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SELECT COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURAL AND RELATED INDUSTRIES
19/05/2009
Food production in Australia

CHAIR —If anyone in the audience wants to make a statement or put a view, now is their opportunity. Stand up, state your name and say what you want to say.

Mr Walker —My name is David Walker and I am Executive Officer of Liverpool Plains Land Management, a natural resource organisation in this catchment. Your inquiry is about food production in Australia, and I think that we need to look at it from the point of view of ecologically sustainable development. That means that we make the best use of our resources for our current needs, making sure that we do not alienate those resources for the use of future generations. Chair, you just mentioned the huge task we have in this world to feed our population in the near and further future. Alienating productive land from food production for short-term gain would be a shocking thing for us to do to those who follow us.

CHAIR —Are there any further statements?

Ms Strang —Yes. There is a way of carbon dating water. It is done very adequately by ANSTO in Lucas Heights.

CHAIR —So it is just a matter of doing it. But it needs to be done.

Ms Strang —Yes.

Mr Bloomfield —I am a farmer and grazier down at Caroona. There has been a lot of talk today and in the press about the statistics around production here in the Liverpool Plains and the value of it. Nearly the absolute majority of that has been about commodities—producing grain, producing tonnes of beef et cetera. It is not just around the corner, but I think the day will come when you can forget commodities out here on the plain. This is literally going to be a produce bowl. People will not be growing a thousand acres of wheat, but will—

Senator WILLIAMS —A thousand acres of cauliflower or whatever.

Mr Bloomfield —That has been done before at Breeza. Caulies have been grown there on a big scale. So there will be masses of produce grown that will actually feed people directly. That is something that is harvested one day and within a week it is eaten—none of this being stored for 18 months and then milled into something else that something else then uses and then turns into a product that looks nothing like it did originally.

CHAIR —While we are waiting for the next speaker, I might say that, if the community invites me back, I can do a 40-minute PowerPoint presentation about food production and the future of the planet. And you will all have your jaws on the floor if you invite me back to give the presentation. That was an ad!

Ms Wilmott —I am part of a farming family on the Liverpool Plains. I was just wondering about your submission process which finalises in November this year. While all this is going on, the mining companies are still approaching farmers looking for agreements and access. All of these decisions are still going on. What is your timeframe after November? What timeframe are we looking at for possible actions that might help us—or your ‘bugle’, as you say?

CHAIR —We will try to expedite this. We are very flexible, but each of us has only got one head and two legs, as you have noticed. We will be as immediate as you and we feel it needs to be, but obviously we need to now put out some further offers for submissions from the people who have not appeared here today. And obviously there will be some political signals given also. Can I just say that, in the recent Queensland election, there was, in my view, a demonstration of political gutlessness by all politicians of all persuasions, because there was not one statement on water. In the context of a political election, it is a state issue. And there is a proposition still in Queensland—which is a worry to me, having heard this evidence here today—and that is the disgusting plan for the Lower Balonne, where they are going to issue a licence for 469,000 megalitres to a property which is unsustainable, and issue it in the full knowledge that they are going to have to buy it back. Politicians will do anything if they get the leverage. We need some political guts, and we will try to call up that guts. There are a couple of politicians represented here today who probably will be part of the solution.

Senator FISHER —Chair, if I may add: the word ‘water’ did not pass the lips of either the Prime Minister or the Treasurer with the recent budget, either. You may well say that this committee is your last chance, and it may look like that at the moment; however, you are your last chance—and please do not underestimate the powerfulness of you and this community action.

CHAIR —Hear, hear!

Senator FISHER —It is very, very powerful and pervasive, and you are using it very well. We can get from you a little insight into what it takes, but we cannot understand because we are not you. But you have you: keep going.

Ms Bloomfield —I am farming at Caroona. With regard to the letters that many of you may have received about food production in the area, some of the replies that we received indicated that Australia exports a lot of food so this really is not relevant.

CHAIR —Can I have a copy of the replies?

Ms Bloomfield —You may. About half have replied at this stage. Further to Derek’s point, this area can produce. Yes, we export a lot of the food that is produced but the biggest exports are things like wheat and beef. They grow that out in the country out at Forbes et cetera where you cannot grow anything else. You can grow lots of other things here—veggies and things.

Senator WILLIAMS —In Junee and those places where you do not grow much!

Ms Bloomfield —If we get ourselves into a situation where we need to import food, will you be happy eating food that comes from a country where—

CHAIR —We get your message.

Ms Bloomfield —the food may be sprayed with something that is not even registered in this country.

Senator FISHER —We already eat some of that.

CHAIR —I do a lot of that. Watch the estimates next Monday and Tuesday and you will see a little demonstration of how dopey we are!

Senator FISHER —As a country, you mean, Chair!

CHAIR —Yes.

Ms Bloomfield —I just wanted to reiterate something that was said—you might have said it, Chair—that is, that so much of the water in the Murray-Darling system comes from groundwater, which is the issue that we are talking about.

CHAIR —Can I just give a demonstration of that? Cape York Peninsula is 17½ million hectares. For crass political purposes, Peter Beattie told me, actually, when I was chairing the Traveston inquiry that they put in the wild rivers legislation—this is political gutlessness—to do a deal with the wilderness society for green votes in the city. That is fair enough; that is politics. But in Cape York Peninsula, which is the size of Victoria and off the coast with a population of only 4,000 people. There is an estimated 20,000 feral cattle, 800,000 feral pigs and 14 pastoral companies—and the rest of it is sit-down Indigenous freehold country. The Indigenous people want to have a crack at an economic opportunity there. I am going to a meeting in the News Limited boardroom tomorrow night with Noel Pearson to that end. We have taken a decision—a so-called political decision—to turn that into a World Heritage area and lock up the productive capacity of all the rivers for the first kilometre all the way up the Cape. It is absolute madness. I apologise to the committee for blowing my trumpet.

Mick Keelty said 18 months ago—and no-one took any notice—that the greatest threat to Australia’s sovereignty without a doubt was the impact of the changing climate. He was referring to the 1.6 billion people who could possibly be displaced. I say here today that, if we need to develop the opportunities that Mother Nature is giving us. We are going to have to reconfigure the way we are doing business in rural and regional Australia. You are going to do all right here, but the south is going to get a lot tougher. If we do not do it, someone else is going to come and do it for us.

I think we will draw this to a close and consider this to be round 1. Thank you very much.

Committee adjourned at 2.48 pm