Media Release – “Lady Justice receives a shot in the arm with $5.8 million injection to Native Title Respondent Scheme”
29 May 2015
The Federal Government will provide $5.8 million to ensure the Native Title Respondent Scheme is available to landholders for the next four years.
The funding extension featured prominently at a hearing of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee during budget estimates in Canberra this week.
The scheme works to assist respondents resolve their interests in native title claims and negotiate Indigenous land use agreements by meeting some of the costs of their involvement in the native title process.
Native title claimants (eg: traditional owners) are assisted with funding administered by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
The new funding measure extends the Federal Government’s commitment beyond its current end date of 31 December 2015 until 2019.
Queensland LNP Senator Barry O’Sullivan, who is also a member of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs committee, said the scheme provided financial relief to respondents in what can often be a long and costly process.
“I know there are many landholders and local councils across western Queensland that have not yet finalised their native title agreements and this funding extension is a commitment from the Federal Government that they will not be left to fend for themselves,” he said.
“This funding will assist a wide range of industry bodies including those representing pastoral land owners, small fishers, small miners and local government authorities.
“As the Senate estimates hearing displayed this week, everyone involved in the Native Title process was delivered a major blow when the previous government decided to scrap this respondent funding program.
“We are all still cleaning up the mess left behind to this day.
“Lady Justice was looking a bit tired and emotional for a while. But we’ve pulled out the sniffing salts and given her a shot or two of adrenaline and now she’s ready to go a few more rounds.”
Former Attorney General Nicola Roxon announced plans to scrap the scheme in 2012, which resulted in strong criticism from farm groups, local government and even the Federal Court of Australia that the decision had caused longer delays in resolution and more costly litigation.
Despite the respondent funding scheme being reinstated by Attorney-General George Brandis QC in November 2013, the previous government’s mismanagement of the program has led to a backlog of claims in the Federal court.
As at 30 June 2014, there were 410 active native title claims across Australia, with a typical native title claim taking many years to resolve.
Boulia Shire Mayor Rick Britton, whose council area has been involved in native title negotiations for eight years, said the extension of Federal Government funding would provide confidence that landholders could work towards the best possible outcome for the broad community.
“Native Title can be a long worn out process and without financial assistance from the government it would be virtually unachievable for landholders and small councils,” he said.
“We found that when there wasn’t government financial assistance for Native Title negotiations that landholders would just cut the cost legal advice from their budgets.
“Landholders had to prioritise putting food on their tables and delivering water for their livestock. Legal advice is too expensive when you’re also dealing with drought or a high dollar.
“Our shire council budget suffered as well. Any money we had to spend on legal advice was money we couldn’t spend on community service delivery.
“I think there will be a lot of western communities pleased this funding has been extended by the Federal Government.”
Bush-Matters Op-Ed – “The digital shopping trolley: from chump chops to spider goats”
29 May 2015
It won’t come as a surprise for anyone to read that I have always enjoyed a good, hearty dinner.
Even when I worked the long night shifts in the police during my younger years, I could almost always set aside time to sit down to a decent meal, especially a roast or some chump chops with a side of vegetables and gravy.
For many of my generation, this was the food that filled our dinner plates through our childhoods and into our young adulthood.
As we grew older, we found pleasure in sharing home cooked meals among our circles of friends and colleagues, as opposed to the modern trend of eating fast food or visiting restaurants.
We raised our children to believe that a helpful filling on the dinner plate was central to providing the sustenance needed to perform at your best at work and at play.
I have pause to think of these more simple culinary tastes whenever we start any discussion about what food and fibre we could be putting into our supermarket shopping trolleys in the future.
Some of the exhibits being tested and developed on the fringes of agriculture can often sound like something emerging from a B-grade Science Fiction movie or the house of horrors at the Brisbane Royal Show.
Just consider a few examples.
On one supermarket shelf in the future we could see beef that has been grown from a test tube, using cattle stem cells. There are claims 10 tonnes of meat could be produced from a small piece of muscle.
The European scientist developing this technology sparked strong debate among producers when he appeared at the Northern Territory Cattleman’s Association conference earlier this year, especially when it was claimed the product could become a price competitive alternative to natural beef within decades.
