IF the Coalition wins the September 7 federal election, their choice of Agriculture Minister is simple.
That person needs the skills and capacity to consult broadly and engage effectively, to deliver true leadership for “team agriculture” and implement a bold plan and vision for the industry’s future.
There’s certainly a healthy ongoing debate about which individual may land the job if the ALP’s defeated, ending Joel Fitzgibbon’s brief time holding the agricultural reins.
And after serving his time as Shadow Minister in Tony Abbott’s front-bench, Nationals NSW MP John Cobb certainly deserves the opportunity to step up post-election.
How long he lasts in the job after that is entirely dependent on his performance.
Some industry, political analysts have asked about the quality of Mr Cobb’s work in holding the former Minister Joe Ludwig to account over the past three years.
The two certainly had some ding-dong battles over individual issues, especially on live exports, wheat export regulations, biosecurity, drought reforms, environmental regulations, trade and market access and budgets.
But what the Opposition Shadow managed to exploit most of all - with regular assistance from others like Shadow Parliamentary Agricultural Secretary and Tasmanian Liberal Senator Richard Colbeck and WA Liberal Senator Chris Back - was a strong perception the ALP as a whole, not just the Minister, lacked genuine engagement in agriculture.
If the Coalition wins, they’ll have the opportunity to put their money where their mouth is and follow up on that work, beyond distant promises and motherhood statements.
The National Farmers Federation has delivered a Blueprint for Australian Agriculture mapping out the views of thousands of constituents on their priorities for the industry’s current and future needs, at a critical juncture.
The ALP has also produced a National Food Plan and its Asian Century White Paper so it would be a shame to waste that work.
The National Party’s credentials are well known, with the likes of experienced leader Warren Truss, Barnaby Joyce, Michael McCormack, Mark Coulton, Bruce Scott, Darren Chester, Luke Hartsuyker and Senators Fiona Nash, Nigel Scullion, John Williams, Ron Boswell and Bridget McKenzie all displaying regular empathy and passion for rural and farming issues.
Backing the National Party’s natural rural edge, the Liberals also have several strong rural and agricultural performers with practical industry knowledge.
The list includes Senator Colbeck and Senator Back, NSW Senator Bill Heffernan, Victorian MPs Dan Tehan and Sharman Stone, QLD MP Warren Entsch, NSW MP Sussan Ley, South Australian MP Rowan Ramsey, WA MP Nola Marino, SA Senator Sean Edwards, Queensland Senator Ian Macdonald with WA Senators Dean Smith and Mathias Cormann chiming in.
Liberal Shadow Finance Minister and Coalition Policy Development Committee chair Andrew Robb is another whose abilities are highly regarded by industry.
He will play a key role in ensuring agriculture remains at the forefront of Coalition policy initiatives, like developing Northern Australia, and his relationship with the agricultural leader is critical.
Last October, Ms Marino launched the Parliamentary Friends of Primary Producers forum, to increase the quality of information exchanged on key political issues concerning farming and regional Australia.
The multi-party forum aims to engage politicians with little understanding of rural issues and connect them with industry groups and leaders when critical debates unfold.
Former NFF president Jock Laurie addressed the forum’s initial meeting at Parliament House and supported the concept of a multi-party approach to resolving issues, citing the Indonesian live cattle ban as a prime example of where a crisis could have been averted through a better exchange of information, between groups with vested interests.
That forum is another initiative that any Minister would welcome as another forum to build team agriculture’s approach to resolving issues and identifying action plans.
Set to inject a healthy dose of youth and talent into the Coalition’s “team agriculture” are several other experienced performers in the agricultural space and current farmers.
For example; the highly regarded Angus Taylor who’s been tipped as a future Prime Minister and is set to replace the retiring Alby Schultz in the NSW seat of Hume; Katanning farmer and Liberal candidate Rick Wilson who may win retiring National Tony Crook’s WA seat of O’Connor; former Victorian Farmers Federation president Andrew Broad running in the seat of Mallee for the Nationals; and South Australian Nationals Senate Candidate James Stacey who runs a dairy farm at Langhorne Creek, south of Adelaide.
Mr Broad summed up the situation best by saying the Coalition has a strong agricultural team in Canberra that’s set to become stronger post-election.
But he said whoever becomes Agriculture Minister needs to ensure they consult effectively within their team and engage industry groups, DAFF and other stakeholders, to ensure the best and right decisions are made in Canberra, for agriculture and the nation’s future.
“Ultimately good policies are only achieved by a whole lot of people working together,” he said.
“If we’re going to repay debt we have to work to our strengths and agriculture is certainly going to be one of our main economic strengths in future, ensuring we hit the Asia pacific market.
“If I’m part of the Coalition after the election, with John Cobb and others like Fiona Nash or Andrew Robb, we’ll make a strong team.
“It’s not just spoken about serving platitudes - agriculture will certainly be regarded a lot higher by the Coalition and the Nationals.”