THE National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) has advocated a bold agenda to expand the Australian farm industry to $100 billion by 2030, and immediate policy demands, to new Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud.
Mr Littleproud started his cabinet term in late December, after his appointment to replace Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, with the federal Coalition launching into full swing of formulating its 2018-19 budget.
The NFF’s submission to the annual budgeting process contains 60 specific recommendations for the government to adopt; with the core points, like increased trade liberalisation, relayed to the rookie minister, at a meeting in early January.
NFF CEO Tony Mahar said the peak national farm lobby group had held discussions with Mr Littleproud before he became a cabinet minister, addressing issues like the Murray Darling Basin Plan which impacted his Maranoa electorate.
But Mr Mahar said the NFF welcomed an opportunity to exchange views on the farm sector with the first term Queensland Nationals MP, given he’d stepped into his new and critical role within federal cabinet, on budget eve.
“We talked to Minister Littleproud about the importance of growing trade and making sure that agriculture was central to the government’s trade agenda,” Mr Mahar said.
“Trade is obviously not his specific portfolio but he needs to, and he did say that he’d continue to advocate and push for agriculture to be central to trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership.
“Obviously the water issue is important to the NFF and making sure we get a commitment to the Murray Darling Basin Plan, while working through the challenges that have been identified over the last six to 12 months – that was a high priority.”
Mr Mahar said infrastructure like rail, roads and ports, and continued commitment to the inland rail, to ensure agricultural product can be moved efficiently and cost-effectively, off-farm and into processing facilities or off-shore, were also discussed as priorities.
“Connectivity was another big one that we talked to Minister Littleproud about and the huge benefits of getting better connectivity in the bush; whether that’s addressing mobile black spots or internet coverage,” he said.
“We think it can deliver huge benefits for the agriculture sector.”
Mr Mahar referred to a recently released report involving all 15 rural Research and Development Corporations - Precision to Decision Agriculture - which said coordinating a digital transformation could unlock opportunities for Australian agricultural production growth, to the value of $20.3 billon – or a 25 percent increase on 2014/15 values.
“If Australia was better connected it could deliver an additional $20 billion to Australian agriculture, which would allow for the adoption of new technologies,” Mr Mahar said.
Mr Mahar said his group also relayed to Mr Littleproud the need to achieve the right balance between the environment and agriculture, in native vegetation laws.
“Energy was the other big one that we discussed in the meeting and what the impacts are going to be for the agriculture sector like rising production costs that are hurting farmers,” he said.
“We did some good work last year in terms of our energy and electricity policies and we gave Minister Littleproud copies of those and said we needed to continue working on fixing the energy market.”
Mr Littleproud said he didn’t want to pre-empt anything that would be delivered in this year’s federal budget but he’d heard and taken on board the NFF’s key messages.
“We’re heading into budget season now and obviously at the end of the day the Treasurer will make a significant determination on that,” he said.
“I’m entering some discussions with him as we go back to parliament in the coming couple of weeks but it is about continuing to put that environment around agriculture to allow it to prosper and to give it a foundation and the settings, to do what it needs to do.”
Mr Littleproud said Mr Joyce had laid the “foundation stones” for an industry that represented a $50b export market to Australia and now “we want to try to double that”.
“I’m happy to support the NFF’s vision of a $100b export industry by 2030 - we should have those aspirations - and I intend to work hand in hand with them to achieve that,” he said.
“Obviously I’ve got to be pragmatic and I’m not going to lie and say I’m going to sign up to every piece that they’re wanting.
“But I’m going to work collectively and collaboratively with them to achieve that because agriculture not only benefits; the small regional towns also win out of that.
“This is not about me trying to get wins solely for agriculture.
“This has flow on benefits to all those small communities that I represent (and) the benefits flow through right across to rural and regional Australia.
“If we have a healthy and strong rural and regional Australia, we have a strong Australia so my job is about building on the agriculture sector, to give that strength all the way through.”
- Does this article interest you? Scroll down to the comments section and start the conversation. You only need to sign up once and create a profile in the Disqus comment management system for permanent access to all discussions.