On another shelf in the future we could have the results of research at Utah State University where goats have been crossed with spider DNA to grow dragline silk, which is among the strongest substances known to man.
These genetically modified goats produce milk containing large quantities of an extra protein, which can be extracted and spun into spider silk thread. This silk can then be used for everything from surgical sutures to bulletproof vests.
In the future, we could see pharmacists offering bananas, potatoes and eggs that have been grown with in-built vaccines for diseases such as hepatitis B.
It means people might one day have a choice between a needle or a banana when receiving their vaccinations.
Some of these products are real threats to traditional and natural agriculture and they should be monitored to ensure we understand these competitive threats and combat any scurrilous claims to environmental superiority to agricultural product.
However, some of these scientific advancements will eventually provide real opportunities for further value-adding, which should provide a price premium.
Our ability to adapt to the changing business landscape and respond to consumer trends will define our success in the so-called Asian Century.
As Australian agriculture begins looking for opportunities to transition our agricultural economy from primarily a commodity product for export to a value added product for export, it is clear we will need strong industry communication and strategic development between all the various stakeholders in agribusiness.
It is pleasing, therefore, to see the launch of the Food Leaders Australia group in Toowoomba this month.
A partnership between the Toowoomba Surat Basin Enterprise and the University of Southern Queensland, the group has the ambition of positioning itself as a “one stop shop” for agribusiness looking to develop new products and access new export markets, particularly in Asia.
Jo Sheppard, who is the General Manager of Agribusiness and Export at the Toowoomba Surat Basin Enterprise, recently told the ABC she wanted to make Southern Queensland “the Silicon Valley of food innovation”.
The group wants to emulate the forward-thinking culture that drives Silicon Valley.
But to understand the need to create a “silicon valley of food innovation,” you only have to consider the “food innovation of silicon valley.”
From Google to Facebook, the tech-obsessed Californian enclave has delivered many life changing inventions to our homes and businesses.
But I doubt many farmers will be celebrating the region’s small, yet influential growing fascination with synthetic food.
These protein-packed products that come in powder form carry kitschy names such as Soylent (named ironically after the 1970s Science Fiction film), Schmoylent and Schmilk and reportedly taste like bland, gritty pancake batter.
These “meals” are cheap. A meal generally costs upward of $US50 at Silicon Valley-area restaurants, but a week’s worth of Soylent or Schmoylent totals only $US85.
As one tech entrepreneur was quoted in The New York Times: “If there was a way that I couldn’t eat so I could work more, I would not eat. I wish there was a way to get nutrients without sitting down for a meal.”
With reports Silicon Valley residents are on waiting lists of up to six months to access these products, the companies that have developed the food-stuff are drawing strong interest and money from internet entrepreneurs.
We can only hope, as I suspect will be the case, that this form of tastebud denial will be a passing fad.
But, despite our inherent views, it is new addition to the food industry landscape that we could never have believed we needed to think about several decades ago. We must learn to understand it.
Silicon Valley has also recently entered into food grocery e-commerce.
Food and beverage is the largest retail category in the US, with about $US600 billion a year in sales, yet, despite this, less than 1 per cent of food and beverage sales currently occurring online.
There is large growth forecasted – it is estimated between 2013 and 2018; online grocery sales will grow at an annual growth rate of 21.1 per cent, reaching nearly $US18 billion by the end of the decade.
For comparison, offline grocery sales will rise by 3.1 per cent annually during the same period.
Silicon Valley has commenced business activity in online food and beverage retailing with food and grocery e-commerce and delivery companies raising almost $500 million in investment capital in just the first six months of 2014.
Closer to our own region, Chinese tech entrepreneurs have already entered the food and grocery marketplace intensely.
Yihaodian – China’s first online supermarket – launched 1000 reality stores across the country in October 2012, allowing shoppers to use their smartphones to view a virtual supermarket with 1200 meters of floor space and 1000 items in stock.
They can then fill virtual shopping baskets by scanning the item codes before checkout.
The company delivers their purchases directly to their homes in a day or two.
These changing purchasing preferences and habits of our end users will impact how we carry out our business.
It is in this global environment that the Food Leaders Australia group has been launched with a guiding ambition to provide a platform for Australian agriculture’s international competitiveness to better connect, build alliances and develop strategies as we work to take advantage of the Asian Century.
