AUSVEG chief executive officer Richard Mulcahy has hit back at claims that Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce’s Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper process is replete with "crackpot" ideas.
“Our optimism in relation to the process follows the release of last year’s Agricultural Competitiveness Green Paper that identified numerous policy ideas that Ausveg regards as vitally important to the future direction of Australia’s vegetable and potato industries in both the short and long term,” Mr Mulcahy said.
“Whilst we have yet to see the White Paper, for unnamed sources within the federal government to be quoted recently as allegedly suggesting it would be filled with ‘crackpot’ ideas is flippant and irresponsible, and underestimates the breadth of Australia’s agricultural sector and its importance to this nation.
“Given the enormous role that horticulture and broader agriculture is expected to play in Australia’s future economic prosperity, it is important that a broad cross-section of issues are critically examined in the upcoming White Paper.”
Ausveg is the leading horticultural body representing Australia’s 9000 vegetable and potato growers.
“Infrastructure, competition and regulation, and finance, business structures and taxation were among the important areas of policy canvassed in the Green Paper, which also contained policy suggestions such as a possible expansion of working holiday visas, reducing red tape, improved biosecurity arrangements and access to international markets,” Mr Mulcahy said.
“Another issue of paramount importance to Australian vegetable and potato growers is that of stronger and more transparent country of origin labelling laws, which were also canvassed in the green paper.
“To describe these issues as ‘crackpot’ is offensive in the extreme.
“With such significant momentum, including from the Prime Minister himself, currently behind the push for better country of origin labelling laws in the wake of recent imported food scares, we would hate to think criticisms of the white paper are part of broader efforts to derail meaningful improvements to our current labelling laws.”
White Paper pressure
National Farmers' Federation (NFF) president Brent Finlay last week rejected speculation which suggested the government’s visionary farm policy statement may now be released after the May federal budget is handed down.
The NFF urged the federal government to provide budget provisions that ensure the White Paper’s key reform areas are implemented.
The farm lobby’s 2015-15 budget submission said the White Paper “must deliver a clear and tangible plan for farmers and agribusinesses”.
“It must be a plan that delivers action and outcomes; not more talk and delays,” the submission said.
“This is the opportunity to establish a new and enduring approach to the next golden age of the Australian agricultural sector.”
Last month, Mr Joyce said he’d held a meeting with Prime Minister Tony Abbott to address issues with the White Paper but its ultimate release date is yet to be announced.
“It was a very productive meeting and we’re looking forward to progressing it,” Mr Joyce said.
He said labelling the White Paper as “full of crackpot ideas” was criticising the ideas of the Australian people who had submitted extensive and creative ideas to the process via about 750 formal submissions.
“The White Paper is a reflection of their ideas so it’s an incredibly elitist statement made by someone who is basically uninformed.”
Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has released regular media statements accusing the Abbott government and Barnaby Joyce of policy inertia, due to the White Paper’s non-release.
It was initially flagged to be unveiled in late 2014 following final cabinet approval.
But according to its government website, the document that’s being ultimately managed through the Prime Minister's office is now “set for completion in 2015”.