Bush Matters Op-Ed – “Dawning of the age of the ag”

24 December 2014

While it might not be the popular opinion, I believe 2014 will be remembered as the year we stopped relying on easy answers.

With declining terms of trade, falling government tax revenues, stagnant wage growth and the worst drought in a century, Australia has been forced to take a long, hard look in the mirror and make some tough choices about our collective economic future.

The simple fact is that it’s unclear if we’ve passed the test. 2015 will be another year of transformation. Negotiations and delays in the divided Senate continue to hamper the government’s efforts to get our national budget on the road to recovery.

Still, the Treasurer has encouraged us to spend big this summer, and we will await for feedback from the major retailers to judge whether money is flowing through their doors.

One thing is certain – the tourism sector, which fuels the economy along our coastal strips, will be feeling the pinch of the drought this year as few farmers can afford their usual festive holiday at the beach.

Instead we are all studying the Bureau of Meteorology website carefully in the hope that the long awaited summer rains will bucket down so we can begin the rebuilding process for our family farms across the nation.

There is no doubt that 2014 has been a very tough year. It was a tough budget, but it must never be forgotten that it had to be tough.

Just as no one would want to leave a legacy of mountainous debt to their children, the nation has a responsibility to leave our bank balances in a better position for the next generation.

It seems these necessarily tough budget decisions will continue to have to be made in the coming years as we continue to confront an aging population and a transforming economy.

While it is tough medicine for many, it is my belief Australians will soon understand how the exuberant Chinese thirst for our resources that has fuelled our economic growth for more than a decade was always, eventually, coming to an end.

Despite how difficult, or even dire, things can seem at times, I am buoyed about the future of agriculture in this nation.

After more than a decade of our economy being squarely focussed on the mining sector, Joe Hockey last week began grouping agriculture alongside resources as the two fundamental components that underpin our national wealth.

We must never forget that wheat, beef, cotton and wool are four of the top 20 export commodities in this nation.

The central importance of these commodities is coming under increasing analysis as part of the efforts of Infrastructure Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss to roll out more than $50 billion in infrastructure across the nation and, as a direct result, increase our national GDP.

In 2014 we have seen the delivery of the green paper for northern Australia, which lays an important pathway to realising the true economic potential across the north.

Soon we will also see the finalisation of the White Paper for Agricultural Competitiveness.

These are fundamental steps to mapping our future economic pathways.

When added to the work already completed to sign free trade agreements with Japan, South Korea and China, and the finalising of live export deals with Cambodia, Bahrain and Thailand, it’s clear we are providing more market opportunities for our farmers, which will in turn generate more money for our national economy.

This year has been one where we have drawn a line in the sand, between our previous overreliance on mining, and our new economy, where agriculture will feature prominently.

This new found prominence will give more influence to the farming sector within the Canberra corridors, which will provide newfound opportunities for rural communities following decades of neglect.