The Australian Federal Election campaign has all but come to a close. For some perhaps the end could not have come soon enough. Pending any very last minute announcements, it is now possible to weigh up the balance of announcements and commitments and consider what an incoming Government will mean for agriculture in Australia. Alarmingly, like almost every other key sector of the economy, agriculture had to wait until the last 10 days or so of the campaign to hear anything of significance from the major parties. Even then, perhaps the most crucial piece of the puzzle regarding the costing of policy commitments has only been released in the last 24 hours.
This election campaign has highlighted the very complex needs of the Australian ag sector. While we have looked for specific policies prioritising agricultural issues, it remains the case that an enormous cross section of policy commitments impact directly on farmers and their profitability. From infrastructure, training, small business and tax, to trade and research and development, farmers are touched by them all.
The Queensland Farmers Federation (QFF) provides a snapshot, of policy commitments below. This has been done with the assistance of the excellent analysis provided by the National Farmers Federation (NFF), who have once again kept their finger firmly on the pulse at the national stage. With the macroeconomic considerations taking up most of the attention, it has been a campaign with an understandable lack of big financial commitments but, perhaps equally, it is clear the politicians are still not able to convey an understanding of just how difficult and tight the margins are for some farmers and their profitability at the farm or market scale. It is obvious that to bring this reality home to the incoming Government will remain a challenge and QFF looks forward to working with whatever Government is formed after tomorrow’s poll.
Labour’s Agriculture Policy
The Rudd Labor Government released its plan to support the agricultural industry in an election campaign announcement last week. In the announcement, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Joel Fitzgibbon acknowledged the contribution of farmers to the economy and emphasised the need to improve ‘farm efficiency and profitability’. If elected, the ALP will:
- Appoint an independent mediator tasked with finalizing a Food and Grocery Code of Conduct that ensures fairness across the food supply chain.
- Develop a set of standardised contracts for produce supply.
- Operationalise the National Register of Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land.
- Allow recipients of the Transitional Farm Family Payment to apply for up to an additional six months support to 30 June 2014 – to fill the gap left by the change to EC drought declarations.
- Review the success of Labor’s $420 million Farm Finance Package
Coalition’s Agricultural Policy
Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Food Security, John Cobb, categorised agriculture as ‘one of the 5 pillars of the Australian economy’ in his announcement to spend $147 million to increase sector productivity and profitability. Under the plan the LNP will:
- Contribute $100 million to sector R&D
- Commit $15 million in the form of rebates to small exporters for Export Certification registration costs.
- Commit $20 million to strengthen biosecurity and quarantine.
- Allocate $2 million dollars to assist with the integration of agriculture into school curriculums.
- Provide $2.2 million for Native title respondent funding
The Coalition also announced the merging of the Caring for our Country and Landcare programs should they be elected to office.
Minor Parties Agricultural Policies
Greens release Agrociltural Policy
The Federal Greens have released their agricultural policy ahead of the election. While the policy makes a number of positive commitments toward research and development and market development, it is also contrasted with a number of policy positions of the Greens that would have negative impact on the agricultural sector. These include their public positions on the Murray Darling Basin Plan, intensive agriculture, live-export, genetically modified crops, and energy costs associated with policies around the carbon price and the renewable energy target.
Katter’s Australian Party Agricultural Policy
Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) has committed to pursuing agriculture policies focussed on supporting Australian farmers in its release of rural and agriculture policies. The KAP policy includes:
- Mandate ethanol use in Australia, providing structural support to grain and sugar industries.
- Support the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target which will benefit rural infrastructure.
- Mandate the allocation of premium shelf space in supermarkets for Australian produce.
- Underwrite a national multi-peril crop insurance scheme to mitigate production risk.
- Reduce interest rates and manage the Australian currency down to improve the sector’s international competitiveness.
- Stimulate investment in infrastructure, including roads, rail and ports.
- Implement WTO compliant tariff’s to protect Australian producers and manufacturers where they are unable to compete with subsidised imports.
- Stiffen biosecurity conditions on imports and properly resource quarantine and inspections services.
- Provide an arbitrated price for agricultural produce where farmers request it.
- Establish a rural development bank to facilitate generational equity transfer.
- Implement “orderly” marketing where industry structures undermine reasonable market power to producers (as perceived currently in dairy, egg and sugar industries).
- Restore vital irrigation water to agriculture in the Murray Darling Basin.
NFF comments on election promises
THE National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) has released an agriculture scorecard ranking the election commitments of the ALP, LNP and Greens to help farmers make an informed voting decision at the polls. The scorecard is based on the five key NFF policy priorities and is available at http://www.nff.org.au
NFF provide national summary on Ag in the election
The NFF summarised the announcements made across portfolios during the election. The extent and detail demonstrates the broad cross section of policies that in the end are relevant to the future profitability of farmers. The NFF assessment is that some of the key announcements made by the major parties include:
- Appoint an independent mediator to help negotiate a food and grocery code of conduct.
- Develop a set of standardised contracts for produce supply.
- Develop 20 Trade Training Centres, located in regional and rural Australia, dedicated to offering vocational and training opportunities for the ag sector
- $6.5 million to be invested in an Aussie Food Jobs campaign, with a marketing strategy to be developed in partnership with the NFF.
- The establishment of a Centre for Rural and Regional Futures.
- A $10 million program to help drive productivity and competitiveness of vegetable farmers who supply the Simplot processing plant in Tasmania.
- $25 million investment to help SPC Ardmona continue to upgrade their processing plant in Shepparton; and
- A $14.75 million boost to the Southern Highlands Irrigation Scheme.
- Increase the Federal Government’s contribution to R((D by $100 million))
- Commit $15 million to rebates for small exporters;
- Commit $20 million to strengthen biosecurity and quarantine;
- Provide $8 million towards minor use chemical permits, plus a promise to remove the mandatory re-registration of chemicals;
- Reinstate $2.2 million for native title respondents; and
- Allocate $2 million to agricultural education, helping to embed agriculture into the national curriculum.
- Fund the national soil health strategy, to the tune of $75 million to help protect agricultural land from soil degradation – offset by the Greens continued push to end Australia’s livestock export trade.
Major parties reef commitments
Both major parties have committed to continuing funding associated with actions to improve water quality on the Great Barrier Reef. The Rudd Labor government has committed $137.3 million in funding for new Reef Rescue projects. Funding supports a range of projects to improve land management practices, repair key ecosystems such as mangroves, strengthen partnerships, and improve urban water quality management plans.
The Coalition launched their Reef 2050 policy which matches the $200 million investment in cutting pollution. The plan essentially endorses the current bi-lateral Reef plan approach but also establishes a $40 Reef Trust which will build public and private funds to be invested strategically to improve water quality and coastal habitat. Ω
6 September 2013