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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3384

Mr SIDEBOTTOM (BraddonParliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (11:35): I thank my birth mate, the member for Murray, for putting this motion forward. I agree with many of the sentiments of the member for Murray but I just do not agree with some of the political assessments that came from it. But I will agree with the member for Murray when she quite rightly mentioned that we have had decades of neglect and not necessarily neglect in just the last five years. There is no doubt that we very much need active, realistic partnerships with industry and with local, state and federal governments.

We recognise that Australian farmers do the hard work involved in producing, processing, handling and selling produce from something like 136,000 farm businesses across the country, 99 per cent of which are owned by Australians. The work generates something like $405 billion each year. This is a staggering figure. In addition, Australian farmers make a significant contribution to feeding people in a range of countries overseas and to global food security. In our own region, by 2020 half the world's population will be on Australia's doorstep, which represents an unparalleled opportunity for our farmers and the farm sectors.

More recently, positive news was put out by ABARES and by KPMG, in its Expanding horizons report. Most of the data clearly indicates that the Australian agricultural sector has for the first time in many years something positive to look forward to. We need—and I agree with the member for Murray—to encourage, nurture and support this vital industry.

The other thing we need to be careful of is the matter of people associating agriculture with farming—and there is nothing wrong with this. Farming is absolutely crucial but agriculture is more than just farming. The industry itself goes right across the board. It is like the food chain. One end is developing technologies and innovations that follow right through the whole chain of farming and agriculture, and these developments go right through to transport, to developing things in labs, to developing different species of plants or fibres or whatever else the case may be. This extends through to the transport system, to people providing for those on farms and to scientists—right across the board, as the member for Murray quite rightly pointed out.

So, when we talk about agriculture we are talking about exciting prospects. Yet, as the member for Murray quite rightly pointed out, in the Food fibre and the future ACER report, which was released recently, what was terrifying was not so much the trivial pursuit stuff about where yoghurt comes from. We have to be fair about this. In our day we had families related to people on the land so you actually visited the farm and had some idea of what farmers did and what was involved in farming. You saw a relationship between what happened there and what was going on in the supermarket shelves and what was happening in your house, because you actually did it on the spot. So, I can understand the trivial pursuit thing: where is yoghurt from—some kids thought cotton came from the moon—and so forth. What really upset me about this was the lack of appreciation by teachers and students of associating innovation and agriculture. I have just been doing some reading about the early New South Wales colony, and we would not have survived without innovation by those very early farmers. The whole history of Australian agriculture is a history of innovation. Yet in the Food, Fibre and the Future survey, barely the majority of students associated innovation with agriculture. There seemed to be no relationship. It was phenomenal. What made it even worse, when you analysed the figures, was that many students thought there was little relationship between science and agriculture, little development and change of inputs into agriculture for a productive outcome. It was extraordinary. I do not know what they think happens in our farming enterprises and in agriculture, but all I can tell you is that that survey was a worry.

How do we go about trying to correct some of this? That is part of what the Member for Murray has raised. This government is keen to do something about it in a practical sense. The National Farmers Federation is doing something, with its Blueprint for Australian Agriculture, and we are, with the national food plan, trying to develop with the industry. I attended a workshop recently hosted by the National Farmers Federation—a very good one with many industry representatives. One of the things that came out from that forum was that the industry needed to talk with one voice.

Everybody in this chamber is very supportive of this industry. I know you are. I have listened to you over the years. You have come forward with terrific ideas. Irrespective of the politics, we need to get it on the agenda. When you have 100 representatives from different aspects of the industry and they are all asking for different things at times—yet when you really sift through it they are asking for similar things—you have to say to yourself that the industry has a responsibility to get itself organised so that it presents an appropriate image to the public, to the government and to itself about what it is and where it wants to be, particularly by 2050. I do not know, colleagues, whether you have had an opportunity yet to have a look at the KPMG's Expanding horizons: key highlights, agribusiness in Australia 2011/12. It is worth a look. It looks towards trying to get some coherence in terms of industry, government and community about where agriculture and agricultural businesses should be in the future. That means working more collaboratively, having a coherent view and being able to present that.

One of the other things that tends to emerge from this—and I do not want to be too negative about this—is to do with the image of the industry. The industry has a responsibility in this regard—along with us; we are stewards equally with the industry, both the government and the representatives of parties that may form government. What is the image of the industry itself? The industry has been going through very difficult times for well over a decade. The problem is that what the public tend to get and the media tend to push is the negatives, the challenges, the problems. Yet when you meet and talk with farmers, farming organisations and representatives, you find energetic, enthusiastic, hard-headed, realistic, frank-talking people who tell it as it is. They often tell you how serious it is and then, when you dig deeper with them—excuse the pun—when you go beyond the surface, they also tell you how fantastic it is, what prospects are available, what opportunities exist. The ABARES materials, which we are all aware of now, clearly point out that agriculture has a fantastic future, not just here but in feeding the world.

I had the great privilege recently of leading a delegation into the ASEAN region, and some of the messages that came out of it were very positive, including, first and foremost, Australia's fantastic reputation for having innovative food and fibre manufacturers and producers. So take a pat on the back. We do not encourage or nurture that enough. The second thing that came through is the whole framework of food safety about our agriculture products, in particular, and the produce that we export. It is food security in the sense of not just being able to grow it but also certification. I know we overregulate; I know we get problems with this all the time. Australian food is safe and secure and we can develop and expand it—and they want it. We have a burgeoning middle class ready to buy premium product, and we need to get on that wagon. The third thing they said is, 'Why are you afraid of our investment? We want to co-invest with you; we want to be part of your production; we want to be part of your processing. Use our marketing techniques and our abilities and networks and come over here and train instead of us going the other way so we can participate in this with you.' So we do have terrific opportunities. I agree with the member for Murray. We all have to do a lot more about it, and that goes for the industries and training organisations as well.