THE Federal Coalition has moved to dispel accusations of lethargic agriculture policy development with a bold announcement on Thursday to boost spending on the research sector of the industry in a bid to lift farm productivity.
News that an elected Coalition Government will increase the federal contribution to 15 rural research and development corporations (RDCs) with a $100 million commitment will be welcomed no doubt by industry leaders and primary producers, who understand productivity improvements and lower production costs are the keys to surviving on the land, when populations are increasing and resources are dwindling.
NSW Farmers Association president Fiona Simson has come quickly out of the blocks to praise the proposal, saying that with just over $200 million currently contributed by the Australian Government in matching R&D funding to RDCs, this injection represents a significant contribution to the industry.
Ms Simson is also right in saying that it is encouraging to see the change in language and a commitment to an investment in agricultural R&D which focuses on increasing the profitability of the sector.
As primary producers across Queensland are only too aware, for too long government spending to support profitability seems to have been put in the too-hard basket, and difficult to sell to city voters in marginal coastal electorates who often remain disconnected from the process that delivers them fresh, healthy and affordable food every day.
However, as primary producers also acutely understand, when government invests in rural Australia, it helps to build vibrant communities, which in turn attracts further investment and development.
Productivity has driven the Australian agricultural sector’s competitiveness for the past 50 years. Without productivity growth, it is estimated that the gross value of production could be $25 billion less than current estimates.
Improved productivity enables better food to be produced at cheaper prices and with less impact on the environment.
It also means that Australian farmers can continue to compete on the world and domestic stage without the financial support provided by governments to many farmers overseas.
Industry is still combing through the policy’s fine print and reserving full judgement until it can be known whether this commitment of the Coalition’s will be limited by industry contributions or production, given that the Australian Government generally matches expenditure on R&D up to 0.5 per cent of industry gross value of production.
The Coalition’s announcement on biosecurity innovations will also find a receptive ear in Queensland, as the 12-month anniversary of the Bovine Johne’s disease (BJD) outbreak looms and 35 properties remain under quarantine as a result of last year’s incursion.
The Coalition’s announcement to reinstate legal representation funding for pastoral respondents in native title claims is another positive step forward for our industry.
In January this year, the then Gillard Labor government ceased funding respondents but continued to fund claimants, which threatened continuation of collective representations already under way and created inequality in the native title process.
The Coalition’s reinstatement of funding is a much-needed move to restore equitable access to justice and dispel the confusion surrounding native title claims among pastoralists.