22 October 2012
Senator the Hon. Joe Ludwig, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
The relationship between the Federal Agriculture Minister and NFF president is an important one for farmers and the industry.
For two decades it has been a constructive relationship.
It is sometimes tested on particular issues, but it has been sustained no matter what side of politics is in government.
Jock and I have continued that constructive relationship.
That’s because the NFF and the Gillard Government both want Australian agriculture to grow and remain strong.
The treasurer talks about the patchwork economy and the same can be said for agriculture.
The food and fibre boom means farms across Australia are set to have positive returns.
However, it must be acknowledged that some sectors and geographic areas are under pressure, and some forecasts have been revised during this year.
Having said that, the overall forecast for agriculture is bright and the opportunities presented by the Asian Century in coming years will be wide reaching.
It is critically important to have the right policy settings in place to capitalise on the opportunities presented in Asia.
There are some who are currently experiencing short term transitional challenges as our rural industries adopt and change to meet the opportunities ahead.
However, now is the right time for transition to occur.
While producers across Australia use this period to reduce debt, invest in new technology and outline their future operations, the government is also looking forward.
This means working with industry to develop and implement policies that strengthen the sector.
With your input, the government is taking steps to roll out important reforms, like:
A healthy relationship between producers, industry, government and the community is vital to progressing these reforms.
The success of that relationship lies in our ability to have open and frank dialogue with you as an organisation, and with the stakeholders and communities you represent.
Today I’d like to touch on key reforms in addition to those I have just mentioned.
Each are reforms that the Government is working with the NFF and broader rural sector to deliver now, to strengthen our agricultural industries into the future.
Let’s begin with an area that we agree needs important reform to deliver the best outcomes for our farmers: drought.
We’ve been working together to develop a new policy.
A policy that will support our farmers, their families and regional communities to prepare for and manage the long-term effects of drought.
This is a collaborative effort with the Government working with the NFF, in particular the Drought Working Group, as well as state governments and farming communities.
I’ve responded to what you’ve had to say and will continue to work with you.
I asked the National Rural Advisory Council to look at agricultural insurance products and the effectiveness of the Farm Management Deposits Scheme.
NRAC’s findings on both insurance and farm management deposit schemes will inform our ongoing discussions about drought reform.
Later this week, drought reform will also be on the agenda when I meet with primary industries ministers from around Australia in New Zealand.
This meeting will consider a proposal for a national package of drought-related programs and I’m optimistic our hard work in this area will see a new drought policy package implemented from 1 July 2014.
The principles for the new policy include shifting from reactive measures to preparedness.
Every state and territory backs the move to preparedness, and NFF policy complements this because it is in the interest of farmers and rural communities.
Being prepared for drought will put Australian producers on a stronger footing to meet the growing demand abroad.
The dialogue between the government and the NFF has helped develop many policies like this one that that are good for producers and our country.
Meetings between Jock, other NFF representatives and myself are often wide ranging.
Sometimes we agree, sometimes we don’t, but we continue to work together to achieve the best results for agriculture in Australia.
I’d like to quickly touch on a few of the key initiatives we are working together to progress.
Climate variability affects producers more than almost anybody else which is why, in addition to drought reform, the agriculture sector is a strong supporter of natural resource management programs like Caring for our Country.
Discussions between the government and NFF reiterate the importance of these programs, but also the need for a specific Sustainable Agriculture stream under Caring for our Country.
I’m pleased that we are now finalising the details of this after input from a range of agricultural stakeholders.
Another initiative we are currently seeking stakeholder views on is Australia’s first National Food Plan.
The Food Plan will look at our food system, from paddock to plate.
This Government is passionate about this plan and importantly, it has been supported by the NFF.
The plan will look at how we can ensure our food supply remains sustainable, globally competitive and resilient into the future.
It will also look at how we can support producers to make the most of opportunities, like the growth of Asia.
One area the Food Plan specifically mentions is continued investment in rural research and development – something the Government is already actively working with industry to support.
Groups – including many of you present today – have confirmed our commitment to rural research and development is not only appropriate but essential.
It provides ongoing innovation and productivity gains that help you, our farmers, remain world leaders.
That’s why the Government has provided $1.1 billion to rural RDCs over Labor’s five budgets and committed to continuing matching funding into the future.
I encourage producers to find out what their industry RDCs are doing and get involved.
Something else I encourage you all to find out more about is the steps the Government is taking to make foreign investment more transparent.
For many of you, foreign investment is an area of concern.
The government, like many in the agriculture sector, supports foreign investment for the benefits it brings.
But we also understand that many of you want more information.
That’s why we’ve announced a working group to look into a register of foreign ownership of agricultural land, and are increasing data collection through the ABS.
Many of these issues and more will be tackled during the next two days as you focus on the food and fibre boom and how we position our agriculture sector for the future.
This congress is an important forum for discussion, for reflection, and for learning more about the directions Australian agriculture is headed.
I look forward to hearing about the outcomes of the sessions taking place over the next two days, and about the progress that has been made on the NFF Blueprint for Australian Agriculture.
The relationship between the NFF and the government is an important one to ensure Australian agriculture has a strong future.