Lewis takes agriculture helm

Lewis takes agriculture helm


Sheep
New Agriculture and Food Minister Mark Lewis with Premier Colin Barnett.

New Agriculture and Food Minister Mark Lewis with Premier Colin Barnett.

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MARK Lewis is the new Agriculture and Food Minister.

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MARK Lewis is the new Agriculture and Food Minister.

The agricultural scientist and Mining and Pastoral Region MLC was appointed last week by Premier Colin Barnett following the resignation from Cabinet of former minister Dean Nalder, who failed in a leadership bid to topple Mr Barnett.

Mr Lewis, who was raised on a cattle property in Queensland, will be the third minister of the portfolio this government term, following Ken Baston and Mr Nalder.

Unlike Mr Nalder who split his time between two portfolios, Mr Lewis will be dedicated to agriculture.

He studied animal production and health at Queensland University and worked for the veterinary services branch within the Department of Primary Industries, mainly in the channel country and north Queensland.

Mr Lewis worked within the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA), including in the role of program and regional manager, director, and manager of policy and industry development in the Rangelands.

He has been involved with the Pastoral Lands Board, Rural Adjustment and Finance Corporation, ministerial taskforces and appointments, and State and region-wide natural resource management committees.

Mr Barnett said the sector was among a number of industries critical to broadening WA's economy.

He said having a dedicated minister would ensure the sector was given Mr Lewis' full attention in progressing key policies, including upgrading the Doppler tower network and launching the WA Biosecurity Strategy.

"Before entering Parliament in 2013, Mark was involved in developing irrigated agricultural opportunities and also held management positions within the Department of Agriculture and Food in a region which covered the extent of his electorate," Mr Barnett said.

"Mark was raised on farming, cattle and sheep properties in Queensland and will bring to the portfolio a vast knowledge about the agricultural sector and the challenges it faces."

Labor Agriculture spokesman Mick Murray said having three ministers during the parliamentary term brought instability to the industry.

"It's an in one door, out the other situation," Mr Murray said.

"How are things supposed to get done?"

Mr Murray said Mr Lewis had DAFWA experience, but with parliament only sitting for a few more weeks this year there wasn't a lot he could do.

"He has science experience, which is different to on-the-ground experience," he said.

"It will be very difficult for him to get through the mountain of projects that have been promised to industry by other ministers."

Many projects are said to be "sitting with the minister", including the DAFWA mid-year stocktake review, genetically modified crops debate, saleyards proposals, and other industry projects.

Mr Murray said agriculture needed stability to move forward.

"It is concerning for the future of the department as it has been left gutted," he said.

"Industry needs to sit with the minister once we have stability to get back on track, but we do have another election, so it could be some time."

Mr Lewis said he was keen to bring his agricultural experience to the portfolio.

"I am looking forward to working with industry to capture the global interest for agriculture, that we have at the moment," Mr Lewis said.

"There is no better time for agriculture.

He said he looked forward to getting "stuck into the job" and thanked Mr Barnett for the opportunity.

WAFarmers president Tony York welcomed Mr Lewis' appointment to the role after calling for a dedicated minister last week.

"We are pleased that industry concerns about shared responsibility between portfolios have been addressed, and that the sector now has a minister that is going to be focused solely on agriculture and developing its potential locally, nationally and internationally," Mr York said.

"To have Mr Barnett acknowledge the importance of a dedicated minister for agriculture is a real win.

"Agriculture represents an incredibly important part of the WA economy and to have a minister focus all of his attention on the issues facing the sector will be a huge step forward."

Mr York said stability for the industry was greatly needed and deserved, and that Mr Lewis' appointment would work towards this goal.

"While his sudden resignation was extremely frustrating, Mr Nalder made some good ground during his tenure, acknowledging the work needed to strengthen the Department of Agriculture and Food and the industry at large," Mr York said.

"Mr Lewis has extensive experience in the agricultural and pastoral spaces and, as a Member for the Mining and Pastoral Region, we have confidence in his ability to understand the intricacies of issues affecting agriculture and to provide stable leadership for the sector.

"We look forward to working alongside Mr Lewis so that, together, we can work towards ensuring a viable, profitable and sustainable future for the agricultural industry."

Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) president Tony Seabrook also welcomed the appointment.

"We could have had anyone else, so we at the PGA are very happy with the outcome," Mr Seabrook said.

"The PGA and Mr Lewis have worked closely in the past, and I think he will bring some humility to the portfolio."

Mr Seabrook conceded there was not much time before the election for Mr Lewis to push through change.

"I spoke to Mr Lewis on Friday, he has a good background of rural WA and the issues and is keen to make a difference," Mr Seabrook said.

"I am sure he will make a call, and quickly overcome some of the issues for the industry."

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