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Transcript of interview with Kim Honan: ABC NSW mid north coast: 26 August 2009: next generation of farmers, wine industry, Landcare, agriculture and CPRS.

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The Hon. Tony Burke MP

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Tony Burke - interview with Kim Honan ABC NSW mid north coast

26 August 2009

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry - Tony Burke Kim Honan - ABC NSW Mid North Coast, Rural Report


SUBJECTS: Next generation of farmers, wine industry, Landcare, agriculture and CPRS

KIM HONAN: Last night I caught up with the Federal Minister for Agriculture, Tony Burke, after the Community Cabinet meeting at Westport High School in Port Macquarie. Well, no questions for you tonight. Were you disappointed? Were you expecting any?

TONY BURKE: Oh, it's always good if you are in the frame that way; but there are, you know, big range of issues that people wanted to talk about tonight. And we're often finding a strong theme on disability issues as well. And there's a whole lot of Government programs in the education space at the moment. So there was an understandable focus there.

KIM HONAN: And one on youth? You are working with the Youth Minister on a rural strategy?

TONY BURKE: That's right. One of the first things that Kevin spoke to me about when he gave me the portfolio was every time he visited a farm, people would lament the lack of young people seeking careers in different ways in agriculture. And so one of the earliest points of engagement we've had is to start to look at different ways that we could help encourage young people to see what great careers are possible in agriculture.

And it's funny: you look at times of economic downturn, and agriculture's continually been a good news economic story around the country - and a big part of why the nation has managed to avoid the technical definition of a recession. But whenever we talk about agriculture, we tend to talk about drought. We tend to talk the sector down, constantly. Part of that is probably connected to some of the reasons why it can be hard for young people to see just what prospects are there.

KIM HONAN: Well a lot of our region's dairy industry are losing the next generation of farmers to the mining industry where the bucks are bigger. How do we provide support, assistance to retain them?

TONY BURKE: Well dairy's going through a particularly difficult time at the moment - and worse because people were expecting the times for dairy to be so good. We had a couple of years of record prices. And then when the global financial crisis hit, the dairy price just plummeted and plummeted very suddenly.

There will always be an attraction to different industries in different ways.

There'll always be some young people who want to go and work overseas. Some will want to work in the cities. And some who get attracted to mining.

Agriculture, in the whole value chain, is something which will always provide some long-term career opportunities that young people can take advantage of. And there are lifestyle aspects that

people will often find incredibly attractive, and there's also the fact that as demand for other commodities comes and goes, there's only going to be increasing demand for food and fibre in the years to come. That all stacks up pretty well for careers in agriculture.

KIM HONAN: No specific agriculture issues discussed tonight, but from your time here in the Hastings region, what do you understand of the issues here facing farmers?

TONY BURKE: Well last time I was here, which is about six months ago, Rob Oakeshott had me up here, and I actually had my family with me. It was during school holidays. And so I went and had a look at the local dairy operation here. Went to one of the dairy farms. Saw some of the chief processing, and also saw some of the direct sales from farm that happened here. I think from memory it was Ricardoes Tomatoes.

KIM HONAN: I was actually at the Country Music Festival. Sorry for missing your visit.

TONY BURKE: I actually was there later in the week, so I made it in time for the Lee Kernaghan concert to get there. But out at Ricardoes Tomatoes, where I saw some of the work that's being done at selling produce at the farm-gate, and as a result of that visit there's now study that we're doing across the country - because we've been really good throughout Australia at promoting tourism based on wine. We haven't been quite as good, so far, at promoting tourism based on food. And it's just another option that provides farmers with a different way of selling for those who are interested in that sort of thing - so there's been some good long-term policy ideas that certainly came from my last visit here.

KIM HONAN: Speaking to one of our leading winemakers today, [inaudible]. And he would have liked, if he had been here, would have liked to have asked you about the over-taxing of wine, nationally.

TONY BURKE: I know - every time I meet with the wine industry, and I had some extended meetings with some of them only last week. And every time, they're very conscious of the Henry Review into taxation at the moment.

There are some very clear issues attached to the wet tax as opposed to a volumetric tax. So they've got a very keen interest in it. The argument that they continue to put is that wine is drunk differently to other forms of alcohol in that, in almost every case, it's drunk very responsibly and they want that to be factored into the Government's thinking and the Henry Review. But that review's being conducted independently, and we'll have a chance to look at that later in the year.

KIM HONAN: And you did grab yourself a copy of the Tastings of the Hastings cookbook today? Robert Oakeshott presented that to you.

TONY BURKE: I've got to say, I don't get to the kitchen nearly often enough at home. But when I do, I love it.

KIM HONAN: [Indistinct] we should have been given the Akubra instead?

TONY BURKE: I wouldn't have minded both, but I wouldn't say no to the cookbook.

KIM HONAN: Now you've gone along to a local Landcare nursery today. How did you find that?

TONY BURKE: A great group of volunteers there. And the thing that I loved about it was they go out and propagate the seed in the wild so that they're getting the exact species, the exact local varieties, bring them back, dry the seeds out, plant them, and then provide the opportunity for other groups of volunteers to go out and replant and rebuild the local environment in different places.

We then got to have to go out and have a look at one of the sites where they've done this. And to have a look at some of those before and after photographs just blow you away. I mean, we were talking about an area that had been seriously damaged by weeds. And now you would just see it regenerating. It was the middle of the day and you could hear the birdlife going everywhere. So it was a great testament to what Government working together with volunteers can deliver.

KIM HONAN: And what was your purpose of meeting with the Landcare group today?

TONY BURKE: I've got to tell you, I love every part of my portfolio, but there is a particular passion about Landcare. You know, I sat in Cabinet today next to Simon Crean. And he was the agriculture minister who rolled out Landcare originally, 20 years ago now. So there's a very strong attachment to Landcare.

There's an incredible network that goes way beyond what Government does. And to try to get those settings right where we can harness the work of volunteers, harness the work of farmers on their own land, and for them to absolutely multiply the starting money that government puts out there and recreate the Australian landscape, it's hard not to get passionate about something like that.

KIM HONAN: Finally, a lot of local farmers, one of the big issues, what they're confused about is carbon trading and emissions trading. Your chance to clear it all up.

TONY BURKE: Okay. Point one. Agriculture is not in the scheme. And the reason's really simple: you can't trade what you can't measure. At the moment it is really difficult to measure emissions that would happen on farm.

Now there would be some cost prices that do vary. Energy prices - there's some variants on some inputs like fertiliser or chemical - the same as happens across the whole of the economy. But when it comes to agriculture itself, it's not in at the moment for the very simple reason that the science of measurement does not allow us to measure it accurately yet, and you can't trade what you can't measure.

KIM HONAN: Great, thank you.

TONY BURKE: Real pleasure.

KIM HONAN: The Federal Minister for Agriculture Tony Burke.