17 March 2011
[Check against proof]
Thank you for inviting me. I will begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of this land and pay my respects to their elders both past and present.
It’s great to be here for this Australian-first global SAI Platform conference. With such a broad range of stakeholders from the entire food chain, this conference will provide a unique opportunity to focus on the challenges and opportunities of global agriculture sustainability for business.
Thousands of people around the Asia Pacific region have been impacted by recent natural disasters. Here in Australia we have been hit by floods, fire and Cyclone Yasi. Across the Tasman we have seen earthquakes ravage Christchurch and cause significant loss of life. Now we are witnessing the devastating impact of earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan. Our thoughts are with those people who have been caught up in these destructive events over the past few months.
More than ever these natural disasters highlight the importance of global sustainable agricultural and an efficient and open global food trading system to move food to where it is needed.
While our focus remains on helping the people of Japan in the immediate aftermath of these terrible events, it’s important to look at how the international community can support each other to maintain prosperous agricultural industries.
Sustainable agricultural systems provide the basis of a future supply chain at a global level that has sufficient resources to feed an ever expanding global population, day-after-day and year-after-year.
In Australia we are fortunate to have an abundance of agricultural land. Agriculture – including livestock grazing, dry land and irrigated agriculture – occupies more than 61 per cent of the nation’s landmass.
Australian farmers feed about 60 million people each day – 40 million of them overseas in our export markets. The sector provides employment to more than 300,000 people in our nation, many of whom live and work in rural and regional Australia.
Australia has and continues to be a highly efficient producer of both food and fibre. Australia and other nations with similar natural assets will be critical players in meeting the nutritional needs of the worlds growing population. This represents significant business development opportunities for local industries and significant responsibilities for government to put in place the building blocks to allow productivity to grow.
I will share three issues with you, which demonstrate Australia’s role in addressing sustainable agriculture, globally and at home:
International Food Security
With changing diets, increasing global demand for protein, resource limitations and rapid population growth, the challenge of global food security is both urgent and serious.
In the short term we have seen a spike in global food prices, along with the unrest that this causes. In the long-term we will need to increase food production by 70 per cent by 2050, to meet increasing demands. [Food and Agriculture Organisation, 2009]
From Australia's perspective, addressing global food security means:
Australia has committed to these efforts by providing $464 million over four years to our Food Security Through Rural Development Initiative. The Initiative supports increases in food production globally and strengthens the ability of countries in the Asia Pacific region and Africa to address food security, by:
The Rural Development Initiative is one way Australia can contribute to this important global issue. Another consideration in the fight for global food security is the international arrangements and agreements that provide for global sharing of knowledge and resources in the fight to lift agricultural productivity.
Last week I attended the Ministerial Conference of the Governing Body for the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in Indonesia, where I spoke about these issues. The Conference was an opportunity for member countries to discuss the role of the Treaty in addressing the challenges of food security and climate change.
The Treaty has been operational since June 2004. Under the terms of the Treaty, Australian farmers can access genetic material from all the contracting parties (127 members). This can be done using a standard multilaterally agreed contract that saves time and costs.
The sustainable use and conservation of genetic resources is key to addressing food security and responding to a changing climate. Australia continues to be a strong supporter of the Treaty because the use of new crop varieties has been pivotal to improvements in Australian production. Over the thirty years from 1977-2008, Australian productivity for cropping increased by 1.9 per cent each year, in part due to advances in plant breeding.
Australia is committed to the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture in recognition of their importance for future food security. The Treaty is invaluable in ensuring that Australian farmers can continue to access plant genetic resources, and that Australian R&D on plant genetics can continue to be shared with other Treaty members.
Plant genetic resources are essential for the creation of new crop varieties, which play a crucial role in maintaining the competitiveness of Australian food and agriculture. Australia is not unique in this – all Treaty nations depend on each other’s collections to progress crop development programs, and to respond to nature’s challenges.
Australia is addressing agricultural sustainability on a global scale through multilateral, bilateral and regional activities that respond to climate change.
The Government accepts the science of climate change is overwhelming. The global economy is already shifting to a clean energy economy. 32 countries and 10 states in the US are already moving to emissions trading schemes.
In Australia, climate change poses a major threat to our economic prosperity, productivity in the agricultural sector and our ability to respond to important food security challenges.
Australia as a country has been talking about action on climate change for many years. As a government we are now getting on with the job.
Last month the Prime Minister outlined the Government’s plan to cut pollution, tackle climate change and deliver the economic reform Australia needs to take advantage of a clean energy future.
The plan contains a proposed carbon price mechanism, to be introduced from 1 July 2012. It will start with a fixed price period for three to five years before transitioning to an emissions trading scheme.
A price on carbon is a price on pollution. It is the cheapest and fairest way to cut carbon emissions and build a clean energy economy by encouraging the development of greener technologies and practices.
Emissions from agricultural sources will not be included in the carbon pricing mechanism, because the Government recognises that it is not practical to impose liability on emissions from these industries. However contributing to abatement in the land based sector will be essential to any meaningful response because the agriculture sector accounts for 16 per cent of Australia’s emissions.
