Smart regional growth on the election agenda for NFF

Shan Goodwin
By Shan Goodwin
Updated March 5 2022 - 1:41am, first published 1:00am
ELECTION ASKS: The rush to the bush needs to be better managed, says National Farmers' Federation president Fiona Simson.

FROM smarter regional growth to natural capital accounting, connectivity and tougher competition laws to give farmers a fair go in supply contracts, producers are putting together a solid list of election asks.

Given the pandemic's reinforcement of the value of farming, the time is ripe for securing guarantees on key issues, leaders believe.

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National Farmers' Federation president Fiona Simson has provided a taste of what the influential advocacy organisation would be honing in on in the lead-up to the 2022 Federal Election.

Ms Simson, who runs a mixed Liverpool Plains farm with her husband, was the guest speaker at a NSW Farm Writers' lunch in Sydney yesterday.

She said the 2022 election would be an incredibly important one for farmers.

"We are in amazing times globally, but coming out of COVID we are entering an extremely uncertain time and add to that the situation in the Ukraine," she said.

"Ag has led Australia out of the pandemic. It has performed well and truly above its weight in keeping supply chains going and food on shelves.

"And it has been an opportunity to remind people that farmers have had their backs - that sometimes it's the nature of supply chains that are letting them down, not the farmers."

That brings with it opportunity for farming to state its case, with strength, on a number of issues.

Ad hoc regionalisation, as people have rushed from cities to the bush, will be a big one NFF will lead with.

Whether it's the building over of valuable farm land or the water flows that have completely changed due to development, unplanned regional growth was wreaking havoc on agriculture, Ms Simson said.

NFF will be asking for the Federal Government to allocate $400 million and choose 20 precincts across Australia where locally-led strategies for growth can be implemented, supported by top-class strategic and planning expertise and combined with streamlined approval processes to allow infrastructure to be planned.

Be it health, roads or supply change initiatives to support the bush rush, it was 'about time we worked out how to do this properly', Ms Simson said.

"Farmers need vibrant, strong regional communities that can provide input supplies as well as the services communities need," she said.

"Let's not turn Shepparton into Melbourne but rather create the best Shepparton possible. Let's not replicate the mistakes of cities but start planning from the bottom and ensure smart regional growth."

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Natural capital

Natural capital was a huge item for agriculture right now, Ms Simson said.

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NFF has a target of five per cent of farmers' income by 2030 coming from ecosystem services.

Ms Simson said there was a long way to go to get there but the sustainability framework being developed by the industry would be a gamechanger.

"It's a huge position of leadership for Australian agriculture, and Australia generally, to be putting forward a framework that can incorporate the myriad of data platforms and measures we have in order to back up our clean and green claims," she said.

"We don't want to reinvent the wheel. We know there is a lot of data capture in meat supply chains, in the grains and cotton sector and all sorts of carbon projects already. We want to lift all this up to where it will be meaningful for Australia when compared to global measures."

Get connected

Connecting every Australian will be another major election demand from farmers.

"The most concerning thing in this space is that we are going backwards," Ms Simson said.

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"Connectivity in the bush is decreasing. It's becoming more expensive and less reliable, and many are relying on landlines.

"We are in this amazing space of tech change and people on-farm are relying on collecting data. Wi fi is just not up to that.

"We need a big investment to solve this - we want a dedicated fund from the government.

"Yes, keep filling up black spots but it has to be so much more than that."

Labour

Like many other sectors, workforce will be a massive election issue for agriculture.

That the agriculture visa had not come to fruition was very disappointing, Ms Simson said.

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"It's a different sort of agreement to be signing with countries and it has been hard to get countries to agree, but we say to government - you promised, you have to deliver," she said.

"We need to look wider and harder. There are so many refugees in the world seeking countries to look after them and we need farm workers - surely we can make it happen."

A national labour hire licencing scheme will also be part of NFF's election ask.

So too competition law changes.

"We've seen how concentrated supply chains have failed," Ms Simson said.

Strengthening unfair contract prohibitions, mandatory codes of conduct, clarifying what is unconscionable conduct and the introduction of a perishable agriculture goods act will be on the agenda.

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Shan Goodwin

Shan Goodwin

National Agriculture Writer - Beef

Shan Goodwin steers ACM’s national coverage of the beef industry. Shan has worked as a journalist for 30 years, the majority of that with agricultural publications. She spent many years as The Land’s North Coast reporter and has visited beef properties and stations throughout the country and overseas. She treats all breeds equally.

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