Minister's opening statement - Additional Senate estimates - Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

ADDITIONAL SENATE ESTIMATES – AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY 
MINISTER'S OPENING STATEMENT
TUESDAY, 13 FEBRUARY 2024

*** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY ***
  
Thanks very much Chair and thank you to the committee for the chance to provide an opening statement.

The Albanese Labor Government knows the agricultural sector is critical for trade, economic resilience and jobs in regional Australia, and that’s why we’re committed to protecting and growing the industry.

Since the election, our Government has invested more than $3.1 billion to protect and grow our vital agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries.

And despite predictions of impending doom and gloom from the Nationals during the last Estimates, the sector is on track for another productive and profitable year.

We continue to prioritise opening doors for agriculture overseas, with trade now more diversified than ever before.

Last year saw recording breaking ag exports, valued at $82.5 billion, with 2023-24 forecast to be the second highest on record at $72 billion.

Despite the declining domestic livestock prices that we saw in 2023, there are signs prices are beginning to increase again.

The National Trade Lamb Indicator averaged around 25% higher in December 2023 than it did in November 2023, and 36% higher than September 2023.

The Heavy Steer Indicator averaged around 15% higher in December 2023 than it did in November 2023, and 19% higher than October 2023.

And prices in January were even higher.

As you can see, our focus is on overcoming the short-term obstacles and embracing the long-term opportunities that the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors face.

For the Government as a whole, dealing with cost-of-living pressures is our number one priority.

We know that cost-of-living pressures are impacting upon workers in the ag sector, that’s why the Albanese Government is giving 90% of those workers a bigger tax cut.

Labor’s tax cuts are good for ag workers, good for regional Australians and good for the industry as a whole.

We’re also working hard to get a fair deal for families and farmers, and for several months now, I’ve been calling for supermarkets to do the right thing, both by farmers and by consumers.

The Albanese Government is taking action on supermarket prices through a review into the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct as well as an ACCC inquiry into the pricing practices of the supermarkets.

The Code review is being undertaken by economist and former Competition Minister Dr Craig Emerson, and through my instigation, will include two roundtables; one with farmer representative groups and another with the processing industry.

The first of those roundtables will occur on Thursday, here in Canberra and will include various peak bodies, including the National Farmers’ Federation, Australian Fresh Produce Alliance, Cattle Australia and Graingrowers.

The second roundtable will occur next week for processers and will include the Australian Meat Industry Council, the Australian Beverages Council, Food and Grocery Council as well as large meat processors JBS, Teys and Fletchers.

In the last budget, the Albanese Government introduced Australia’s first ever sustainable biosecurity funding model that delivers $1 billion over the next four years in new funding for our essential biosecurity services.

This includes government funding of $350 million and $363 million from importers - an increase of hundreds of millions of dollars under the Albanese Government, as well as a modest and direct contribution from those who directly benefit from Australia’s strong biosecurity system.

The Biosecurity Protection Levy will contribute just 6 per cent of the total funding model, or about $50 million a year.

The Department has undertaken extensive consultation over the back half of last year including stakeholder meetings, a survey of industry as well as inviting submissions to be made.

We’ve listened to that feedback and as a result, today I’m announcing that we’re changing the way the Biosecurity Protection Levy is calculated to make it fairer and more transparent.

The key feedback from industry on the proposed design included concerns about;

  • the equity and fairness of levy rates across different commodities;
  • association and confusion with the existing agricultural levies system; and
  • multiple imposition points for some commodities across the supply chain.

Changes to the design of the levy have taken these issues into account.

Rates will be set using a common and equitable basis for all industry sector products and goods and will not be set by reference to 2020-21 agricultural levy rates, as was originally proposed.

In addition, imposition of the levy will be tailored to individual products and goods to reduce multiple imposition points across a product’s supply chain.

The policy intent, key policy parameters and contribution to Commonwealth funding remain the same as announced in the Budget package. And we’d obviously be happy to go into more detail when we get that Outcome today.

Aside from strengthening our biosecurity protections, another key agricultural priority of the government is to support the industry to become more sustainable.

To that end, today we have also released the submissions from the Agriculture and Land Sector decarbonisation plan consultation and I’ll be happy to elaborate on this throughout the day.

I look forward to answering the committee’s questions about these and other portfolio priorities.