NATIONAL Farmers’ Federation (NFF) President Fiona Simson has pleaded for stable leadership saying the citizenship seven saga impacting federal parliament has been a “huge distraction” for everyone, not just the agriculture sector.
Ms Simson spoke out after the High Court yesterday ruled that Nationals leader and Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce was ineligible for parliament due to his dual NZ citizenship issue.
She said the NFF had “appreciated and supported” Mr Joyce working in the Agriculture and Water Resources Ministry role and his profile also as Deputy Prime Minister had boosted the industry’s fortunes, since his appointment after the 2013 election.
She said Mr Joyce’s “strength in cabinet” had also helped the agricultural industry prosper which was “enjoying significant growth and opportunity at the moment”.
“As such, we now welcome Malcolm Turnbull having custody of the agriculture portfolio, in the highest office in the land, which is appropriate for one of Australia’s fastest growing industries,” she said.
“That said, agriculture is not without its challenges, which industry needs to step up to the plate on and meet, and government also needs to help out where it can and act on.
“But there are roles for industry and roles for government and most people in the community would agree the citizenship issue has been a huge distraction for the whole community not just agriculture; especially when we have a number of pressing issues before us like energy, productivity and some agricultural specific issues like trying to remove non-tariff trade barriers.
“Trade is a big issue for us that we need to keep working steadily on and we need government support to do that - not just through the Agriculture and Water Resources Department but also the Trade Department.
“It’s been good to have access to many new markets over the past few years but in order to reap the benefits of those markets we need to seriously address the protocols required to export some of our commodities into those markets and that will result in greater productivity for farmers, agriculture and industry and improved outcomes for economic growth in Australia.”
NSW Nationals Senator and Regional Development and Regional Communications Minister Fiona Nash was also disqualified yesterday by the court’s decision, as per Section 44 of the constitution, due to her Scottish ancestry along with three other Senators, while SA Senator Nick Xenophon was cleared.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will now be acting in Mr Joyce’s ministerial role as the embattled leader heads off to a by-election, to campaign to try to re-claim his New England seat, on December 2.
With Senator Nash’s Senate position set to go to NSW Liberal and rural advocate Hollie Hughes, and the remote but potential chance of Mr Joyce losing New England, the number of ministerial allocations for the Nationals, as per the Coalition agreement, is set to be reduced, meaning the junior government partner may lose a junior minister.
But it’s believed Mr Turnbull will hold off on a broader cabinet reshuffle for now, until after the New England by-election is over, and the final numbers in the Coalition government are settled.
Mr Joyce has also been holding onto the Northern Australia and Resources cabinet role in recent months while Queensland Nationals Senator Matt Canavan’s dual citizenship issue was resolved.
But unlike Mr Joyce and Senator Nash, Senator Canavan was exonerated by the Court’s decision and his return to his cabinet role, confirmed by Mr Turnbull yesterday, means one less headache for the embattled government to manage.
Mr Turnbull said senior Communications Minister Mitch Fifield would act for now in Senator Nash's Regional Communications portfolio and Infrastructure and Transport Minister Darren Chester would act as Regional Development Minister along with Territories and Local Government, which Senator Nash also held.
Ms Simson said she had no concerns about Mr Turnbull holding Mr Joyce’s agricultural portfolio, for the time being; pointing to it going from the Deputy Prime minister’s office to the top government job in the nation.
“Malcolm Turnbull has indicated he’s only going to be holding it for a relatively short term period, and the profile again of the Prime Minister holding agriculture is a good one for us,” she said.
“It’s the highest office in the land and linking agriculture with the highest office in the land we think is very fitting for one of Australia’s fastest growing and most productive industries.”
Ms Simson said two of NFF’s immediate policy priorities were energy - which is a community wide policy – and infrastructure, which remained critical to improving farmers’ viability.
“In terms of infrastructure we want to see progress on the inland rail,” she said.
“We’re also continually looking at rural communications, farm workforce requirements and visas and bringing more investment into our industry is also on the table.
“A lot of those issues are dealt with by multiple departments so any comment about a distraction from government is not just about Barnaby Joyce or Malcolm Turnbull.
“The citizenship seven occupied way more than Barnaby Joyce and the agriculture ministry – it was Fiona Nash’s ministerial portfolio as well and yes, it has been a distraction to the efficient running of parliament.”
Ms Simson said the NFF would work with whoever is in each of the government’s specific ministerial rules but “the sooner we can have full time ministers appointed and return to business as usual, the better for us all”.
Mr Turnbull said “I will be sworn in as Minister for Agriculture and Water resources - a portfolio not entirely unfamiliar to me as the older ones among you will remember and one that I will hold until the people of New England have had their say”.
Ms Simson said Mr Joyce’s loss from portfolio was “regrettable” and Australian agriculture has “few stronger advocates than Mr Joyce”.
“Mr Joyce’s passion and wide-ranging knowledge of our industry, has stood the farm sector in good stead during his time in the Ministry,” she said.
“I would also like to acknowledge the contribution of Fiona Nash, who has been a passionate advocate for rural, regional and remote Australians over many years.
“The latest national accounts confirmed that agriculture is Australia’s fastest growing industry. In 2016-2017, agricultural production was valued at $60 billion.
“The sector has a goal to achieve a production value of $100 billion by 2030.
“To continue to take advantage of the opportunities ahead we need strong, stable leadership.”
Mr Joyce said he accepted the court’s ruling and was “always prepared for this outcome”.
“i don;t actually stand here totally surprised – I always expected this would be a tough game,” he said.