to say that the centrepiece of our agriculture budget was an investment of $134.1 million to bolster Australia’s biosecurity system against the immediate threat of disease.

This is a substantial down payment on our election commitment to deliver long-term sustainable biosecurity funding.

We will have more to say on this commitment in the future, after we properly consult with industry and other stakeholders.

That consultation is now underway, and I encourage you to participate, through my department’s “Have your say” website.

We will not make the same mistakes.

We understand this is a complex matter that requires careful consideration and time to engage in meaningful conversations with stakeholders.

But the biosecurity investments we’re making now mean we won’t drop our guard in the meantime.

And while the national media’s gaze may have wandered from the risk of FMD and LSD, our focus on protecting our country from these diseases has only sharpened.

That’s why today I am proud to announce two grants awarded to Meat & Livestock Australia and LiveCorp which will support Indonesia’s biosecurity response to foot and mouth disease and lumpy skin disease. 

It was only a few months ago that Troy Setter from LiveCorp was sitting before you providing information about the great work they are doing to prevent the spread of these diseases within and beyond Indonesia. 

And we’re helping too, backing industry in.

We will provide up to $1,226,667 million to LiveCorp for a livestock export industry FMD and LSD vaccine support and implementation program, and an additional $550,000 to MLA for an Indonesia Biosecurity Support Project.

The first six to twelve months of the MLA project will include an in-country risk assessment and mitigation plan, development of feedlot manuals, and training delivery on biosecurity and emergency response in Indonesia.

The MLA project is already underway, with industry contributing $1 million to this $2.1 million project.

The LiveCorp project will partially reimburse the cost of FMD and LSD vaccine programs used for buffer zone vaccination, focusing on encouraging vaccination of susceptible species surrounding feedlots and facilities across Indonesia and supporting the welfare of smallholders within these communities. 

TRACEABILITY

The other key component of our biosecurity package is a big new investment in livestock traceability. 

Improving traceability both on and off farm provides transparency in the supply chain and reassurance for consumers – and enhances our biosecurity as well. 

While there have been big improvements in traceability in some livestock industries, sorting out traceability for sheep and goat has been a holy grail that’s eluded governments for years. 

But I’m pleased a new cooperative approach between the Federal, State and Territory Governments has seen real progress. 

We are now working with industry towards mandatory implementation of national individual electronic tagging for sheep and goats in each jurisdiction by 1 January 2025.  

We are serious about seeing that commitment realised.

That’s’ why in this budget we are investing $46.7 million to support continuous improvement in our livestock traceability systems. 

That is double the former government’s commitment and a huge signal to States, territories, and industry that we’re serious about driving these long overdue reforms forward.

By maintaining our world-class system and ensuring we can recover quickly from any disease incursions.

COVID-19 has taught us the benefits of tracking individuals to slow the spread of infectious disease. 

We can apply these same lessons to protect our livestock industries, while also shoring up trade and giving consumers the information they increasingly want about the food they consume.

Industry has told us for years that they want to see reform and investment.

We are listening and we are acting.

NATURAL DISASTERS

The other issue which is certainly front of mind for a lot of people in regional Australia right now is our response to natural disasters.

I’ve obviously got a dual interest in this, in my Agriculture and Emergency Management roles.

Our primary producers are on the frontline of almost every fire, cyclone, hailstorm or as we have seen more recently, intense flooding.

Over the last week we have again seen devastating floods in central west New South Wales, with some communities are experiencing their sixth or seventh flood this year.

People in these regional communities are tired.

They have been worn down by relentless weather events.

In the past few weeks alone I’ve met with farmers and communities everywhere from Western New South Wales to Central Victoria and northwest Tasmania who have suffered major crop losses and severe damage to infrastructure.

We’re providing billions of dollars in recovery support, along with the states and that will continue.

But as a new government, we want to change how we deal with natural disasters, from reaction to prevention.

With climate change delivering more frequent and intense disasters, we need to be much better prepared than what we saw from the previous government.

So we’re investing up to one billion dollars over the next five years, in our new Disaster Ready Fund to mitigate the impact of disasters, by building new flood levees, cyclone shelters, bushfire evacuation centres and seawalls, right around the country.

We need to reduce the risk, not just respond.

CHINA, COP AND METHANE MYTHBUSTING

It would be remiss of me to come to the Rural press club and not talk about current events that are touching on agriculture.

And there has been no bigger news event this week than Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Sadly, the fact is that the Australian agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors have paid a heavy price for the deterioration in our relationship with our biggest trading partner.

We have been consistent that we want these trade blockages removed. 

It is in both Australia and China’s interests.

We would prefer to resolve these trade blockages through sensible and mature discussion.

Now I know that there is great interest in this week’s meeting between the two leaders.