The Government’s Carbon Farming Initiative is a voluntary carbon offsets scheme designed to encourage land sector abatement and provide opportunities for farmers and landholders to participate in the domestic and international carbon offset markets.
It will cover land-based activities that reduce or avoid greenhouse gas emissions and/or increase carbon storage, including:
The Initiative will benefit landholders, regional communities and the environment in the following ways.
First, the Carbon Farming Initiative will result in land sector greenhouse gas abatement and provide landholders with an additional and diversified source of income. The scheme assists landholders to adopt management practices that help them adapt to the impacts of climate change, with the potential for increased farm productivity.
Second, the Initiative has the opportunity to achieve biodiversity, natural resource management and regional community benefits. For example, a project that revegetates an eroded gully and surrounding farmland could increase biodiversity, decrease soil loss and improve water retention.
A public consultation process was carried out on the design of the Carbon Farming Initiative – over 280 submissions were received from natural resource management, industry groups, state and territory governments, commercial entities, and individuals.
The submissions indicated overwhelming in-principle support for the establishment of a land based sector carbon offset market. The Government is responding to these submissions as it prepares legislation for tabling in Parliament.
On this topic, Landcare facilitators from around Australia met in Canberra last week to discuss the Carbon Farming Initiative and how they will work with regional and rural communities so farmers and other landholders understand the benefits of this initiative to the long term sustainability of their farms.
Later this year, should the Carbon Farming Initiative pass parliament, Landcare facilitators will provide information to their local communities and farmers about how they can participate in the scheme. Turning this scheme into a series of local methodologies to reduce carbon will be an important step toward the land based sector contributing to a low emissions economy.
Sustainable agriculture relies on the ability to reduce the number of pests and diseases that have the potential to destroy crops. Through the use of agricultural and veterinary chemicals, Australian farmers have the ability to limit the impact of pests and control diseases.
The Government recognises that Australia must not lag behind the latest developments and actions overseas in order to remain globally competitive.
Regulators in North America and Europe have reformed their regulatory systems and are able to work more flexibly with chemical manufactures to approve newer safer chemicals. In addition they have also taken steps to systematically look at older chemistries to ensure they continue to be safe.
For example, the United States system provides for changes to statutory timeframes to occur through the mutual consent of the regulator and applicant, if necessary to do so. This system is more efficient and provides a more predictable path to market, which benefits both manufacturers and chemical users alike.
Countries of the European Union are also implementing a thematic strategy on the sustainable use of pesticides, to fill a legislative gap by setting minimum rules on pesticide use to reduce risks to human health and the environment. This is an important element of the European Union’s overall sustainability strategy and has considerable relevance for the Australian environment.
In Australia, the Government is taking action so that the land we farm today remains productive tomorrow, and that any chemical inputs into the farming sector are safe for our farmers, their families and consumers.
We have already implemented a number of reforms arising from the COAG ‘Early Harvest Reform’ agenda and its Better Regulation Ministerial Partnership. This included the passage of the Agriculture and Veterinary Chemicals Code Amendment Bill 2010 last year.
These reforms provided for a range of improvements to the regulation of agvet chemicals, including:
These reforms are delivering outcomes for individual producers by reducing regulation and simplifying processes. Despite this, the job is far from finished.
Continuing reform in this area, during the 2010 election the Gillard Government committed more than $8.7 million to cut red tape further and improve the scientific process underpinning the decision-making of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority.
The Government’s reforms will deliver a more efficient way to review chemicals of concern and create a regulatory framework for agricultural and veterinary chemicals. This will enable chemical companies to deal with a regulator that has transparent and efficient processes in place to register and review chemicals, and end users such as farmers will have timely access to new chemicals to keep their crops free from pests and disease.
In November last year, I released discussion paper on ways to implement these reforms. This discussion paper was well received by community and industry stakeholders and more than 70 submissions on the paper were received by the Government. The results of this public consultation will be considered before the release of a draft bill later this year.
Reform of agvet chemicals will deliver real benefits to farmers, by getting better products to market quickly and improved risk-based assessments that will target resources at the highest risks.
Australia cannot afford to lag behind its competitors regarding access to new chemicals that improve productivity. Even drugs that have been developed in Australia, can potentially be on overseas markets sooner – thereby giving our overseas competitors an unnecessary market advantage.
A viable, sustainable agriculture sector is a key priority for the nation and for the Gillard Government.
Australia is one of the world’s largest agricultural export nations in terms of wheat, beef, dairy products, wine and wool, with around 60 per cent of our agricultural production sold in international markets. We produce far more than we could ever possibly consume. Australia must play a constructive role in the international debates about global food security.
That’s why the Government is committed to international efforts that strengthen global food security such as the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.
The Government is helping to shape a global solution to deal with the threat of our changing climate to economic prosperity and our unique environment. At home this action starts with a price on carbon and access to abatement and trading schemes for the land based sector.
Locally we are supporting our agricultural sustainability through important reforms that will support the development of more productive and competitive producers.
The Government has been and will continue to be extremely active and reformist in these important areas. I wish you all well for the deliberations and discussions you will have over the coming days and I look forward to hearing more about the outcomes of this conference.