In 2015, the internet is still young, smart phone technology is developing and companies are still experimenting with new ways of attracting customers, reducing costs, and earning a profit.
As it always has – the marketplace will reward sensible innovation that responds to consumer demand – now and into the future.
This is a simple equation that agribusiness must not let be lost among the complexities of modern business.
This is the important service group such as Food Leaders Australia will provide.
Nevertheless, the speed of innovation will bring more changes and challenges to a single generation that some previous generations faced over the course of their entire lives.
These are the best of times and the worst of times. But, as agricultural producers, we will fall behind at our own peril.
In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy my chump chops and gravy while I still can.
The life of a politician can often make you feel like you exist on a never ending treadmill of airports and air travel.
Being forced to sit for hours on end, silent and stationery, in my seat on the plane, I have taken to listening to podcasts to pass the time.
I am relatively new to podcasts and have been impressed that you can manage to download a program on just about any topic you can think of.
I found myself becoming increasingly interested in the mechanics of these podcasts – the questions asked, how the content was raised.
So this week in Canberra I recorded my first podcast. It was recorded in the audio studio at Parliament House.
It is currently being edited and I look forward to presenting something in the coming weeks.
I wanted my podcast to shine a light on the back stories on some of our community leaders.
I wanted to know what brought them to public life.
My first choice of interview subject was Chief Government Whip and LNP Federal Member for Wright Scott Buchholz.
I must say from the outset that it was no mere coincidence that Scott Buchholz was my first choice.
We can lay claim to probably being the only members of federal parliament to have grown up together on the same street. In our case, it was Goodson Street in Rockhampton.
Sitting in the booth wearing our head phones and our mouths to the microphones, our discussion was easy and relaxed – the kind of conversation only people who have known each other for many years can enjoy.
And I think we gradually touched on a topic that really sums up the focus of this week in Canberra.
Scotty Buchholz, for those who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him, is one of those old school blokes.
He’s the sort of straight up and down bloke who you instinctively know when you shake his hand that the deal is as good as done.
It doesn’t surprise me at all that his political career has led into the Chief Whip position.
It is a position that serves as a liason between the Prime Minister and the backbenchers.
The person must be able to have people trust them quickly and know that any messages or instructions are relayed faithfully and genuinely.
It requires a set of interpersonal skills that not everyone is capable of and, as we spoke in the recoding booth, Scott and I began to wonder what parts of our personal stories brought out these traits later in life.
Our conversation again turned to Goodson Street.
Goodson Street in the 1960s was the kind of place where kids pulled off fence palings to use as cricket bats and a couple of fallen mangoes became the cricket balls.
It was a street where bundles of kids would stretch from the under the dining table to the front doorway to watch the only television in the street.
All the families knew each other and everyone shared in the ups and downs of life.
As we recounted our experiences, we agreed that Goodson Street laid a firm foundation in both of our psyches that would sustain us as we went out into the world to stake our claim.
Both Scott and I would leave Goodson Street and head west when we were old enough – I went to work on the road crews building the north-west beef roads and Scott would work on a property as a ringer.
Each of us would eventually enter small business – I operated grazing properties, earthmoving contracting and property development and Scott would found the CQX Group of transport companies with his brother Glenn and wife Lynn.
The community spirit that encouraged us to ‘have a go’ in business and later in politics, is exactly the same spirit that our Federal Government is now seeking to generate through this week’s budget.
As is now widely reported in the media, the 2015-16 Budget delivers $3.25 billion in tax cuts for small business and $1.75 billion in accelerated depreciation measures.
It will mean Australian small businesses will have the lowest company tax rate for public and private companies since 1967.
This is combined with $5.5 billion Growing Jobs and Small Business package to help small businesses invest more, grow more and employ more.
Small business is the backbone of our entire farming sector and the budget announced this week must surely be considered among the most generous to agriculture in living memory.
The hard-won drought package announced at the weekend proved the government’s recognition that drought is a natural disaster, just like a flood, fire or cyclone.
That was the challenge put down when I addressed the joint party room two months ago, and the Prime Minister proved himself to understand the need to support rural Australia during the lean years and invest in the long term capacity of the agriculture sector.
