Interview with Rhiannon Elston, Sky News Regional


SUBJECTS: Ag & Land Plan; economy-wide Net Zero 2050 Plan; drought

RHIANNON ELSTON, HOST: Australians are being invited to have their say on a new government plan to reduce carbon emissions in the agriculture sector. For more on this, I'm joined by Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Murray Watt. Minister, thank you very much for your time this morning. What does the plan propose?

MURRAY WATT, MINISTER FOR AGRICULURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY: Well good morning, Rhiannon. Today is a really exciting day, I think, for the future of Australian agriculture. We know that our farmers and our whole agriculture sector have done a huge amount of work already to reduce their emissions and become even more sustainable. But we also know that we are going to need to do more.

Our international markets are expecting more and more sustainable production. Domestic consumers are looking for more environmentally-friendly produced food. And of course, we also know that climate change is having a massive impact on farmer's profits right now, and that's not likely to get better. So we do need to change.

And what we're starting today is a consultation with farmers, with processors, with the entire Australian community about how we can work as a government with the industry to reduce emissions going forward and to even improve on the sustainability levels of Australian farming.

RHIANNON ELSTON: So what are some of the proposals in that plan?

MURRAY WATT: Yeah, so there's a wide range of things that could be done in terms of reducing emissions. Most of the emissions from Australian agriculture come from methane from livestock. And one of the options that's available is investing more in feed supplements to reduce the amount of methane that is emitted by livestock. There are also some new technologies coming online about lower-emissions fertilisers that can be used in cropping and horticulture. But even things like changing farming practices, having more vegetation on farms can sequester more carbon. And that's one of the really exciting opportunities about this, is that this doesn't have to be a cost to farmers. We can actually develop new income streams for our farmers to expand their operations and really help them through periods of drought and other things as well, so that they've got other ways of income coming in.

So there's a wide range of things that could be done as a result of this consultation. We're not heading into it with any fixed ideas about what needs to be done. What we do know is that, as I say, we do need to be reducing our emissions through agriculture to protect Australian farming into the future. And we're really keen to hear different people's ideas about how we can best do that.

RHIANNON ELSTON: It sounds like the onus for some of these proposals will fall on farmers. Does the government plan to support them?

MURRAY WATT: Yeah absolutely. We're already investing very large amounts of money -in the hundreds of millions of dollars - to support farmers adopt even more sustainable practises. And I'm sure that we'd be willing to consider further investments into the future. I probably don't agree that the onus is falling on farmers because, of course, we are also, of course, undertaking major measures to reduce the emissions of heavy industry around the country. And we'll be coming forward in the coming months with similar plans to this one in areas like transport, energy, production, industry use, building and construction about how we can reduce emissions across the economy. We have, of course, committed to reach that net zero by 2050 target that the rest of the world is doing as well. And we are going to be needing to take action across the economy, not just in any one sector. But this is a real opportunity for farmers in our agriculture sector to have their say on what would be the best way to achieve this. We want to do this in a way that actually increases farmers' profitability and productivity, not reduces it. And I'm very confident that we can do that.

RHIANNON ELSTON: OK, and how can people do that? How can they have their say here?

MURRAY WATT: Easiest way for people to do it is to jump on the Federal Department of Agriculture website. We have a website called ‘Have Your Say’. That consultation paper is up today and is open to mid-December. So there's a few weeks there for people to have a think about it and come forward with their ideas. And in the new year, we'll consider all of those ideas before making any decisions and announcements.

RHIANNON ELSTON: OK. And just quickly, Minister, I want to ask you about the drought. Many farmers doing it tough in northern New South Wales, but we have seen some decent rainfall there over the last week or so. Are you starting to see some positive signs emerging? And what are you hearing from landholders in northern New South Wales?

MURRAY WATT: Yeah, both in northern New South Wales and in some parts of southwest Queensland we had some pretty good falls over the last few days, including in some of those areas that had been impacted by bushfires last week. So it's great to see that relief on the bushfires. But also, we are seeing that flow through to farmers in terms of prices. I think we all know that we're seeing very low livestock prices at the moment, which is a really big worry for farmers, having come off a couple of years of very good prices. But every time we get some of that rain, it does lead to some improvements in prices, improvements in pastures, and staves off that drought for a little bit longer. So it's a positive thing, and hopefully there'll be a little bit more over the coming months.

RHIANNON ELSTON: OK. Minister for Agriculture Murray Watt, thanks so much for your time.

MURRAY WATT: Thanks Rhiannon.