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President's report, NFF AGM and conference, Italo-Australian Club, Forrest, ACT.



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President’s Report

NFF President, Mr Peter Corish

NFF AGM and Conference Italo-Australian Club, Forrest, ACT

26 November 2003

ABN 77 097 140 166

NFF House

14 -16 Brisbane Avenue BARTON ACT 2600

PO Box E10

KINGSTON ACT 2604 Australia

Telephone 61 2 6273 3855 Facsimile 61 2 6273 2331 Email nff@nff.org.au Web www.nff.org.au

• Good morning everyone. Welcome delegates, associate members, alternates and

observers.

• First of all this morning I have an apology from John Anderson, the Deputy Prime Minister,

whom we had invited to open this morning’s proceedings. But unfortunately the Deputy

Prime Minister had to offer his apologies at the last minute and due to the amount of work

we have on our agenda today, the importance of some of those decisions, Anna and I made

the decision not to seek an alternate to open the meeting and just to proceed with the

business of the meeting.

• I’d like to say at the commencement of my report that certainly the last few months at NFF

has been extremely busy and since the June Council meeting we have progressed a

number of issues and have a number of new issues on our agenda for us to deal with.

• I’m not going to speak in great detail about a lot of those issues because there are

committee reports, taskforce reports as well as the CEO’s report that will deal with a lot of

those issues in some detail.

• I’m going to just touch on the key areas that I’ve been involved in personally and areas that I

think need your attention or suggest your attention in this meeting and in the future.

• Following the June Council meeting we have now had the completion of our Strategic and

Operating Plan and Anna Cronin, our Chief Executive Officer, is going to deal with that in

some detail, and I’ll leave it to her. But I will say two things about the Strategic and

Operating Plan. First of all it’s already underway. We now have a much clearer definition of

what NFF’s role is. We’ve actually reduced our work and our involvement in some of the

peripheral areas. I’m not suggesting they’re not important to Australian agricultural rural

Australia, but we are focussing on the key areas of NFF’s operation and I think everyone is

pretty clear and aware of that now, and I think Anna will make some comments about that in

her more detailed report. The other thing that I’d say about both the Strategic and Operating

Plan is that they are living documents and I think it would be remiss of us if we didn’t

continue to use and refine both of those plans in the months and years to come. I think

that’s something the Executive will be dealing with down the track as well as management.

• The next decision coming out of the June Council meeting which I think is particularly

relevant was the decision to appoint an outside consultant to look at NFF’s structure and

that was based on a recommendation from the Executive. And we are going to have a

powerpoint presentation by myself later on this.

• I think we have made some pretty significant steps so far. David Trebeck from ACIL was

appointed to carry out the consultative work on NFF structure and trying to ensure that we

have a viable NFF moving into the future. David went through a significant amount of

consultation with all member organisations and also some former member organisations

and potential new member organisations. He gave and presented a detailed report to the

Executive and all members of the Council have now also received that particular report.

Coming out of that, a Taskforce of the Executive was appointed to further develop the

recommendations of the Trebeck Report.

• Now that Taskforce has been in place for some time and as I’ll report later, has reported

back to the Executive. The Executive has endorsed the outcomes of that and the

recommendations of that Taskforce to come to you people today.

• I will say up front that we’re not looking for final decisions in regard to any form of restructure

today. We’re asking for Council’s support to further develop the restructure proposals and

to go ahead and get some paperwork drafted up on which we can make a more definitive

decision hopefully in the New Year.

• On the 29th of August CoAG met here in Canberra and made what I think, and many others

I’m sure would agree, was a very much a milestone decision in regards to the allocation and

management of water in this country into the future. And NFF has had the allocation and

management of water very high on its agenda over the last 12 months and the decision that

was made in that CoAG meeting I think was definitely a milestone in regard to the future.

• The NFF Water Taskforce which was formed as a specific taskforce, again at the June

Council meeting, has been furthering the water management issues and allocation issues

since that CoAG meeting, and Paul Weller will deal with that in more detail in his report. But

I would like to also comment that there was a very positive outcome from the Murray Darling

Basin Commission a couple of weeks ago in regards to the future management of the

Murray River. So there are some positive things happening in that area but obviously a

continued amount of effort will need to be maintained.

• I can’t be quite as positive about the native vegetation issues and I know Larry Acton has

some pretty definitive comments to make about that in his report. I think it would be

extremely remiss of us as NFF not to really keep our hand on the ball in regard to native

vegetation issues because there is still a lot of work to do there and potentially a lot of things

that could impact significantly on our individual memberships there.