And I spoke to the PM shortly after that meeting occurred and reflected on how significant it was to your industry.

This is a very positive step - the first such meeting between the two countries’ leaders since 2016.

There can be no doubt that our new government’s renewed mature engagement in the Asia-Pacific is beginning to repair relationships damaged by the previous government.

The Prime Minister has made clear that it is not in our country’s interest to have no dialogue with our major trading partner.

There is a long way to go, and we have made clear we will always stand up for Australia’s values and our national interest, but this is a good first step.

The other major international event that occurred this week was of course COP 27.

It was great to see Australian Ag represented on the global stage by our National Farmers’ Federation, alongside Australia’s Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen at the event.

I’ve said before that Australia’s agriculture industry has been waiting for a government that would join the industry’s own endeavours to tackle climate change.

And why wouldn’t they, when you consider ABARES research that shows climate change is costing every farm, on average $30,000 per year.

Farmers, processors and the industry long ago moved on from the climate wars and finally we have a government ready to help. 

The best early example of this is something you may have seen in the news over the past month.

Australia has joined more than 120 other countries in signing on to the Global Methane Pledge, a non-binding, collective, economy wide ambition to reduce methane emissions.

Unlike the approach of some other countries, ag was at the table when our government was considering this and the sector achieved an outcome that not only champions the work that you are already doing but invests in incentives to reduce emissions rather than imposes punitive measures like a tax or a levy.

Such as the $5 million in ag specific research to help reduce methane emissions that I announced with my colleague Chris Bowen recently.

And the $8 million we committed in the budget to progress the commercialisation of seaweed as a low-emission feed supplement.

I must also commend the peak farm groups like NFF and RMAC for being part of that process.

Through careful, respectful collaboration, we achieved a good outcome for industry and the environment.

This will help keep the export door open with our trading partners, particularly those in countries with ambitious sustainability targets.

Where others fearmonger, wanting to close borders with Indonesia and hyperventilating about the end of the backyard BBQ, we are a stable, sensible hand that works collaboratively with industry.

Ultimately it is only farmers who pay the price for the old scare campaigns.

And the new way of thinking is consistent with the theme of this year’s National Agriculture Day, which is “Celebrate innovation in agriculture.”

I have been so impressed with how the industry is innovating in order to maintain our place as a world leader in food and fibre production.

Whether that is at Murrarie, where Australian Country Choice is not only innovating to improve their value adding proposition, but also driving agriculture education as a key part of the industry’s future.

Another big part of the industry’s future is sustainability, which we heard about in a great speech from Dr Terry McCosker at the QFF breakfast this morning.

Earlier today Minister Bowen and I announced almost $30 million in grant funding has been awarded to farmers and land managers across Australia to make it easier for them to measure the amount of carbon in their soils.

And in the October budget, together with my colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek, we also delivered $1.1 billion for the next phase of the Natural Heritage Trust program.  

$302 million of this funding is for climate smart agriculture – funding which will enable Australian farmers to deliver our environmental goals, participate in newly emerging carbon and biodiversity markets, reduce their emissions and grow our agricultural sector as well.

Not only will this deliver for the environment, it will unlock new income streams and new premium markets for our produce as more international consumers look for clean, green, sustainable products.

WORKFORCE

One of my other priorities is something farmers and their representatives raise with me all the time – workforce shortages.

There is no doubt that these shortages are restricting the ag sector, just as they are the wider economy.

And it’s not a new problem, it’s been around for years with no solutions delivered.

Earlier this week I chaired the second meeting of our Tripartite Workforce Working Group, which for the first time brings together government, unions and employer groups.

This was a direct outcome of the Jobs and Skill Summit held earlier this year.

The working group is really starting to pick up a head of steam and the new spirit of co-operation that we’ve been able to foster gives me confidence that we can deal with these longstanding challenges.

Several participants have noted they had never been brought together by government, to solve these challenges, together. 

We have already begun work in the space including beefing up the PALM scheme, unclogging the visa waitlist and I’m pleased to advise that our government has put agriculture on the priority industry list for our new fee-free TAFE places.

There is a lot more work to be done, but this is a good start.

CONCLUSION

The importance of agriculture to our economy, to our society and to our place in the world cannot be overstated.

The Prime Minister gets it, that’s why he raised ag trade and food security as top priorities during meetings with world leaders at the various summits this week in south-east Asia.

The Treasurer gets it, not just as a Queenslander but also as someone who understands the importance of the industry to our nation’s bottom line.

I certainly get it as your representative in Cabinet and I will continue to engage with you into the future.

And I think the entire Albanese Government understands it and appreciates the work our ag sector does every day.

As a government we are doing our part to protect and grow the agricultural sector as we deal with biosecurity threats, a modernising global food market and our transition to a low carbon economy.

I am proud to support this innovative and resilient industry.

Thank you