FORMER Grain Producers Australia chairman Peter Mailler says he’ll prioritise the introduction of a government subsidised multi peril crop insurance (MPCI) scheme if he’s elected as a NSW Senator for Katter’s Australian Party (KAP).
The NSW farmer has been named the party’s Senate leader should he head to Canberra after the September 7 federal poll.
Mr Mailler said KAP was confident of winning at least four Senate seats - two for Queensland and one each for NSW and Victoria.
“We also have strong candidates in South Australia and Tasmania," he said.
“WA came on late with nominations and we haven’t seen any polling from there.
“But our election messaging is getting strong traction in all the different states so we’re hopeful of winning votes and electing several candidates.”
“Australian agriculture gets told all the time that it needs to man-up and treat itself like a commercial business but in other countries their governments view food production as a social imperative”
Mr Mailler said the major parties were failing to address structural issues concerning farm viability.
He said financial pressure was mounting due to increasing input costs coupled with stagnant commodity prices, which don’t accurately reflect the true costs of production.
“As a farmer, it’s not my job to feed the world as we’re being told through things like the Asian century,” he said.
“We need a market signal to make farming viable because we can’t feed the world for free.
“No one’s paying the true costs of production.
“I’m not saying consumers should double the prices they’re currently paying for food but if food’s going to be affordable to consumers it has to be affordable to producers.”
Mr Mailler said the KAP - with his potential role as Senate leader - would be focused on achieving a more viable and sustainable farm sector by removing restrictive regulations and introducing programs that assisted productivity.
He said that assistance would include the federal government underwriting a MPCI scheme for all plant industries, not just grain growers, to mitigate seasonal production risks.
“There are very few countries in the world that don’t support their growers by providing a MPCI scheme with government support,” he said.
“We don’t do it in Australia but it’s even more critical here, given our climatic challenges with droughts, floods and frost.”
Mr Mailler said a MPCI scheme could be managed by a private commercial company but it needed to be underwritten by the government like it is in the US.
The US has a federally subsidised program which insures farm income according to a historic crop yield performance or Actual Production History (APH), over five years.
The farmer is guaranteed a gross revenue amount based on an average of grain prices taken during the season and at harvest.
The federal government subsidises the insurance premiums paid by farmers at a rate of about 62 per cent to help insure against revenue losses from seasonal risks like drought, flood, fire, storm, hail and insect damage.
“Australian agriculture gets told all the time that it needs to man-up and treat itself like a commercial business but in other countries their governments view food production as a social imperative,” Mr Mailler said.
“We have a social obligation to help mitigate production risks for farmers.”
Mr Mailler said a government funded MPCI scheme was something the Nationals “should be going harder on” and supported by all State Farming Organisations.
“But we don’t hear anything from the Nationals, probably because of the dry economic rationalists in the Coalition who don’t recognise the social responsibility that goes with farming,” he said.
“If you want cheap food for consumers, the people who produce the food need to remain viable too and processors.
“MPCI may not be a silver bullet for farmers or solve all of the problems in the sector but it’ll make a huge difference because most of our problems revolve around income and production volatility.”
Mr Mailler said several commercial insurance operators were considering entering the Australian grains market but they were being “scared off” due to lack of government support, or signals to underwrite a MPCI scheme.
He said as well supporting a MPCI scheme the KAP also wanted to address issues with market power abuse by monopolies in grain handling and the retail sector that are “screwing growers”.
He said the ACCC was ineffective at identifying and controlling monopoly behaviors doe to lack of industry specific knowledge for sectors like grains.
On the election trail
Peter Mailler said he was urged to stand for the KAP because federal politics needed more real farmers – like NSW Senator Bill Heffernan – who understood industry specific issues “and want to do something about it”.
Mr Mailler has been on the election trail over the past two months but has stepped up his campaign’s intensity driving 21,000km in the past six weeks, visiting rural and farming areas including Albury, Deniliquin and Mudgee.
He was in Tamworth on Monday at a political candidates’ forum hosted by the local business community, debating other political rivals including New England Nationals candidate Barnaby Joyce.
He’s also visited Armidale and will be at the AgQuip Field Days in Gunnedah later this week before launching into a more concerted tour of rural NSW venturing into areas like Wagga Wagga and Griffith, leading up to voting day.
Speaking to Fairfax Agricultural Media last week, Mr Mailler said he was involved in a David and Goliath battle to win a Senate position, campaigning on minimal resources.
But he said that political scenario was similar to his three years leading the GPA, fighting for growers against other well funded grains groups.
Mr Mailler said he’s also been involved in the party’s administration and structural development, working as national treasurer and secretary.
He wants people to see there’s more to the KAP than just the “Katter show” driven by high profile founder and Queensland Independent MP Bob Katter.
Mr Mailler said the Greens currently held the balance of power in the Senate but minor parties like the KAP and Independents like Nick Xenophon from South Australia could still play a major role in determining the outcome of legislation, post-election.
He said if the KAP won three or four Senators and held sway, they’d assist the Coalition to repeal the carbon tax legislation.
Mr Mailler said he didn’t doubt the science of climate change and the need for action.
But he views the carbon tax as only adding to bureaucracy and red tape costs to businesses like farming and manufacturing, without reducing green house gas emissions.
He said 97pc of Australian agribusiness comprises small businesses like farmers – the highest proportion for any single industry – but they’re unable to pass on increased costs, like electricity charges.
Mr Mailler said the National party may be viewed as the traditional party for a farmer with political aspirations but he felt they were effectively “captured” by their Coalition partners.
“Unless the Nationals are prepared to break ranks with the Liberals on key rural and agricultural issues like we saw last year with changes to wheat export regulations they don’t really represent our industry,” he said.
“This line that you need to be in the tent to influence decisions in government doesn’t ring true to me because we’re not seeing enough evidence that the Nationals are having an actual influence.
“The lack of action only demonstrates they’re more committed to the Coalition than their rural constituency.”
Mr Mailler said he had no personal issues with National party MPs but was concerned a new approach was needed to address a current “rural crisis”, with mounting debt and farmers walking off the land due to strained viability.
His election campaign has been well timed, with the crop in the ground and growing at home while he’s campaigning and harvest due a few weeks after the election.
“My wife’s doing a fantastic job feeding cattle and keeping the fences up,” he said.
If he’s elected, his term won’t start until July 1 next year, giving him time to work out future arrangements with the farm.
He said there’s method to Mr Katter’s apparent madness although it’s difficult to label him a true left or right win politician.
“Bob’s a pragmatist who says ‘How can we get the job done?’ and as a farmer I really identify with that sort of thinking,” he said.
“I like the Nationals and plan to work with them but want to see more independent thinking and accountability for agricultural issues in the Senate.”