SHADOW Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon says he’ll be releasing Labor’s agriculture policy “well and truly” before the scheduled July 2 election day.
“We have so many positive policies you can’t get them out all together,” he said on the back of the Coalition’s $240 million agricultural policy being formally released yesterday.
Mr Fitzgibbon said the farm policy document released by Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce was “very scant on detail” and involved many re-announcements, while drawing on re-announcements from other portfolios.
“There's not much fanfare in there and you know they say the definition of madness is to continue to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result,” he said.
“Barnaby’s whole agriculture policy is lacking in narrative as it is has now been around these concessional loans and they’ve not been that successful.
“And of course all he announces is that he is going to have a body to hand out the loans rather than rely on the States to hand out the loans so I don’t think too many farmers will be doing cartwheels in the paddock over that.”
During the 2013 election campaign, having served as Agriculture Minister for two-and-a-half months, Mr Fitzgibbon cited the then Labor government’s 17-page response to the National Farmers Federation’s (NFF) election scorecard as the best guide to his party’s farm policy, which largely referred to its National Food Plan.
The NFF will release its final election scorecard next week once the ALP’s policy is made public, which will rate each of the major political parties again on agricultural policy commitments.
That scorecard will also detail the NFF’s response to the Coalition’s agricultural policy which included plans to streamline the delivery of $5.5 billion in drought and other concessional loans and water infrastructure lending by establishing the Regional Investment Corporation (RIC), as a Commonwealth agency, to reduce bureaucratic delays.
But Mr Fitzgibbon said a key focus of the ALP’s agricultural policy this election would be something that Mr Joyce failed to speak about, “sustainable profitability”.
“Dealing with the changing climate and the challenges around that (and) making sure that farmers are adapting and embracing best management practice plans etc and of course lifting productivity,” he said.
“I haven’t announced our policy in full but just today I announced $75 million to deal with a very important productivity issue in agriculture and that is the challenges of invasive species, pest animals, plant disease and of course weeds.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said “We need a war on weeds”.
“I know it’s not very sexy for many people but we need a war on weeds in this country - if we’re going to lift agricultural policy,” he said.
“So you’ll hear from me lots about productivity and sustainable profitability.
“Barnaby Joyce’s White Paper just ignored any such narrative.”
Mr Fitzgibbon also criticised Mr Joyce’s plans to allocate $8 million for support to the live export trade, in the Coalition’s new agricultural policy.
“Now what Barnaby Joyce has done here a week after the Vietnamese controversy and just a day after the (ABC 7.30) story last night he’s announced that he is going to give money to the industry to further self-regulate the industry, when last night was clearly about the culture and the need to have independence,” he said.
In response during the ABC radio interview, NSW Liberal MP Angus Taylor said, “Well at least we are supporting the cattle industry Joel which is more then what you did when you were last in government”.
Mr Taylor, who many farm sector insiders have said would be their preferred choice as Agriculture Minister, said the Coalition’s policy contained “many strengths” and built on the Agriculture White Paper released last year by the Coalition government.
“It covers a number of areas that I think are really fantastic and real breakthroughs,” he said.
“One in particular is setting up Regional Investment Corporation that will have a $2 billion water infrastructure facility that’ll also administer drought loans.
“One of the issues here has been making sure the federal government has the capacity to finance major pieces of infrastructure for famers and for agriculture as well as the financial support that we provide for those in distress.
“This is going to establish that capacity and it’s an extremely important issue but there are a number of other good imitative.”
Mr Taylor listed the $8m for supply chain assurance improvements for live exports and $2m for the commodity milk price index to improve pricing transparency for the dairy industry to prevent a repeat of the Murray Goulburn dairy crisis.
“A whole package here that I think has the potential to really continue to drive the very strong economic performance that we have seen in agriculture in recent years,” he said.
But CountryMinded Queensland Senate Candidate Pete Mailler said the Coalition’s agriculture policy failed to address the current lack of transparency in agricultural supply chains.
“Whilst the $240m commitment is welcome, unless Minister Joyce commits to addressing inequity in agricultural supply chains it’s little more than window dressing,” he said.
“We already have proof that his inaction to enact conditions of legislation on grain bulk handling companies since he took office has cost producers more than $300 million in lost income leading to significant losses in the regional economy.
“Supply chain transparency is the issue that he needs to address as it is effecting all agricultural industries and that is the promise that we are seeking in the run up to the election.”
Mr Mailler welcomed the RIC commitment but said it would not work unless it incorporated a broader scope than just administering concessional loans.
“The RIC actually needs to be looking at industry reconstruction and addressing investment in the supply chain to address the lack of competition,” he said.
The ALP has already released plans during the campaign, to introduce an Independent Office of Animal Welfare if elected.
This week, Mr Fitzgibbon revealed Labor would also establish a permanent Australian Institute for Biosecurity to manage pest animals, weeds and plant disease incursions on the land and in waterways and oceans.
He said lost agricultural productivity and the cost of control measures for pest animals and weeds alone currently represented a $5b a year cost to the economy.
Mr Fitzgibbon said the Institute for Biosecurity would support sustainable research, development and extension projects and identify pathways to long-term strategic management beyond the current five to 10-year approach.