AS THE federal election approaches, rural voters will be seeking policy that will bust agriculture out of its political-induced diapause within which it has been encased since the 72-seats apiece outcome of the 2010 election.
High on the list of issues for ag are the poor handling of live exports; a lack of affirmative action on foreign ownership; duopolisation of food retail and bleeding of our food processing sector, the slow progress of our free trade agreements, and drought policy reform.
The accumulative flow-on of all this has been an undermining of confidence in agriculture, despite grand gestures from the Asian Century White Paper.
With its “right” hand the Labor leadership has talked up prospects for agriculture in light of the Asian Century, but under Julia Gillard pinned a lot of its hopes to fund its election promises on its Mineral Resources Rent Tax.
This was clearly a flop, much to the Opposition’s delight, when early this year then Treasurer Wayne Swan had to explain why the tax raised just $126 million in its first six months – well short of the anticipated $2 billion.
It seems the mining boom coat-tails have worn thin sooner than expected, so the fumbled MRRT might mean Australia has missed an important opportunity to use “the people’s” resources to properly fund much needed projects, such as infrastructure, to jump aboard the next wave – the “dining boom”.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has made some acknowledgment of the need to re-invest in non-mineral sectors.
However, the ag sector needs to see Labor come to the table on the aforementioned issues so it has a chance of cashing in on the Asian boom, as mining has already done.
It also needs to see its new Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon demonstrate how he can undo the damage caused by Labor’s “left” hand (under Julia Gillard) that was guided too closely by the short-term popular vote, which was reflected in its 2011 knee-jerk decision to ban live exports.
Prime Minister Rudd’s ousting of Julia Gillard could simply be a warning the mentality of appeasing the polls – rather than visionary thinking – still reigns.
So as Labor heads to the polls, if it wants our vote, it’s actions and policy need rural Australia at front and centre of its solutions.