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Wednesday, 6 February 2013
Page: 148


Ms MARINO (ForrestOpposition Whip) (09:30): I want to continue my remarks on the International Fund for Agricultural Development and to refer to the comments of Labor members who spoke previously in this debate. They made some significant comments about Australian farmers in particular and the contribution that they make and will continue to make to international food security. I find this really quite contradictory. When you look at the Labor government's record with agriculture, there was no agricultural policy at the last election. You would have thought that, for Australian farmers to be able to continue to provide expertise and knowledge to the international community, at least the Labor government would have had a comprehensive agricultural policy at the last election.

But the Labor government, in its lack of wisdom, has cut funding to agriculture to the tune of at least $1.7 billion, from $3.8 billion, since 2007. One of the things I referred to when I first started speaking on this bill was the fact that Labor abolished Land and Water Australia, one of the key agencies that was in place to manage and research issues in relation to the simple aspects of land and water management. Of course, that is where part of the research comes from, and where the work comes from, to pass on to international communities in relation to food security. Yet $63 million was cut out of this CSIRO research, as well as $12 million from rural research and development corporations.

So it is simply contradictory to hear Labor speakers talking about the wonderful contribution that Australian farmers can and will make to international food security efforts. Where is the government on this issue? These are contradictory statements. In fact, the 2011-12 budget cut $32.8 million from the department's already strained resources, with a further $33.4 million cut from cooperative research centres, or CRCs. That simply means that fewer agricultural CRCs are funded each year. Where is the research for the future going to come from that the previous speakers have said is so important to the international community, to entities like IFAD and others, to assist with managing the challenge of global food security issues?

I challenge the members who have already spoken on this, and the members to come, on the Labor side to actually detail the ongoing support for research and development in Australian agriculture and the farmers' efforts. They are among the best in the world; there is no question. Our farmers are widely respected, but, again, this requires continuing research and development funding that is matched by industry, particularly, to enable this to happen. But we have seen nothing but cuts. So I was really confounded when I read and listened to the comments made by members on the opposite side. When we look at biosecurity, another key area, we see that millions of dollars have been cut from biosecurity.

I am a member of the Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts, which has been conducting an inquiry into biodiversity. I say to the government that, frequently, those who submitted to the inquiry said, 'What a massive loss that Land and Water Australia has been.' In any efforts to assist Australian farmers in managing the challenges that this country presents—and our farmers are still some of the most efficient and most productive in the world—and in our efforts through this bill, our contribution is our expertise to agencies and other countries in dealing with global food security, a problem that will get worse. We are expecting our farmers to produce more efficiently from less water, less land and less fertiliser. These are the sorts of demands that are made, and yet the Labor government is cutting the budget for these particular research efforts. So the comments that have been made by others to this debate are contradictory. I say in relation to this bill: it certainly does not provide the assurance that the Australian public demands for the expenditure of $126 million.