I'll 'represent not revolutionise' says new Ag Minister McKenzie

I'm here to 'represent not revolutionise' says new ag minister

News
Federal Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie.

Federal Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie.

Aa

Bridget McKenzie will focus on industry collaboration to 'truth test' policy priorities such as trade, animal activists and social licence concerns.

Aa

Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie steps into her new role promising to prioritise consultation and collaboration over a reform agenda.

"My style is to work with industry," Ms McKenzie told Farm Weekly.

"In my previous portfolios I commissioned a statutory review into telecommunications and requested the committee speak directly with communities.

"That is how I like to develop my perspective on an issue. Sure, get the experts in, but then truth test it on the ground with producers and stakeholders.

"That is when you get the best outcomes, when you work collaboratively like that."

Describing herself as first and foremost a "proud country Australian", Ms McKenzie said in her first speech that she was a true conservative and her goal was "to reflect and represent rather than revolutionise".

Ms McKenzie, aged 49, is halfway through her second six year term in the Senate, She came to Canberra in 2011 as a Victorian representative of the Nationals.

She has four children from her first marriage, grew up in Benalla, Victoria and comes from a long line of farmers.

From the 1850s three generations of her mother's family were pioneering cattlemen at Omeo, in Victoria's high country. In the 1950s the maternal side of her family came off the high plains to eastern Victoria.

"My grandmother wanted her daughters educated and there were no schools up there," Ms McKenzie said.

"My grandfather sold the farm because he only had daughters. That was in the 70's and it shows how times have changed. If that happened now there would be a discussion about the daughters taking it on."

Ms McKenzie's father was a logging trucker, then in the 1980s he owned a milk supply business in north east Victoria, when he headed up a local dairymen's association.

She was a high school maths and physical education teacher in Gippsland for five years, then a university lecturer for a year, before she gained a place on the Nats' Senate ticket.

Ms McKenzie has been an active member of the party since she left high school and was elected Deputy Nationals Leader in December 2017, after Fiona Nash was disqualified from the Senate over dual citizenship.

She became a Cabinet Minister when she was appointed Minister for Rural Health, Regional Communications, and Sport.

Ms Mckenzie is chairwoman of the Parliamentary Friends of Shooting and co-convener of the Parliamentary Friends of Netball. She opposed the the 2017 federal reform which legalised gay marriage.

"I've always loved the land, it's a great passion of mine. You can't live in regional Australia and not appreciate the role agriculture, fisheries and forestry has in our local economies," she said.

"That's why it's incredibly important in these early days of my ministry for peak bodies to meet me and know they can contact my office and to know that I will work with them."

Gender isn't on the agenda for the federal government's first female agriculture leader.

"I've had a lot of women in agribusiness and on-farm tell me how excited they are to see a woman in the role," Ms McKenzie said.

"I don't use that lens myself. I am conscious there are many women in agribusiness and farming has always been a partnership of men and women.

"Women have come to the forefront and that is something we'll continue to see as women in agriculture find their voice and turn to business leadership, not just support roles."

Ms McKenzie listed her initial priorities as the social licence to farm, trade, biosecurity, access to labour, and new laws to tackle the rise of animal activists targeting farming enterprises.

"Urban people aren't always aware how seriously farmers take their responsibilities of caring for land and water," she said.

"Instead of talking our primary producers down and denigrating the great industry, we need to state that we take these issues seriously, our farming practices are sound, and farmers shouldn't feel guilty.

"In the first sitting week I want to legislate against animal liberationists who incite people to go on-farm, to be that biosecurity risk, to release stock and terrorise farm families.

"Another handbrake on production is being able to access the appropriate workforce, we need to get the right skills in the right place at the right time.

"Our sector's entire premise is it's pest-free status, and it's under threat as we see increasing pest and disease issues right across our region.":

Ms McKenzie she would soon travel to meet with Australia's regional trading partners.

She entered the agriculture portfolio with a degree of controversy when she replaced Nationals MP David Littleproud and busted up the Agriculture and Water ministries.

It was a major coup for the Nationals when the two were joined in one portfolio when in 2015 former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce's took control of water - which had been managed by the Environment Minister.

In the Cabinet reshuffle Mr Littleproud retained responsibility for water, and some of the most contentious aspects of his former portfolio as current Minister for Drought, Natural Disasters, Emergency Management and Rural Finance.

Ms McKenzie said the portfolio arrangements were a "decision taken by the Prime Minister and Deputy PM".

Mr Littleproud welcomed Ms McKenzie's appointment and said the portfolio arrangement was down to her.

"The deputy leader of the National Party wanted agriculture and when you're the deputy leader you get to pick, that is only fair, and I know Bridget will do a good job," he said.

Aa

From the front page

Sponsored by