Year in Review: Ag's highs and lows

24 Dec, 2015 01:00 AM
Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and then Prime Minister Tony Abbott launch the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper at Woolthorpe, Victoria, on July 4.
Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and then Prime Minister Tony Abbott launch the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper at Woolthorpe, Victoria, on July 4.

WAS 2015 a year of agricultural highlights or lowlights? Here's a look back at the some of the year's headline-grabbing events.

Shearer Sean Harrison, Jamestown, SA, holding a real sheep (left) and guitarist Jona Weinhofen with a fake.

In April, Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce publicly slammed PETA’s anti-wool campaign, where rock guitarist Jona Weinhofen used a foam lamb portraying blood and open wounds, to denounce animal welfare standards. But Mr Joyce said the guitarist had used a “prop” to misrepresent wool-production methods and offended shearers. He then accused the musician of being a “spiv….living in vegan splendour in California”.

The following month, Mr Joyce became embroiled in another international celebrity war of words when he warned Hollywood actor Johnny Depp’s two pet dogs Boo and Pistol would be euthanised unless they “buggered off back to the US” after failing to follow Australian quarantine standards on entry. The two dogs arrived on a private jet for the filming of the actor’s latest movie and were deported within the 72-hour time-frame - but Mr Depp’s wife Amber Heard was subsequently charged with producing a false document to quarantine officials and illegally importing the dogs into Australia.

In early July, the Coalition’s Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper was released about six-months late but contained $4 billion in programs aimed at driving better farm-viability, including $500 million for new dams and tax improvements in areas like Farm Management Deposits.

One White Paper initiative – a Productivity Commission investigation into agricultural red tape - was launched last month and is due to report by August 2016.

Another initiative welcomed by farm groups was the $11.4m Agricultural Commissioner and Agricultural Enforcement and Engagement Unit, empowered through the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to address supply chain issues.

The first round of the Coalition government’s $100 million Rural R&D for Profit program was announced mid-year with 12 successful projects receiving $26.7m over four years and $32m contributed by other research partners. The White Paper allocated another $100m to extend the program out to 2021-22.

In March, Dr Paul Grimes was controversially sacked as Agriculture Department Secretary after a high profile falling-out with Minister Joyce and was eventually replaced several months later by experienced senior public servant Daryl Quinlivan.

A ferocious union-drive campaign against the China Australia Free Trade Agreement dominated the second half of 2015 but was eventually thwarted when the Coalition and Labor agreed to pass legislative safeguards to protect local jobs, allowing two early tariff-cuts to occur saving farmers an estimated $300m.

Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement negotiations were finalised in Atlanta - but the ground-breaking deal is yet to be formally ratified by the 12 countries involved, including some of Australia’s key agricultural export trading partners like the US and Japan.

A Hepatitis A outbreak on imported frozen berries from China early in 2015 prompted new moves to reform Country of Origin Labelling laws, to help consumers better-identify where food contents are produced.

Handed down in March, the Harper Competition Review recommended new measures to counter anti-competitive conduct in retail supply chains including for agriculture and dealing with the Coles and Woolworths supermarket duopoly.

A $333m support package was announced in May for communities in south-west Queensland and north-west NSW facing ongoing compound impacts of drought; including another $250m in concessional loans and $35m for “shovel ready” projects led by local councils to stimulate economic activity.

This year’s federal budget delivered $70m in tax accelerated depreciation measures for farmers on fencing, water facilities and fodder storage which started on May 12 and was roundly welcomed by the farm sector.

A report from a federal Senate inquiry into agricultural marketing and research levies recommended key changes to increase transparency and accountability to growers, including collecting current information to build accurate and effective databases.

The Coalition government agreed to establish a register of foreign owned water entitlements in a unique deal with the Greens which helped pass regulations to tighten foreign investment scrutiny measures on farm land and agribusinesses.

Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison knocked back a $350m bid to sell the Kidman cattle empire to foreign interests, saying it was contrary to the national interest due to security concerns around Anna Creek station. But he left the door open to a recalibrated bid on the iconic business that comprises 2.5pc of Australia’s agricultural land.