Announcements such as the $70 million to enable farmers to claim more favourable accelerated depreciation for water facilities, fodder assets and fencing, will only add to the efforts to further stimulate rural economies and increase on-farm productivity.
So, just as the Prime Minister and Treasurer have spruiked this week, I would like to join the chorus of government politicians calling on small business operators to capitalise on the 2015-16 budget.
If done wisely, this is a major opportunity for our small businesses to better position themselves to capitalise on the rising consumption rates across the globe.
Senator O’SULLIVAN ( Queensland — Nationals Whip in the Senate ): As I have done in the past, I intend to make my senators statement about the circumstances surrounding agriculture and primary production that, not just in my home state of Queensland but additionally in large tracts of western New South Wales, remain under the serious burden of drought. I have made contributions in this place over the last 18 months with the consistent theme that our Commonwealth government—and it does not really matter who is in the chair —needs to continually review and establish what is required for us to maintain a very strong agricultural and primary production sector at a time when this nation is witnessing a transition from a resource economy to a soft commodities economy. In the words of a colleague, it is an old economy returning. What we have seen, and I have spoken about it in this place, are the impacts of this once-in-100-years drought, along with—not to be political—the decision of the federal government that impinged upon the live export of cattle into Indonesia in 2011. And there were also things like the high dollar and the ongoing low farm gate profitability of many enterprises, particularly in the areas that are affected by drought—broadacre large-scale grass-fed cattle operations. Not only have these things impacted on the pastoralists and those family enterprises, but the insidious impacts of this collection of challenges have now made their way into the communities in those areas. About a quarter, if not a larger percentage, of my state is now destocked or has very light stocking rates. We all know that rain, if it were to come tomorrow, would be of little use and in fact could create greater concerns. If we have rain and frost in some of these areas, the last tiny bit of herbage that is there will be frozen off. The beneficial rains will come in the spring or summer, if God is willing. At the moment, not only do we have no pasture as a result of the drought but all of our surface waters are gone. I can report to the Senate that recently, on a trip to Longreach, I spent about the last 30 minutes of the flight, from probably south-east of Blackall through to Longreach, looking out of the window of the plane, and I was unable to see any evidence of surface water anywhere within the parameters of that view. So, these are very, very serious circumstances for those parts of my state and New South Wales and for the industries and sectors and now significantly the communities that support them. It is a matter of public record that I raised this issue in the joint party room of our coalition, asking colleagues around the country to consider what they might do if these circumstances presented in their electorates. For example, I asked what would happen if the biggest industry in their electorate had come to an end and it had no stock left on the shelves, had no employees and was under threat of defaulting on loans arrangements. What would they do? What if everybody in their electorate were in those circumstances? I asked what they would do when it impacted on other tertiary businesses in their electorate, such as their newsagents and their hotels and motels and a range of those sorts of businesses. Not that everyone in this place and the other place was not sympathetic, and not that they did not have some knowledge of the circumstances confronting these sectors and these communities and these regions, but I do think the presentation, along with contributions by other members of the House of Representatives and other senators, did resonate with many of the members of our government. And of course what happened in the ensuing five or six weeks was that our government responded, and part of what I wanted to do today was to recognise that response. It is not often that you can mobilise the interests of this parliament, measured in weeks. Typically these things are long haul, but I think everyone understood the critical nature of the challenge given that we did not have summer and spring rains in 2014-15, and many of these pastoralists are now years away from recovering. Even if there was rain this spring and summer, it would be late 2017 or early 2018 before we saw a cash flow return to these districts, and then of course that would have a flow-on effect in these communities. Accordingly, the Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, took a personal interest in this and, along with the Deputy PM and the agricultural minister and, I imagine, a number of other cabinet colleagues supporting them through the ERC process, developed a package of new money to allow us to pump $83 million into about 12 shires and to benefit the communities within those shires. The conditions of this funding have to do with the money being spent on local labour and supporting local contractors, and any goods and services are to be bought locally. For example, My thoughts are in what I wanted to say, and I apologise. The Longreach primary school—and Longreach is a very stable community—had a loss of students of about 33 per cent in the last 14 months. That meant that one-third of the students and their parents and carers and whoever makes up their family unit had migrated out of the