THE Australian Greens party will launch its ‘Our Food Future’ policy package in an online forum tonight at 7pm, inviting comment on initiatives to dramatically reduce the foreign investment threshold, build a network of agricultural extension officers, stop the expansion of gas and coal mining on agricultural land and improve community awareness of food provenance.
The total initiatives have been costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office over the forward estimates for three years at $626.5 million.
“We need government to put our people, our farmers and the environment at the heart of our food system; and we need to boost public investment in research and development to ensure we have the information we need,” said Greens leader Senator Christine Milne ahead of the launch.
The policy details the Greens’ response to key challenges to Australia’s food system including keeping farmers on the land, protecting agricultural land and water, and ensuring a nutritious diet for every Australian.
Australia's first National Food Plan, originally flagged by Labor ahead of the 2010 election, was launched by then-Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig in Brisbane on May 24 after almost two years in the pipeline. That program focused primarily on Asian Century market opportunities, including the 'Brand Australia' campaign and appointing a food and beverage industry advocate.
Key to the Greens' launch tonight are two new costed policies including:
$300 million for agricultural research and development (R&D) $76.5m for national network of 180 agricultural extension officers
The 180 agricultural extension officers will be based in the Natural Resource Management (NRM) regions, and their work in each region will be determined by a regional steering committee with representatives from the NRM region, Landcare, local agricultural industry groups and research institutions.
The decline in public R&D in agriculture and food systems will be addressed by increasing Commonwealth R&D funding by 7 per cent per year.
The additional $300 million investment over the forward estimates would include creating a new Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and funding key R&D gaps, such as climate risk mapping at appropriate geographic scale.
To ensure food and agriculture get better prioritisation, the Greens also say they will: establish a National Food Policy Ministerial Board create an independent Food Advisory Council appoint an independent Food Commissioner support the creation of regional food councils
The Greens also want to lower the threshold from $248 million to $5m for consideration of the national interest purchases of agricultural land and water, including cumulative purchases, to legislate a mandatory national interest test and maintain a live register of foreign ownership of agricultural land and water assets to track overseas purchases.
In June, the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) welcomed the release of a Senate Committee report that recognised the need for greater information about foreign investment in Australian agriculture. The NFF also supports the development of a register of agricultural land, agribusiness and water entitlements.
“Foreign investment has traditionally been very positive for Australian agriculture and it is important that we do not deter this investment,” NFF chief executive Matt Linnegar said. However, he noted Australian farmers want to see greater transparency around that investment.
Biosecurity, a national food waste reduction campaign and education are also priorities, with plans to ensure the national curriculum for primary and secondary education includes the origins of Australia’s food and fibre and funding for up to 800 new school kitchen garden projects.
Another $100m would be designated to lower on-farm costs by funding the switch to renewable energy and improved energy efficiency.
An $85 million food plan (provided over four years) designed to help farmers bypass the supermarket duopoly, launched by the Greens on July 28, forms part of the 'Food future' policy.
The funds will help set up farmers markets, food box sales, farmers’ co-operatives, regional marketing and regional food hubs.
“The world has changed,” Senator Milne said.
“In 2007–2008 as a result of extreme weather events and opportunistic speculation in commodity futures markets, food prices soared and some countries reacted by banning the export of grain to keep their domestic prices down.
“Major food importing countries like China and Saudi Arabia reacted by buying land and water in other countries to grow food for themselves, effectively bypassing the world trade regime and opting to outsource food production.
“With world grain stores dropping from an average of 107 days of consumption a decade ago to 74 days in recent years, it is clear that feeding hungry people around the world and feeding ourselves now depends on adopting new policies.
“We can choose to continue the way we are and accept a future growing, processing and eating far less of our own fresh and healthy food; a future in which we will rely on access to imports and risk escalating prices and availability; a future in which most of us will struggle to eat a healthy diet,” she said.
“But this is unsustainable. We have a better choice. We can stop taking our food for granted and change.”
The online launch - believed to be a first in Australian politics - is designed to allow people from different aspects of the food system – farmers, local food processors, public health advocates, community gardeners and those working in the welfare sector – to hear from the Greens and each other.
“I decided to launch 'Our Food Future' online to give as many people, particularly those in rural and regional areas, a chance to hear from us directly and ask questions about the policy," Senator Milne said.
“The idea also came out of recognition that contrary to some perceptions, rural and regional Australia is very active online. I have a passion for this policy area and I’ve been inspired by how new media can bring parliamentarians closer to communities, particularly those in remote areas.
“To our knowledge this is the first time a federal political party has specifically chosen to launch a detailed policy online so that participants can ask questions from all around the country in real time."
Join the online forum tonight at 7pm to have your say: www.greens.org.au/food