Address to World Soil Day Event 2022 - Old Parliament House, Canberra

1 December 2022



Thank you for the opportunity to speak this morning.

I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, the Traditional Custodians of the beautiful lands we are meeting on today. I pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging.

For thousands of years First Nations people have cared for country and ensured sustainability was at the core of that practice.

I’d like to acknowledge the National Soils Advocate, Penelope Wensley along with all the parliamentarians in the room this morning, particularly Meryl Swanson and Michael McCormack, the co-chairs of the Parliamentary Friends of Soil.

On National Agriculture Day, about a week or so ago, I attended a breakfast in Brisbane, hosted by the Queensland Farmers’ Federation, in which Dr Terry McCosker was the keynote speaker.

And it was great to join Penny there too.

For those who don’t know him Terry is a passionate advocate for active land management in the ag sector,
And in his address, he said something that was very poignant for me.

He said “Soil is a fundamental requirement for life.”

Which is something similar to what my Dad, who grew up on a dairy farm near Sarina and then worked for years on farms across Queensland, said to me when I first became Agriculture Minister.

So when such esteemed gentlemen as Terry McCosker and my Dad say the same thing, I certainly listen!

World Soil Day next week is another reminder of this and this year’s theme “Soils: Where food begins", asks us to reflect on how soil impacts our ability to feed ourselves.

Almost everything on your plate for breakfast this morning has soil at its source.

Globally, 95 per cent of our food comes from soil.

Their sustainable management means future Australian generations inherit productive farmland, so that we can continue to feed ourselves and be a major exporter of food to the world.

Climate change is presenting new challenges and an even stronger imperative to focus our attention on soil.
Soil in good condition is more productive.

It has higher water-holding capacity, it captures carbon, supports biological activities and resists erosion during extreme climate and weather events.

Events we know will be more common as a result of climate change.

But soil in poor condition is more vulnerable to these events.

There is a strong and growing awareness of this among Australian farmers and I thank our host the National Soil Advocate for her work in raising this awareness.

I’ve met farmers in Westeran Australia to South Australia and the east coast who proudly tell me of the work they’ve done to improve soil health, which helps them reduce fertiliser use and improve efficiency.

Thankfully, Australia has a strong soil science foundation.

The work of co-hosts Soil Science Australia and the Soil CRC has been crucial to this, as has outreach and education by organisations like Soils for Life.

Thank you all for holding this important event.

Farmers are the frontline for sustainable soil management.

We need to ensure that we are working with them, learning from their innovations, and supporting them to be good soil stewards.

That is why our government has committed $302 million through the Natural Heritage Trust (NHT) to support sustainable agriculture practices.

We also want to ensure that farmers can capitalise on growing global interest in natural capital and carbon markets.

Our sustainable agriculture investment in the NHT will accelerate this.

We have also just announced almost $30 million in funding to accelerate the development of reliable, low-cost technologies for measuring soil organic carbon through the National Soil Carbon Innovation Challenge.

These investments will assist land managers to improve their soil and engage in carbon and biodiversity markets.

And it is the decisions made every day by thousands of individual land managers in farming; in forestry; in mining; in parks and reserves; and in the development and urban planning sector, that can make a positive or negative impact on this resource.

We must work in partnership – with a shared vision and goals.

The National Soil Strategy, released in 2021 was a good start – setting out a 20-year vision for soil, and bringing together state and territory governments in agreement.

Our government is now already taking the next step.

Released for public consultation on 26 September, the draft National Soil Action Plan gives us an opportunity to lead a new path to improved soil condition.

One which is seated firmly in broader aspirations for climate smart, sustainable agriculture.

There were over 150 responses to the draft plan from various sectors.

Overall, the survey responses show that awareness of the critical importance of soil is strong and growing across a wide range of sectors.

It is also very clear that people recognise that the realities of a changing climate mean that soil needs to be viewed through a holistic lens.

We need a framework that recognises that different parties need different types of soil information but that also allows some measure of condition trend at local, regional, and national levels.

A great first step to meeting this challenge is the project being showcased by CSIRO today to build the new Australian National Soil Information System.

Congratulations to all involved.

One of the things I’ve been really heartened by since taking on this role is how keen the agriculture industry is to manage its resources sustainably across water, energy use and of course, soils.

I look forward to continuing these conversations to build a nationally coordinated but locally adaptive approach to managing soil sustainably.