FEDERAL Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has endorsed Australian agriculture as a critical moral and economic activity that underpins the national interest.
During a passionate plea at the first day of the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) annual Outlook conference in Canberra on Tuesday, Mr Joyce claimed family farms were also central to that political equation.
He said throughout mankind’s history, civilisations had either started or grown around the presence of an agricultural economy.
“In recent times the largest proportion of growth in employment has been in agriculture,” he said.
“But unless you have the farms that are producing the product then all else that follows is nought.
“Agriculture is a noble pursuit.
“It does not benefit from the weakness of others.
“It does not leave people diminished,” he said.
“It is the essence of what feeds and clothes them.
“As such, agriculture must not only economically be a pillar of the economy, but morally must be a pillar of the economy.
“As it is fundamentally tied to the future of our nation, it is my belief that it should remain overwhelmingly and unambiguously the domain of the Australian farming family.”
Runs on the board
Mr Joyce also declared the federal government had “the runs on the board” in agriculture, in claiming credit for an historical turnaround in agricultural prices.
He said that effort included contributing to record returns for beef and sheep and solid prices for cotton and many horticultural products.
“I believe that my job is best expressed in the dignity it brings back to people’s lives at the farmgate,” he said.
“The whole purpose of my job and my department’s job is not about our own personal gains, our own personal misfortunes, or our likes or dislikes, but our desire as a team to work together to make sure that the people we are paid to serve prosper by our endeavours.
“When people contact us to say that they have cleared their overdraft or have money for Christmas then the job is purposeful.
“This is not just by reason of the government - obviously I’d never be so bold as to say that - but the government has played a major part.”
Mr Joyce said the Abbott government had boosted prices by securing Free Trade Agreements (FTA) with China, Japan and Korea and opening new live export markets such as Cambodia and Thailand which “all culminate in a better price back to the farmer”.
“And why do we do it? Because we believe in the dignity of the people who live on the land,” he said.
“Making sure that the mums and dads get the same opportunities and have the same at least comparable disposable income that other people have.
“That they have the right to renovate their kitchen; that they have the right to buy a new car like other people buy a new car; that they have the right and capacity to go on holidays.
“These are the things that motivate you and drive you as a minister; to make sure that you see that through.
“If you want to know how I’m going, go to the saleyards and ask the question there,” he said.
“The job’s not over but the task goes on.”
Seeking to make a difference
Mr Joyce said his ultimate objective as a politician was to be judged by having made a difference.
He said his goal in agriculture was to make sure that whoever comes next in the role, “and I hope that is not imminent” was left with a foundation to further build on.
“I’m a realist,” he said.
“I know you’re not in these jobs forever.
“I have this incredible honour to be the (Agriculture) Minister and I’m passionately engaged in this space, because that’s where I come from.
“But I don’t want to it just be about what happens while I’m there.
“I want to hand over the book to the next person, wherever they come from – the Coalition or Labor party – and say ‘we’ve done a lot of work and there’s something you can follow and build’.
“Because attached to that is the dignity and lifestyle of so many people on the land and the capacity of our nation to bring in a stronger soft commodity dollar to support your Medicare to support your pensioners, to support so many things.
“But it won’t happen by accident, it’ll happen by good government and management.”
White Paper 'imminent'
Mr Joyce said release of the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper was “imminent” with a green paper having already passed federal cabinet and the final product now being shaped for cabinet presentation.
He said that paper also intersected with the Northern Australia White Paper but the documents had not been released sooner because the government wanted them to be “formidable” and to “make a difference”.
“We want them to be beyond the merely motherhood statements that adorn so many shelves and crevices collecting detritus and living obscurus per obscurum until they are finally shredded, purposeless and unread,” he said.
Barnaby Joyce on government achievements in farmgate prices:
"When we came to government the price of a live cattle steer was 165 cents per kilogram. The price today is 275 cents per kilogram. This means we have had a loading price 350kg beast of A$962.50, which means a 67pc increase."
"The price of grown steers 500-600 kilograms, through Gunnedah has gone from 160 cents average when we came to government, to 183 cents now, giving a sale price of A$1098 for a 600 kilolgram steer. This is a 14pc increase."
"The price of a bale of cotton in Australia when we came to power was A$425. And now it is A$525, a 23 per cent increase."
"The price of an 18- 24-kilogram fat score sheep (mutton) has gone from 211 cents to 352 cents per kilogram, or around $84 live weight. This is a 67 per cent increase."
"Pork for a 60- 75-kilogram dress weight weaner pig has gone up slightly in tough international headwinds from 308 cents to 315 cents, a two per cent increase."
"Price for a 12- 16-kilogram goat has gone from 209 cents a kilogram to 390 cents. This is a 87 per cent increase."
"Milk at the farmgate from Murray Goulburn has gone from 43.6 cents a litre to 44.64 cents, a one per cent increase."
"Wool has not been so good, with a one per cent fall from 1098 cents a kilogram clean to 1090 cents."
"Horticultural products such as Cavendish bananas have gone from $12.76 a carton to $28.85 a carton, a 126 per cent increase."
"Lemons have gone from $19.41 per 12-kilogram box to $50.20 per box, a 159 per cent increase. Kiwifruit has gone from $19.50 per bulk pack to $27.50 per pack, a 41 per cent increase."
"Yes, we’ve had some disappointments too, such as oranges, falling from $18.50 per 12-kilogram box, to $15.00, a 19 per cent decrease."
"Cherries, down from $70.10 per five-kilogram carton to $42.00, a fall of 40 per cent."
"Peaches are down from $13.50 per tray to $12.77, down six per cent."