Focus turns to Coalition policy vows

Focus turns to Coalition policy vows


Farm Online News
Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud will be busy in the new term of government with diverse reform agenda. Photo Alex Ellinghausen

Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud will be busy in the new term of government with diverse reform agenda. Photo Alex Ellinghausen

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While the Coalition took a modest agenda into its election campaign, it has promised significant reform for a range of regional industries.

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The government brought a small national reform agenda to the federal election campaign but it's now set to shake up rural industries with targeted action on anti-animal activist laws, dairy, live exports, water, drought, land management and more.

It would be a risky move to delay on their promises.

While the Coalition ministry isn't expected to be finalised until next week, many of its commitments came with firm timelines attached, while others addressed issues of such controversy the government risks a big backlash.

Drought

The Coalition promised, in the dying days of the previous federal parliament, to establish a $5 billion Drought Future Fund, to provide $100 million a year divident to spend on preparation, mitigation and support measures.

The fund was kept on ice, because Labor refused to provide the necessary votes to legislate the fund, accusing the Coalition of raiding an infrastructure fund for its drought seed capital.

The Coalition appears to have scraped together enough votes to pass legislation but its still got significant unfinished drought business.

Scott Morrison branded himself the drought Prime Minister and pledged to deliver a long-overdue national drought policy through a drought taskforce headed by Major General Stephen Day.

But progress has been slow since his national drought summit in November last year, and it remains to be seen if it can deliver productive reform from the outdated talking points revealed in the taskforce's draft documents.

Climate change

The Coalition has pledged to meet Australia's commitment to the Paris agreement, which is a 26pc reduction in emissions by 2030.

It has been criticised for the funding allocated to its chief mechanism to reach its target is the $2b Climate Solutions Fund. It was launched in 2014 with $500 million annual funding, but has since been downgraded to just $200m a year.

The fund supports farmers to invest in emissions reductions and carbon sequestration, but it remains to be seen if the funding is enough to deliver the desired results.

On top of its climate change initiatives, the Coalition has pledged a $30m trial for a landscape restoration scheme which funds farmers to pay private land managers who promote the health of environmental assets, capture carbon or protect threatened flora and fauna.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, in April last year, restored climate change adaption to the agenda of the interstate ministerial council after a hiatus under Barnaby Joyce's tenure in the portfolio.

Animal activists

The Coalition took to the election and won a mandate to create new laws, in response the Aussie Farms website and a rash of farm invasions, within the first week of a new parliament to crack down on extreme animal activists.

The caveat could be the make-up of the Senate, which is yet to be finalised, or if Labor the Senate crossbench decide not to support the new laws.

The Coalition also pledged to invest $10 million to educate school children about farming.

Sheep exports

Industry leaders have been quick to welcome the return of the Morrison Government, which last year committed to maintain the trade into the future after the Labor government announced it would ban the trade if it formed government.

Mr Littleproud, who last year promised to clean the industry up after footage of unacceptable animal welfare breaches on an export vessel were released, will be under pressure .

The industry survived a close-run vote on a bill, brought by the Senate crossbench before parliament rose for the election campaign, to ban the trade.

It is possible for the same scenario occur again, either through the Senate crossbench collaborating with Labor, or several Coalition MPs crossing the floor to support a ban bill, like Sussan Ley and Sarah Henderson (who failed in her re-election bid) threatened to do last time around.

Dairy

Dairy producers battling drought and market pressures are in line for some relief. It's now up to the Coalition to fund its $22m suite of reforms.

Mr Littleproud pledged $560,000 for a new trading platform designed to enhance the market power of producers. But a big challenge remains for the Minister, who is expected to deliver a scheme to solve the previously intractable problem of unsustainable farmgate returns.

He has won praise for a $10m investment scheme to fund energy-saving dairy equipment, $8m to fund the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's agriculture unit and $3m of grants to promote the development of farmer cooperatives.

Water reform

Market reforms, recovery of irrigation entitlements under the Murray Darling Basin Plan and the rising price of water coupled with prolonged drought have made water one of the most contentious issues in southern NSW and rural Victoria.

The Coalition said it would stick with the status quo and limit further disruption to the Basin Plan. But it has committed to a potentially significant initiative by promising to instruct the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to conduct a review of the southern Murray Darling Basin Water Market.

While it remains to be seen what the scope of an ACCC inquiry would be, it would be hard for the corporate watchdog to ignore a raft of controversial issues that have driven drought hit farmers to boiling point in southern NSW and Victoria.

Anger centres on the scant availability, and surging cost, of water. Issue that communities would demand be investigated include water metering, lack of transparency on water ownership and trades, regulations that allow vast volumes to be traded between valleys, and the impact of corporate speculators who don't produce food or fibre but play the market for profit.

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