2015's top agriculture highlights

2015's top agriculture highlights

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.


IN April, Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce publicly slammed People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals's (PETA) anti-wool campaign, in which rock guitarist Jona Weinhofen used a foam lamb with fake blood and open wounds to denounce animal welfare standards.


IN April, Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce publicly slammed People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals's (PETA) anti-wool campaign, in which rock guitarist Jona Weinhofen used a foam lamb with fake blood and open wounds to denounce animal welfare standards. Mr Joyce said the guitarist had used a "prop" to misrepresent wool production methods and had 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 euthanased unless they "buggered off back'' to the United States 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 such as 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 $100m 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 a further $100m to extend the program to 2021-22.

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

A ferocious union 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 such as 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.

The Harper Competition Review, handed down in March, 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 on-going 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 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 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.

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 which 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.

In December, the Turnbull government announced a $1.1b 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 mooted and controversial plan to defect from the Liberals to the Nationals in a move aimed at returning to the Cabinet.


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