• The Cormo Express incident, I’m sure you’re all well aware of the detail of that. I don’t

intend to go into the detail there but I think we had very much the potential for a major fight

with the Federal Government if those sheep had come back to Australia. And I think all our

member organisations, organisations such as RSPCA and others made their positions very

clear that it was not going to be appropriate for the obvious reasons from our perspective if

those sheep landed back in Australia. Fortunately that potential fight was averted by some

good work, I think, by the Government and particularly the industry in finding a home for

those sheep in Eritrea. And of course that fight was, as I said, averted. What we do need to

do now is try and ensure to the very best of our ability that whatever is needed is put in

place, to ensure that an incident such as that doesn’t occur again. I’d like to particularly

congratulate Keith Adams, Bill Whitehead, Simon Campbell, Robert Pietsch and your

respective CEOs as members of NFF, working with our Executive team here in Canberra in

ensuring that we were all on the same wavelength. I think it ensured that we had a common

response from Australian agriculture and I think that overall helped ensure that the

Government and other bodies were extremely well aware of what our position was. And I’d

like to congratulate you again for the strong degree of cooperation that was displayed.

• We now have the Portland incident which I think is potentially an absolute disaster. It is bio-terrorism in my view and it just shows what one person with a very, in my mind, warped and

twisted agenda can do to threaten a whole industry. We’ve got a lot of work to do in that

area. Keith Adams will give more detail on where it’s up to in his report this afternoon. And

we also have Mike Taylor coming along to give us an update from the Government’s

perspective. I think it’s imperative that we work with industry, with other industries - Livecorp

for example. Ian McIver has come along this morning to listen to my presentation.

Unfortunately he can’t be here this afternoon. But certainly there is a role for our member

organisations, NFF and industry to work together to try and ensure that these issues don’t

occur again in the future. There’ll be more on that this afternoon.

• The last item I’d like to touch on is trade and I’ve had a lot to do with the trade effort over the

last month and since the June Council meeting and probably the most important headline of

then of course was the WTO Ministerial in Cancun. I know Allan Burgess will report on all

these issues in more detail later. So I’ll just try and keep my comments brief.

• Certainly the WTO Ministerial in Cancun will probably be remembered for two things. The

first thing it will be remembered for was the emergence of the so-called G20 countries and

the impact that they had on that particular meeting and that process. And secondly it will be

remembered for not having a resolution, or a positive outcome.

• Now I think very broadly the G20 countries have the opportunity to really influence the

agenda and to ensure that the developing countries were well looked after in regard to trade

reform in general particularly market access for them to the more developed markets of the

world. But unfortunately they over-played their hand. I don’t think there’s any doubt about

that. They absolutely refused to move in their negotiating position on the so-called

Singapore issues or financial issues, let alone agriculture and at the end of the day, in very

brief terms, the US and Europe said if you’re not prepared to move, you’re not prepared to

negotiate, then neither are we. Hence everyone went home without an outcome.

• In regard to the agriculture negotiations I think there were two very positive things that

happened. There was significant signals there that both the US and Europe were prepared

to move on export subsidies, the elimination of export subsidies, and also the reduction and

eventual elimination of domestic subsidies. Market access was going to be the big issue. It

was going to be the debating point. But at least we had real proposals on the table in regard

to those two areas.

• Now I’ll talk about the FTAs in a minute, but if you look at the FTAs what we get out of FTAs

is improvements in market access. So the point I want to make up front is that we have to

continue our efforts in regard to both the WTO Round and also the FTAs because they’re

not exclusive of each other. They are very much dependent on each other for overall

outcomes in regard to trade reform.

• The Cairns Group Farm Leaders had a very successful meeting in Cancun and we were

also able to put out a joint media statement with the American Farm Bureau. What we

found was that the US Farm Bureau was actually much closer to the Cairns Group position

than what a lot of people probably believed. We were able to put together a joint statement

which I think sent a very strong message particularly to the Europeans and also some of the

G20 countries that we did have a lot in common. We have been working on developing and

building that relationship since Cancun.

• Cairns Group Farm Leaders is looking at having a meeting early in the new year as Allan

will report. That meeting will be extremely important in ensuring that we send a pretty strong

message to the Cairns Group Ministers who are also intending to meet early in the new

year.

• FTA with Thailand has some benefits for agriculture which is again dealt with in more detail

in the Trade Report.

• Of course the proposed FTA with China would have very significant positive outcomes for

Australian agriculture if in fact it is comprehensive.

• Our position at NFF in regard to the FTAs remains exactly the same. We will support them

- particularly the one with the US which I’ll touch on in more detail in a second - but on the

condition that agriculture is included and significant improvements in market access occur

up front and over time, and not too much time, there is unimpeded access to those particular

markets.

• In regard to the US FTA, I was in the US a couple of weeks ago. I believe that if a deal can

be negotiated by about 10th January, it probably will get through the US Congress. The

difficulty is going to be actually getting those negotiations agreed within that timeframe. So I

think it’s still very much up in the air, and again our position is very much the same as it has

been and it is going to come down to a crunch point where particularly beef, dairy, sugar are

going to be approached and we are going to be approached as NFF to determine whether in

fact we can support those negotiated positions or not. That’s all going to come to a crunch I

would suggest around about the end of this calendar year or the very first week in January.

• Ladies and gentlemen I’ll leave it at that. Thank you for the opportunity to present this report

to you today.

[ends]