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Thursday, 1 March 2012
Page: 2547

Mr BRIGGS (Mayo) (16:30): Let's hope the rain does not wash away the road, so we can get to the airport! I rise this evening to speak on this Year of the Farmer, a very worthwhile and appropriate nomination this year which gives us time to reflect upon the importance of regional Australia to our country, our economy and our very existence. Mayo is a regional area in South Australia. It has—and I am sure the Leader of the National Party will agree—some of the finest agricultural land in the country. We produce some of the best food in the country. I can see the Leader of the National Party at the table nodding his head vigorously, and I am sure my constituents appreciate his support. It is true. I agree with the Leader of the National Party that we do produce some of the best food in Australia. It is a great thing. We have dairy. We have wheat. We have sheep and beef. We have some of the very best wine in the world, and we produce a range of other fresh produce.

There are challenges, we know, in the agricultural sector in the boom-and-bust cycle of it. We went through, sadly, in the 2000s some of the most horrific times in drought and it caused significant challenges. We forget now with all this rain coming down how bad it was, particularly towards the last part of the last decade. Some of those issues are still being worked through.

There are additional challenges and structural changes. We have seen that the price of land for people trying to enter the farming community has been a prohibiting factor. We are now dealing with the challenges of ensuring that we have a sustainable Murray-Darling Basin. That is a contentious issue. It is something which has no easy solution. We have a very strong Australian dollar which is making it more difficult for our farm producers to compete globally. Added to that, we have a government who is intent on trying to damage the farming sector with the world's largest carbon tax, a tax that my farming community certainly does not want. I am constantly being lobbied by those people who can see the damage this carbon tax will do. Farmers are very practical people. They know that this is the world's largest carbon tax, without any genuine environmental benefit for our country.

There are some real challenges but I think the future has never been as bright as it now is for our agricultural sector either. The growth and the opportunities in our region are quite staggering. The OECD tells us that in 2010 there were some 550 million of the world's middle class in our region, in Asia. By 2030 the OECD predicts there will be 3.2 billion of the world's middle class—2.7 billion new people in the middle class. We know that as they move into the middle class they will wish to enjoy the same lifestyle that we benefit from so much. That means consumption of food and fibre will continue to grow at rates never seen in human history, which creates great opportunities for the highest quality food producers in the world. That is what Australian farmers are. We should celebrate that in the Year of the Farmer. We should celebrate the contribution our regional sector and our agricultural sector make to our country and to our globe. They produce some of the finest, safest, most high-quality food in the world. We should genuinely appreciate what they do.

There are 10,000 people in my electorate who are employed directly in this industry. It is the third-highest employer in my electorate. It is an area of potential growth not only in my electorate but across our country as we seek to service these markets. What I do greatly fear, as we play to our strengths in this area, is that government will get in the way with inappropriate regulation or by intervening in the markets to make it harder for people to compete on an international scale. We know that we import half as much as we export to China when it comes to food. That is a great thing because there is a great and growing opportunity for us to do more. I say, in the Year of the Farmer, let's reward the farmer. Let's have a new government that will offer hope and reward as this country moves towards a great opportunity for our regional sector and for our regional people in this year, the Year of the Farmer. (Time expired)