community because they no longer had work, or circumstances presented that were directly relevant to this. So, this package—which is not the end of it but is an interim package —of $35 million for shovel-ready local infrastructure and employment projects is going to give a terrific boost. Additionally, the Prime Minister approved $25 million plus for projects to manage pest animals and weeds through the affected areas, because there has been an absolute explosion of the impact that feral dogs are having on weakened stock, and we have had a complete explosion of the kangaroo population. Despite what some of my colleagues in the Greens argue—that they are on the cusp of extinction—current figures show that the population in Queensland is about 36 million kangaroos, and they are eating any available herbage or grass that will be competed for by these drought-affected stock. Importantly, there was $20 million to expand existing social and community support programs. This is directly putting money in. It will increase. There will be another 10 counsellors also funded, with a $1.8 million additional rural financial counsellors fund. All in all, in the time I have left, I want to congratulate the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Agriculture. I know that initiatives like this are supported by colleagues opposite in the House of Representatives. Whilst there has been some criticism, generally I think initiatives such as this are well supported. I urge my colleagues throughout this parliament to continue to monitor the circumstances of our fellow Australians in these very difficult circumstances. We should, as and when possible, support each other in the development of initiatives that will respond to their circumstances. Thank you for the opportunity to speak.
Speech to Annual Western Queensland Local Government Association Conference – “The limits of localism”
8 May 2015
A little over 12 months ago I rose in the Senate chamber for the first time, to deliver my maiden address.
Generally speaking, a maiden address seeks at explain who you are, how your world view has been shaped and how it will influence your time in the political arena.
After going through my family’s long association with the bush – including my grandfather’s attempt to convince the police that a pair of sheep he stole from a mustering camp were in fact feral goats – I moved onto what I feel is among the greatest threats facing the survivability of our rural communities.
I said that whilst all levels of government acknowledge community services obligations and a responsibility to distribute the wealth of our nation evenly amongst its citizens, we tend to struggle in the delivery of these commitments the further it is that we get away from places where the postcodes end in three zeroes.
I said I believed the progressive restructuring of government agencies with an emphasis on a corporatized model, compounded by the overarching principles of economic rationalism, has seen us significantly and aggressively reduce government based and government funded services to many parts of regional and rural Australia since the 1960s.
In the months since I delivered my maiden address I have travelled extensively across the state, meeting with many of you in this room today.
And from our conversations at those meetings, I can now say my views have only deepened that we need a new approach if we are going to revitalise our communities and see them to reach their true economic potential.
My time on the road meeting with you all, and my time in Canberra, has illustrated to me there are distinct and frequent disconnects between the policy agendas of successive governments and the hopes and expectations of rural communities.
We must now work collaboratively to repair these differences if we are going to improve the future economic capacity and liveability of our rural areas.
For several decades, successive State and Federal Governments have promoted a view that “localism” is the best policy mechanism to grow the regions.
By localism, I mean the belief that community-based solutions are the most effective in solving regional problems.
Central to this strategy is the view that regions can and should invest in their own growth through mobilization of local assets and resources, so as to capitalize on their specific competitive advantages.
In theory this sounds very fair and reasonable, perhaps even preferable.
However, the problem is that localism will almost always fail wherever critical investments are poorly resourced.
While State and Federal governments have remained in control of the budgets, these same political parties have promoted market liberalisation and dedicated resources to enabling structural adjustment so that ‘less efficient’ operators could leave the industry.
All too often, policy settings committed by State and Federal Government to pursuing free-market agendas and so-called small government has simply resulted in governments of both political stripes retreating from their commitments and responsibilities to local communities despite the fact there is often a clear expectation from rural communities that government will fairly address the social and economic consequences of its policies.
Wherever economic rationalism has been combined with a localism policy setting, it has resulted in the ‘invisible hand’ of the free market plucking basic services from our rural communities and, more often than not, replacing it with nothing.
As a result, we are consistently seeing the pace of regional economic development falling well below national economic growth.
Taken to its extreme, some economists and politicians who favour economic rationalism have even questioned whether large sections of traditional rural Australia should be discarded as economically unviable wastelands that are too costly to the nation.
