BARNABY Joyce says statements accusing the soon-to-be-released Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper of promoting “crackpot ideas” are “elitist and cowardly”.
Weekend reporting by the ABC of delays in the White Paper’s release quoted an unnamed senior government figure saying it contained "every crackpot idea" from the past 25 years.
The report also quoted Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon saying agriculture was “spinning out of control” under Agriculture Minister Joyce.
Mr Joyce said scrutiny of the draft White Paper by the Cabinet's Expenditure Review Committee or budget razor gang was understandable, but he said the unnamed Coalition sources had criticised the farm sector stakeholders who contributed to the draft.
The development process is being handled by Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s office and Mr Joyce said he expects an announcement on the final paper’s release within the next month.
“It’s always annoying when people leak things and don’t put their name to it,” he told Fairfax Media.
“It’s a statement about them and it says that they’re cowards. And the question is; should cowards hold a political office when actually they’re unsubstantial people who don’t have the character to be in a position to uphold the honour and integrity of office?"
For the people, by the people
Mr Joyce 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.
“This person has basically said the Australian people who contributed to the paper with their ideas are crackpots - but your job in politics is not to sit on high and judge others with a form of anonymous arrogance; it’s to actually reflect the views of the people who pay your wage and who ultimately are your boss and to them, your number one duty is to serve.”
The draft Green Paper was released last October at the National Farmers' Federation congress in Canberra as part of a key Coalition election commitment that will form a policy road map for the sector’s future.
In to bat for farmers
Mr Joyce said the draft contained many good ideas which the government was respecting by giving due consideration. He said the White Paper was undergoing tough negotiations towards the end within the government, but roundly rejected the notion it was delayed due to “crackpot ideas”.
Given Australia’s World Cup win at the MCG on Sunday, Mr Joyce used a cricketing analogy to explain his position.
“If you want to get back to the change rooms quickly you can always retire, but I’d rather stay out in the middle batting - and whilst we’re batting we’re getting the runs and putting farmers and rural Australia in a better winning position,” he said.
“But the person who said these are crackpot ideas well, they’ve put as much worth in that statement than they have in their own name which they’re actually terrified to give.
“They will happily call people crackpots anonymously because they don’t have the strength to make those statements publicly.
“But what I can say publicly, on their behalf, is that they’re reflecting on the Australian people whose ideas we are trying to get up.
“Calling the Australian people crackpots is first of all the height of political naivety, but it’s also elitist, arrogant and wrong.”
Mr Joyce also took umbrage to Mr Fitzgibbon’s ongoing accusation that agriculture was suffering policy inertia under the Coalition government, and his weekly media releases highlighting the White Paper’s delay.
He said the government had already allocated $120 million to start building dams; hundreds of millions of dollars in drought funding support including providing Farm Household Allowance payments; started to progress long-awaited country of origin labelling reforms; opened six new live export markets; and concluded free trade agreements with China, Japan and Korea.
“You can’t call us crackpots because we’ve got too many ideas and then in the next breath accuse us of policy inertia and say we’ve got none,” he said.
“I’ve always said the White Paper will work hand in glove with the government’s taxation review, competition review, work we’re doing on country of origin labelling, the dams taskforce and the northern Australia report.
“It’s in our interests to have these policy documents out as early as possible, so in time people will make their judgment of us at the next election.
“The key litmus test will be to just compare it to the (former Labor government’s) Food Plan and say, ‘what did this do for the Australian people?’.
“If the Food Plan gave you nothing and the other one you complained about it because it gave you too much, well I’ll take that as a recommendation.”
NFF chief executive Simon Talbot said the White Paper had suffered criticism for being delayed but it was “absolutely essential it’s not fast-tracked” and released prematurely.
“Everyone is waiting for it and we’re waiting for it - and we’re getting a lot of pressure from our members asking when it’s going to arrive - but it has to be done right and have that 20-year vision in it for the sector,” he said of plans to double the industry’s profitability by 2030.
“We’re certainly hoping it’s bipartisan and structured enough so that both parties will commit to it and actually invest in it, regardless of the electoral cycle.”
National Party leader Warren Truss said the government would make sure that the White Paper has ideas able to be implemented and “will make a real difference for agriculture”.
“Of course, new measures cost money and our commitment to the agriculture White Paper is to make a real difference,” he said.
“So there will be costs associated with some of the measures and that's something we have to budget for.”