SHADOW Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has baited his counterpart Barnaby Joyce over the potential release date of the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper on July 4.
Increasing speculation has suggested the ambitious, forward-thinking farm-sector policy document will be released at a dairy farm near Warrnambool in Victoria’s dairy heartland, on that date.
It’s expected to be unveiled by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and senior government members connected to the white paper process and Victorian Liberal MP Dan Tehan, given the likely location in his Wannon electorate.
Mr Joyce is then expected to speak at the National Press Club in Canberra on the white paper’s details and intent on the Monday following the Victorian launch.
That process would follow a similar method used in the Northern Development White Paper’s joint-launch last week, where it was unveiled by Coalition heavyweights - including Trade Minister Andrew Robb - at an initial event in Canberra, followed by another formal ceremony in Cairns attended by key stakeholders.
When and where
During debate in the House of Representatives last week, Mr Fitzgibbon asked Mr Joyce when the white paper would be released to which he replied, “I know when and I know where and I should invite you along”.
Mr Fitzgibbon said: “What about on July 4?” to which Mr Joyce stated: “That is American Independence Day - that would be a big celebration.”
In a statement released after the exchange, Mr Fitzgibbon said Mr Joyce appeared to have been advised not to commit to any firm timeline, which could only be for one of three reasons: that Mr Joyce is telling “fibs” and cabinet ministers are still brawling over his ‘crackpot ideas’; that the Abbott government has no idea when the white paper will be ready for release; or that Mr Abbott doesn’t sufficiently trust Mr Joyce to give him the date, Mr Fitzgibbon said.
“Whatever the case, I look forward to my invitation to the agriculture white paper gala event, where undoubtedly there will be more people than flags,” he said.
Mr Abbott’s office was unable to confirm any details of the white paper launch or date but an announcement is expected to be made in early July.
Worth waiting for: Coalition
The document was a pre-election commitment by the Coalition government and is being managed through the Prime Minister’s office.
A draft green paper was released last October with the government originally promising the final document’s release by the end of 2014, following formal cabinet approval.
Mr Joyce has described the white paper as a seminal document that will work like a roadmap for the farm industry’s future, to help seize opportunities, especially farm exports, given rising food demand from nearby Asian region.
Mr Abbott and Mr Joyce have defended ongoing criticism of the paper’s delayed release by saying the final version would be worth waiting for.
Specific items from the northern white paper are also expected to overlap with the agricultural white paper, like funding for infrastructure and research and development (R&D) initiatives.
The paper will also include recent budget announcements, like the 100 per cent write-off for water reticulation, fences and grain storage infrastructure which started on May 12.
Mr Joyce said the government had received over a thousand responses on the agricultural white paper.
He said agriculture is a vital part of the Australian economy with the nation being net exporters of agricultural produce, worth over $41 billion in 2013-14.
Mr Joyce said combined with the Northern Development White Paper, budget initiatives and work developing markets and free trade agreements “agriculture under this government is having real successes”.
He said the government had also show resilience to “weather the storms that are often put up against us by our detractors such as Animals Australia”.
“This is something that we have had to work on ardently over a long period of time,” he said.
“The reason we had to do that was that the alternative government, the previous government, put only $30 million into their food plan. It was pathetic.
“We believe that agriculture is one of the premier portfolios. We want to take it to the centre of government and we have done that.
“I get the sense that the opposition sometimes believe that agriculture is some sort of booby prize, that it is a stepping stone to somewhere else.
“We do not want it to be that. It has to remain front and centre. It is so vitally important for where this nation goes.”
Dams, MPCI and ACCC boost
Mr Joyce has also been heading up a ministerial taskforce looking at the government’s policy on dams to supply water for various uses, including agricultural production, that’s set for release in coming weeks.
“We will be rolling that out to create vital infrastructure because we know that water is wealth and dams are the bank,” Mr Joyce said last week.
“Without water, nothing else exists in the agricultural sector.
“There will be a distinct policy also to progress that issue as well.”
Last month, Mr Joyce said the agricultural white paper was “basically completed - it’s sitting on my desk - we are already rolling out sections of the White Paper”.
“The rest of the white paper – the substantive part of the white paper – that is imminent,” he said.
Mr Tehan has led a push – backed by farmers – for unspent drought support funding to be redirected to help establish a multi-peril crop insurance (MPCI) scheme to help mitigate production risks.
Members of a MPCI Taskforce convened by Grain Producers Australia (GPA) and headed by NSW Farmers president Fiona Simson, are expecting an announcement on the initiative, which they submitted in the draft process, in the agricultural white paper.
Fairfax Media also understands the policy document is set to include new measures and potentially $1m to bolster the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) agricultural expertise.
A special division of the ACCC would be established to appease lingering concerns about the competition watchdog’s inability to adequately assess issues in agricultural and retail food supply chains.
It’s understood the special division would upskill the ACCC to provide greater oversight of specific competition issues and address pricing transparency constraints in the retail food supply chain.
It would also give small businesses the capacity to deal with competition issues fairly rather than avoid legal challenges due to concerns about facing the superior financial muscle of major supply chain participants.
Last week, Mr Joyce welcomed the northern white paper’s delivery of funds to improve infrastructure - like the $100m Beef Roads Fund already announced to help producers get their livestock to market.
He also welcomed the government’s $75m investment in a Northern Co-operative Research Centre with a strong agriculture focus and $12.4m for the Indigenous Ranger Groups.