This viewpoint was most publically shared by then-Australian Workers’ Union National Secretary Paul Howes, who said Australia should replace ‘Ma and Pa’ farming with a stronger corporatized model.
In Australia, our State and Federal Governments also promote the ideals of localism but in practice, maintains close control over budgets and the investment program.
This means that localism in its truest sense cannot really function because local communities cannot control both the resources and the decision-making process.
Instead, it simply becomes another form of governmental bureaucracy for communities to wade through.
So given these public policy challenges it is little wonder that we in rural Australia have from time to time questioned why we get up every morning and continue to battle against the bureaucrats, let alone our natural enemies of drought, fire, flood and cyclones.
But there are alternatives to our current situation, which would enable us to better collaborate, share information and coordinate across all levels of government as well as with other significant regional stakeholders.
The future of rural economies is increasingly being based on local capacity to develop and innovate, particularly through utilizing assets which are distinct to particular localities and therefore offer real local economic potential.
In countries like Australia, the competitive economic advantage of specific rural communities has more recently been promoted through the development of mining industries.
But we are seeing the end of the mining boom, and so we are again experiencing a shift in focus to the so-called soft commodities in agriculture.
More and more we are hearing economists say that a vibrant, innovative and competitive agriculture sector will be one of the key pillars essential to underpinning Australia’s economy in this century.
It took the world population millions of years to reach the first billion, then 123 years to get to the second, 33 years to the third, 14 years to the fourth, 13 years to the fifth billion.
The human population today stands at an estimated 6.8 billion, of whom an estimated 1.02 billion are undernourished and 2.5 billion are expected to enter this middle classes in the next two decades.
How we fashion a 21st-century agriculture industry capable of feeding these distinct groups is the great question of our age.
And it a question for which we in rural Australia must be providing answers in the wider national debate about our future economy.
Potentially valuable kinds of economic development are all too often blocked in principle, without considering the contribution they can make to supporting both the local community and the national economy.
Each time this happens, it is a major opportunity lost for our rural communities to explain where real local economic potential lay.
Taken as a whole, rural areas in Australia are more entrepreneurial and generate higher levels of business creation per head of population than in the capital cities, and as our national economy transitions to rely more heavily on agriculture, your regions must be ready to canvass the state and federal ministers about the real potential for true economic and employment growth in your paddocks and in your streets.
You must be prepared to take the argument of the economic rationalist and say that the government should increase the funds for services in your communities – not because it might be considered fair and reasonable – but because these funds will lead to a higher economic output from your community and thus increase revenue for the national coffers.
We must become better co-ordinated to sharpen our arguments with supporting economic data to illustrate how a profitable agriculture sector is essential to the economic wellbeing of the entire nation.
And the only way we will be able to attract the right people to work in this industry is if we improve liveability in our rural communities.
Next Week my government will deliver its second budget and its core focus will be to establish sustainable public finances and productivity enhancing policy.
Rural Australia will continue to linger behind the metropolitan centres until we generate a more co-ordinated approach that truly answers the policy questions being asked by key decision-makers in every state and federal government.
Gatherings such as today’s are the perfect forums to begin this important discussion, they prove we have the organisational infrastructure to develop a new approach.
Thank you for the invitation to speak and I look forward to talking more to you as the day progresses.
Like the myth of Sisyphus – the man cursed to spend eternity pushing a boulder to the top of a rocky hill in hell, only to have it immediately roll back to the bottom – Australian farmers could be forgiven for thinking their blood, sweat and toil over the past few decades have been futile.
The facts speak for themselves.
In 1980, output per dollar of debt in Australian agriculture peaked at $3.12. By 2010, output per dollar of debt had fallen to 64 cents.
At the same time, farm debt in Australia has increased by almost 75 per cent in a decade, from A$40.3 billion in 2004 to an estimated A$70 billion in 2014.
Until recently, the Australian dollar has been troublesome, reaching an all-time high of US$1.10 in May 2011.
The ongoing cost-price squeeze has held back profitability for more than two decades, and now many primary-producers are not able to cover the rising costs.
All these factors are without considering the climactic conditions and atrocious public policy decisions, such as the live export suspension, which have contributed to driving a stronger wedge between farmers and profitability.