Australian cattle after being unloaded on the tarmac in Chongqing.

The first consignment of 150 head of live slaughter-ready cattle from Australia to China landed in Chongqing in late October via an Elders air-shipment, after new health protocol arrangements were signed-off between the two countries mid-year which included feeder cattle exports to the lucrative market.

Anti-live exports campaigners defaced the National Farmers' Federation building in Canberra amid protests over Australian cattle reportedly being sledgehammered in the Vietnam market after being on-sold, outside of approved supply chains.

The Vietnam controversy forced a rare meeting between the Australian Livestock Exporters Council and Animals Australia and the RSPCA who submitted a joint six point plan demanding additional animal protection measures in the embattled market.

A report into the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System for live animal exports was published in January saying 8,035,633 head of livestock had been exported since the regulatory system was introduced in 2011 with only 12,958 animals (0.16pc) experiencing potentially adverse animal welfare outcomes.

Federal Trade Minister Andrew Robb and Minister Joyce made representations to their Indonesian counterparts late in the year to try and secure an annual quota system on live cattle exports and overcome instability caused by quarterly announcements.

Consolidated Pastoral Company's Troy Setter with Joel Fitzgibbon at an Indonesian feedlot.

Labor Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon visited Indonesia late in 2015 to inspect in-market operations around the live export trade, endorsing the quality of facilities and animal welfare standards.

Former ACT Liberal Senator Gary Humphries was appointed Chair of RSPCA Australia’s Board of Directors and said he personally shares the animal welfare group’s views on wanting to ban Australia’s live animal export trade.

Speculation and anxiety persisted over relocating the Grains Research and Development Corporation and other government agencies like the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority from Canberra to various regional centres, under the Coalition’s decentralisation policy.

Mid-year Minister Joyce made a controversial decision to jointly award the Australian grains Representative Organisation title to Grain Producers Australia and GrainGrowers Limited following a lengthy battle over the industry leadership role.

Criticism of the Murray Darling Basin Plan’s impacts on rural communities and farm production re-surfaced in early 2015, through Independent Victorian Senator John Madigan’s listening tour, resulting in a new Senate inquiry.

The Coalition passed legislation to cap commonwealth water buybacks at 1500 gigalitres in the Basin Plan to increase certainty for communities in meeting the base-line target of 2750GLs in environmental water-flows and a further 450GLs for SA.

The Coalition tabled legislation to back its response to the independent review of the Water Act including moves to improve the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder’s water-trading flexibility, while delivering the Basin Plan’s environmental watering targets.

Late in 2015, Agriculture Department Deputy Secretary Phillip Glyde was appointed the new CEO of the Murray Darling Basin Authority in a love welcomed by stakeholders.

In December, the Turnbull government announced a $1.1 billion national innovation and science agenda with an agriculture focus but it had no new money for specific programs.

The final sitting day of federal parliament was disrupted by Queensland MP Ian Macfarlane’s (pictured above) mooted and controversial plan to defect from the Liberals to the Nationals in a move aimed at returning to the federal cabinet.

Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


Katrina Love
29/12/2015 12:59:38 PM

"Anti-live exports campaigners defaced the National Farmers' Federation building in Canberra amid protests over Australian cattle reportedly being sledgehammered in the Vietnam market after being on-sold, outside of approved supply chains." Anti-live export campaigners, otherwise known as the majority of the Australian public. That's right - it was only non-Australian animals who were being sledgehammered in approved facilities, right next to their Australian counterparts who were being stunned - an excellent example of how Australian intervention is improving AW in all areas... not.
Katrina Love
29/12/2015 1:04:31 PM

The ESCAS report's 0.16% figure was based on the assumption that if no animal was REPORTED as suffering worse animal welfare outcomes, everything was peachy keen. What it SHOULD have said was that only 12,958 animals were reported, but how many actually suffered worse than usual AW outcomes is unknown. By definition, every animal to step foot on a ship immediately suffers a worse AW outcome than those processed in Australia ergo, there is a 100% worse animal welfare outcome for animals exported live from Australia.


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