Key parties argue over ag policy

04 Sep, 2015 02:00 AM
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Premier Colin Barnett at the opening of the new Katanning saleyards last year.
Premier Colin Barnett at the opening of the new Katanning saleyards last year.

WA Premier Colin Barnett has attacked Labor's record on agriculture while promoting his government's efforts to diversify the State's economy by boosting the farm sector.

In his speech at the WA Liberal's conference, Mr Barnett referred to his maiden speech 25 years ago, where he stated that living standards and economic success depended on doing "a limited number of things superbly".

He said the greatest areas of comparative advantage in the WA economy were mining and agriculture – but an opportunity also existed for marine-related industries to become a third economic base.

Mr Barnett said his party was repeatedly attacked in parliament by the opposition for failing to diversify the economy but highlighted advances in agricultural policy to reject that criticism.

"(Labor) talk about their support for agriculture (but) they introduced legislation for a moratorium on genetically modified (GM) products," he said.

"There's over 250,000 hectares of GM canola being grown in WA today.

"So they don't support GM and GM offers reduced usage of pesticides and herbicides, better qualities and better protein levels in crops, so they turn their back on that.

"They don't support live animal exports – cattle or sheep.

"Now there are issues around that of animal welfare – no one would deny that.

"But really it was the State Government that started the process of getting live cattle into China (and) hopefully that will happen."

Mr Barnett said re-establishing ties with Indonesian and the Gulf State markets was important for economic diversity and advancing meat production in Australia but "the Labor Party doesn't support that".

He said WA Labor didn't support fracking "regardless of the fact that fracking has been done safely and successfully in WA for over 50 years".

"And the tight gas that might be accessed is not near the surface or in the water table but one or two kilometres down," he said.

Mr Barnett claimed that in the past seven years, his government had been "setting the scene" for economic expansion in a range of portfolios areas such as mining and agriculture,

He said there has been a "huge increase" in agricultural research and biosecurity funding to expand farm production, and movement on other areas such as the Ord River Scheme, livestock saleyards and marketing programs into Asian destinations.

"We are using our influence in natural resources to expand our scope in agriculture," he said.

Mr Barnett said the Department of State Development would play a stronger role, in conjunction with responsible ministers and their agencies, by "adding that clout" to boost the local economy through agriculture, aquaculture and shipbuilding and attract investment.

Mr Barnett also addressed government cost cutting and support for small business with red tape reductions such as changes to land clearing laws and increased flexibility of tenure for the pastoral industry.

But Labor's agriculture and food spokesman Mick Murray said Mr Barnett has lost touch with the community.

He said Labor supports agriculture and is voicing public concerns.

"Where was Mr Barnett before?'' he asked.

"He only found the agriculture industry after the collapse of the mining industry, particularly iron ore. All of a sudden he has found agriculture sexy, that is a concern."

Mr Murray said Mr Barnett had got it wrong on fracking and needed to start listening to the community on such issues.

"It is my job to represent the people, and I have had probably a 95 per cent 'no' to fracking coming through my front door," he said.

"Go out on the street in Bunbury and say 'I support fracking' and see how many people stand up and support you.

"It concerns me, especially for the South West.

"We need a complete and thorough environmental and scientific assessment on what will happen in particular areas, if it's open slather fracking."

Mr Murray said Mr Barnett was previously only concerned with the State's north and that the traditional agricultural areas were left out.

"There has been reductions of people within the Department of Agriculture and Food," he said

"It has been in the hundreds and the onus has been put back on farmers, specifically around biosecurity."

Mr Murray said Labor's position on GM crops hasn't changed.

He said its concerns about farmer-against-farmer conflicts had become a reality.

"We still have problems with how it has been handled," he said.

"The (The Nationals WA) at the time didn't listen to our concerns.

"It's awful that neighbours and friends of many years have been split.

"We have these problems cropping up, because the legislation wasn't strong enough."

Mr Murray said Labor will talk to different groups regarding the issues that Mr Barnett has raised.

"We have an open door policy," he said.

"If people have problems we are willing to sit down with them, we are not 'Johnny come lately' like Colin Barnett.

"I think Colin has lost his way."

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READER COMMENTS

James
4/09/2015 12:01:32 PM, on Farm Weekly

Unfortunately it's a matter of which one is less bad for Ag rather than which is actually good. Labor's opposition to GM, live export and general pandering to the left has the potential to set the state back 30 years. Whilst the Lib/Nats double talk of the strong future for agriculture whilst simultaneously cutting and running as fast as they can out of Ag R&D, and massive cuts to DAFWA will also set Ag back greatly. Damned with either choice.

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