During the mining boom years, the struggles and difficulties for our agriculture sector were never a major concern for successive governments.
Governments did not necessarily rely on profits from rural industry for their budgets because the tax earnings from the mining companies were so great.
But in the past 18 months, the Golden Goose has begun laying scrambled eggs, which has left the Australian economy truly cracked.
The tune is now changing as Australia increasingly transitions from a mining boom to a dining boom.
The fall in prices for iron ore and coal resources from their peak in 2011 is bringing down state and federal government revenues and so Australia is once again looking to sectors such as agriculture to generate more wealth for the nation.
There is probably no greater example of this transition than the investment decisions of the mining magnates themselves.
These mining magnates – who know a thing or two about which direction the Asian economy is headed – have been big investors in agriculture in recent years.
For example, Australia’s wealthiest woman, Gina Rinehart, and is said to have invested in cattle stations in the Kimberley, an abattoir south of Perth and has plans to establish a significant dairy operation in Queensland.
Agricultural assets now represent her most significant investments outside iron ore.
Twiggy Forrest has also been dedicating more effort to his family’s traditional beef production businesses, announcing several grand visions to further develop northern Australia.
Speaking at the recent ABARES conference in Canberra, Twiggy recognised agriculture’s growing potential: “I truly believe the agricultural sector of our nation will experience great strength in the future and scaffold our domestic economy in its next leg of growth, this will strongly assist our neighbour nations as they transition to rely on high quality food that Australia can supply.”
“There are so many parallels in Australia’s agricultural industry to the mining world, less than two decades ago that I cannot begin to list them. Suffice to say today’s agriculture sector reminds me of the self‐evident opportunity I saw when I started Fortescue in the early 2000’s.”
While much of the foundational work is still being laid, it gives reason to believe we are entering a golden era for Australian rural industry.
This means we should expect better research, more investment and a firmer focus on removing the barriers for businesses to start-up, expand and innovate across our agriculture sector if we are going to improve our international competitiveness.
It also means we need stronger leadership at all levels of rural industry to ensure we move forward with purpose and vision.
At a macro-political level, Barnaby Joyce’s Agricultural White Paper is being finalised. It will provide a roadmap for the future progress of our sector.
The Senate Inquiries into the grass-fed beef levies and red meat processing industry will shine a spotlight on our research and development groups and the broader supply chain so we can better understand how money is apportioned and outcomes are determined, and whether they are fair and reasonable.
The ‘Square-table’ initiative last year has enabled the red meat sector to develop a strategy to collate and promote its sustainability credentials that will provide a competitive point of difference to the WWF’s Global Roundtable.
We are also developing stronger consideration of the impact and influence of foreign ownership of agricultural assets through senate inquiries and a federal taskforce into sugar marketing and a reduction in the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) review threshold from $252 to $15 million for agricultural land purchases.
Last week we saw Malcolm Turnbull – a politician more associated with King’s Crosses than Hereford-Crosses – spend last week touring through remote Queensland, speaking with locals about the struggles they confront due to poor telecommunications.
Minister Turnbull has spoken of delivering Long Term Satellite Services next year, which he claims will be a “game changer” in Australia, offering downlink speeds of 25 Mbps as part of entry level plans, compared to 4 or 6 Mbps that Australians in regional or remote parts of the country experience now.
With the drought still lingering across too much of Queensland, myself and a handful of other rural MPs have rolled their swags at the front door of the Prime Minister’s office and have refused to budge as we continue to push for an economic stimulus package for the worst drought affected regions of Queensland and NSW.
An outcome is expected in a matter of weeks.
I share the same worldview as my colleague Barnaby Joyce that achieving a better return at the farm gate must be the bedrock of all agricultural public policy.
The family farm is the best business model for our rural communities and we must do our utmost to defend it.
There is an argument that producers have few productivity gains left to make on farm and so there is a need to look at how risk and reward is distributed across the chain.
When producer margins are increasingly under threat it is important significant attention is given to the industry structures underpinning the sector to determine where there is room for improvement.
Like eating an elephant, we can only chip away at our vision one teaspoon at a time.
It won’t be fast enough for some, but measured and considered action will deliver stable results.
It is the only way we can really get the ball rolling for our rural economies in this Asian Century.