Where's the White Paper?

Six things cause me to be pessimistic about the quality of the long-promised agriculture White Paper

THE centrepiece of the Coalition’s agriculture policy prior to the 2013 federal election was a commitment to produce a strategic White Paper. It’s a great way to have a policy when you’re not having one.

Not that there is anything inherently bad about developing a White Paper. Properly done, such a document can communicate a government’s views about how a sector’s challenges and opportunities are best managed to produce optimal outcomes. More particularly, it can establish a strategic plan and guidance for policy decisions.

Good government decisions are those guided by policy direction. For example, what does a tax proposal mean when measured against pre-determined equitable principles? Or how does a proposal to address market power abuse fit with principles around competition and regulatory burden?

A Defence White Paper, for example, will seek to establish a nation’s geopolitical situation, determine where any threats may come from and then, all decisions about the size, shape and weight of the defence force and its platforms (ships, planes, artillery etc.) are made through that prism.

If Barnaby Joyce wants to declare strategic direction for future government decisions about agriculture through a White Paper, that’s fine. But is that what he will do? And 18 months into the term of the Abbott government, when will we finally see it?

Six things cause me to be pessimistic about the quality of the long-promised agriculture White Paper. First is its delay. The longer it is passed backwards and forward amongst ministers and government officials the more likely it is to be a document full of compromise.

Second, the title chosen for the document - Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper – seems curiously narrow. Yes, competitiveness is crucial and it implies the notion of profitability and success. But why single out one part of the equation? I fear it sends a signal that the inclusion of some opportunities and challenges are at the exclusion of others.

That takes me to my third concern. The terms of reference for Barnaby Joyce’s White Paper do not mention sustainability or the implications of our changing climate. These issues surely, should have been up in lights, the sector faces no greater challenge.

My fourth concern is the Green Paper – not a bad source of information and data, but it lacks any high-level prescription for our future in agriculture. To be less kind, it does little more than state the obvious and run commentary on the various and often high-quality submissions into the process. If that’s what the White Paper looks like, it will be a failure.

Last week Barnaby Joyce provided his latest explanation for the delay in the White Paper’s delivery. This is my fifth concern. He now says the hold-up is the government’s tight Budget situation. If the White Paper is prescriptive about spending measures it will judged to be no more than an election promises document. The White Paper should set the strategic direction, choices and spending decisions should follow.

My final concern is the dismissal of Department Secretary, Dr Paul Grimes. With his qualifications and experience, surely Dr Grimes was the man to ensure the White Paper was one with merit. In any case, sacking your Departmental head during the development of a White Paper can’t possibly be a good thing.

For 18 months now Australian agriculture – with all its potential and opportunity – has been without government policy or guidance. We all hope the wait will prove worthwhile, but I remain pessimistic.

Joel Fitzgibbon

Joel Fitzgibbon

is Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry & Rural Affairs and the MP for Hunter
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


leon tanner
23/03/2015 7:50:09 PM

Don't know that it is correct to say farming is surging ahead "Farmer", even though there has been little or no new Government intervention of late. What I see is the demise of a vast number of our once vibrant primary production sectors and associated food processing businesses in Australia. It is almost impossible to find Aussie produce on grocery shelves today. Even the fresh produce items are dwindling and being replaced by imports or simply unavailable. Even the grain industry with above average prices is going down hill in profitability. When prices fall again, hear the death rattle.
23/03/2015 1:47:42 PM

Save the money from the whitepaper and put it into compensation for the native vegetation laws. I don't need more (even well meaning) policies.
23/03/2015 9:27:57 AM

Would love to know what you base your statement "agriculture is surging ahead" on Farmer? That's certainly not the consensus of the farmers I associate with.
Rob Moore
23/03/2015 7:36:04 AM

Joel says- "Or how does a proposal to address market power abuse fit with principles around competition and regulatory burden?" That is good Joel - at least you've read my submission! This is the $64KQ!Surely Joyce can get the 4000DA staff moving to give the answer. Forget climate change Joel- oz polliess can't even influence the most basic of fair trading rules let alone influence nature. Glyde will be quite ok. My PPP plan only requires guts, NOT $'s. Will you show some for us Joel (for the nations good)?
John Carpenter
23/03/2015 6:42:20 AM

God protect us from yet another strategic plan produced by either political party and the out of touch, Canberra centric APS. Government's role is to concentrate on only what cannot be done by the private sector. This would include infrastructure, trade access, biosecurity, action against abuse of market power and consumer protection. JF keeps repeating the Labor chant of more regulation in the name of climate change, sustainability and animal rights. Farmers and country people know where all of this will end up. Labor is missing the opportunity of a lifetime.
23/03/2015 5:23:21 AM

"For 18 months now Australian agriculture – with all its potential and opportunity – has been without government policy or guidance". That's great news and as long as incompetent governments, political parties and career politicians like yourself and most others with absolutely no rural experience stay out of agricultural business, the better it is. In general we are all fed up with meaningless white papers and reports anyway and publishing another will not make any difference. It's ironic that agriculture is surging ahead without that guidance and policy! Perhaps that's the way to go!
Out of the shadowShadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon aims to put ag policy under the microscope. Based in the NSW Hunter Valley, Joel also has a unique perspective on the tensions between primary production and mining development.


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