Political panel faces tough questions

26 Feb, 2015 01:00 AM
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THE absence of State Liberal politicians was noticed at the WAFarmers 2015 Annual Conference last week.

A political panel of Federal and State politicians faced a crowd of about 150 industry representatives and farmers to address their top concerns.

However a number of guests raised the absence of WA's Liberal politicians, including Agriculture and Food Minister Ken Baston.

WAFarmers president Dale Park said he had invited both Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and Mr Baston, however they could not attend.

"It was recognised, that Barnaby Joyce and Ken Baston were not present," Mr Park said.

A spokesperson for Mr Baston said "the Minister made his apologies as he had prior commitments as part of the recent budget process".

The political panel included Shadow Agriculture and Rural Affairs Minister Joel Fitzgibbon, Shadow Transport, Agriculture and Food and Infrastructure Minister Ken Travers, Nationals WA member of Moore and Parliamentary Secretary to the Regional Development Minister Shane Love, Palmer United Party Senator for WA, Zhenya Wang, Greens Senator for WA Rachel Siewert, Liberal Senator Chris Back and Parliamentary Secretary to the Agriculture Minister Richard Colbeck.

The floor was opened up with a number of questions surrounding drought loans, climate change, animal welfare, livestock and live exports.

Mr Park said he was surprised that given the panel members that were present, the Tier 3 issue was not raised by the floor.

"I was a bit surprised at the end, that rail didn't come up (in the panel)," Mr Park said.

"I was pleased with the youth that attended and asked questions.

"That's what #GenerationAg was all about, encouraging youth to get involved."

Mr Park said there were no surprise topics during question time.

Mr Travers said there were a number of issues in the industry.

But encouraging young people to get into farming was difficult as it was getting harder to get into.

"Unless you have capital it is hard to get into farming," Mr Travers said.

"It is a real challenge to encourage (young people) and work out how we deal with that.

"You need such a capital base to be competitive and unless they inherit it from their parents it is a struggle.

"We need to work out how we deal with that and the changing nature of the industry."

University of Western Australia Students from Natural and Agricultural Sciences (SNAGS) member Lachlan Hunter asked Greens and Labor party members if they "could make a promise to the WAFarmers conference, that if the they were ever elected to govern, they wouldn't shut down live export again."

Mr Fitzgibbon said he could not promise that any government would never again pause an industry.

"No one could give that promise," Mr Fitzgibbon said.

"We improved the welfare system in Australia and around the world.

"I cannot guarantee to you, that no matter the circumstances, a government in the future will not find it necessary to act."

Mr Fitzgibbon said (the Indonesian live export ban) was regrettable, and recognised it had done enormous harm to the industry but from that a better animal welfare system, ESCAS was developed.

He said that was building public confidence and opening new markets across the world.

However Mr Back said there was never a need to close down the trade to Indonesia.

"We support you to close trade to abattoirs that were non-compliant, and from which that footage was seen," Mr Back said.

"But there never was an occasion to close the trade of seven abattoirs that were compliant, and there lays the answer."

Climate change and drought were topics of discussion, especially from members of the Yilgarn and eastern Wheatbelt area.

"Climate change is a major issue, and we need to take it seriously," Ms Siewert said.

"There will be a significant impact on agriculture.

"I want to see a sustainable agriculture sector and I want to ensure we are competitive but unless we invest and deal with how we address agriculture in the changing climate, we will go backwards.

"We need to be serious about it."

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