Seabrook focuses on future-proofing ag

Seabrook focuses on future-proofing ag

Politics
Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA (PGA) president Tony Seabrook at last week's PGA 2019 Convention at the Crown, Perth.

Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA (PGA) president Tony Seabrook at last week's PGA 2019 Convention at the Crown, Perth.

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It was a well vetted speech given by Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA (PGA) president Tony Seabrook at last week's PGA 2019 Convention at Crown, Perth, but he still managed to line up his targets.

Aa

IT was a well vetted speech given by Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA (PGA) president Tony Seabrook at last week's PGA 2019 Convention at Crown, Perth, but he still managed to line up his targets.

On the theme of "future proofing agriculture" he said there were some important things that needed to be addressed by industry and government, including bringing down the cost of business, reducing taxes and improving the Farm Management Deposit scheme.

"To future proof we must address the headwinds confronting us as individuals, as an industry and as an association," Mr Seabrook said.

"Our primary industries and the export income they bring are pivotal to Australia's prosperity.

"Without the $300 billion of export income these industries generate our economy would collapse overnight.

"This is a fact that is not recognised by the broader population of Australia.

"The withering of our manufacturing industry, and flood of imports replacing goods we previously produced, has resulted in a nation that is totally reliant on a profitable and sustainable export industry.

"With this in mind - why do State and Federal governments do so much to damage our competitive capacity?

"Red tape - compliance, regulation and bureaucratic interference in our businesses is unrelenting and has added massive costs.

"Future-proofing agriculture is firstly about convincing governments that export industries have a totally different dynamic to the domestic economy and they need to be treated accordingly.

"The costs imposed on our industries are not recoverable as we are price takers and we cannot name our price."

Mr Seabrook said it was significant that the publicly stated policy of the Reserve Bank of Australia to support greater wages growth and a higher level of inflation was damaging the nation's ability to compete globally.

"This is absolutely incredible that this short sighted policy exists," he said.

Mr Seabrook said despite annual CPI wage increases, workers were demanding even higher wages and the Australian workforce had largely priced itself out of the market.

"It now requires government legislation to force employers under the threat of fines and jail to pay a level of wages that makes Australia a very high cost of production nation," he said.

"The end result of this has been the destruction of our manufacturing base.

"The industry instead is prepared to spend massive amounts of capital to minimise the amount of labour they use in their systems.

"We see this in autonomous trucks in mines.

"Automation is appearing everywhere even in abattoirs."

Mr Seabrook said the "flagship agricultural industries" were reduced to using backpackers with a "mandated wage for this inexperienced workforce at $23 and hour plus superannuation, plus workers compensation".

"Whereas Texas, one of our world competitors in beef and wheat, and the 10th largest economy in the world, mandates a minimum wage of $7.25/h.

"The market rules and the economy booms.

"The population is moving from socialist California to Texas."

Mr Seabrook said the State government seemed unable to reign in spending and refused to give up "two of the most regressive taxes imposed upon us - I refer to payroll tax and stamp duty - in spite of the damage they cause".

"Of the $4 billion plus of royalties collected from the regions only one quarter is begrudgingly returned to rural and regional WA," he said.

"And despite most of our export income being produced in regional WA, the State government continues to reduce the funding for the provision of services to rural areas, including crucial investment in roads, education and health."

Mr Seabrook said regional communities were suffering and young families were leaving, but they needed to be lured back to the bush.

One way was to address the issue of tax paid on the education expenses, which "should be negotiable and this would be a great assistance to the hard pressed families".

"A well educated dynamic young and committed workforce that would future-proof WA in the next century is essential for a successful agricultural sector," Mr Seabrook said.

"Our children are our future farmers, graziers and pastoralists.

"We must keep them in the country and encourage others to join them."

Mr Seabrook said agriculture must continue to be financially self-reliant, resilient, robust and open to opportunity.

He said the Farm Management Deposit scheme needed a "thorough review" to assist with inter-generational change and to future proof farms and stations from drought and any other crisis that may arise.

"FMDs are essential for agriculture to combat hard times when they inevitably come," he said.

Mr Seabrook said the PGA had been lobbying for changes to enable farmers to convert upon retirement their FMD to superannuation "thereby creating greater financial security and independence for both the individual and the enterprise".

"Long-term sustainability and future proofing is also being made increasingly difficult through government indifference and the continual increase in the cost of utilities local government rates, licence fees, and rents to name a few.

"For example - our pastoral industry has recently been hit by one of the largest rent increases in history - in some cases over 500 per cent.

"These increases are not reflective of increased margins in our beef and sheep industries they are a direct assault on the profitability of the pastoral estate.

"Pastoralists are not able to pass on this massive cost increase by raising the prices of their stock or by reallocating their enterprise down the road to achieve a lease.

"Nor are they able to increase the amount of stock they run - this is limited by the government's new potential carrying capacity assessment.

"They are in a dire position and have little autonomy."

Mr Seabrook said the development of the north was also an opportunity to future-proof not only agriculture by the Australian economy.

"Future-proofing the north is about investment and development and there is capital waiting to be invested.

"There are people especially within the indigenous communities that could be employed - yet we have a State minister who is focusing more on protecting the past than embracing the future.

"The future of our north is being crippled by a myriad of constants around appeasing a small group of environmental protestors dedicated to stopping any progress in the north."

Mr Seabrook said the proposal to create a national park on the Fitzroy and Margaret Rivers with a clear caveat of no dams on the rivers or tributaries would be a waste of an "incredibly valuable asset" to all WA residents.

"The perceived benefits of locking up this land - including banning any future developments to utilise one of the largest water resources are questionable," he said.

"The hope that will increase both employment and tourist numbers is optimistic, somewhat nave and unsupported by history.

"What the government should be focusing on is supporting our cattle industry and further development by encouraging the proper utilisation of the water including dams.

"This could provide much greater and enduring employment rather than just jobs for rangers.

"Also be aware that the taxpayer will bare the cost of fencing and maintaining any respective park."

Mr Seabrook said if a Fitzroy basin existed in any other country, such as Israel, it would be regarded as an essential asset to be developed for everybody.

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