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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3386

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (MaranoaSecond Deputy Speaker) (11:45): I want to congratulate the member for Murray for putting this motion before the House. It is one of those very critical issues that could be lost in the general discussion or the political thrust of this place, but let us hope it is not. Let us hope that people on both sides of this House will rise to the challenge that is before all of us.

This year has been designated the Australian Year of the Farmer, and there is no better opportunity than to keep a debate like this going every week in this place. Too often I hear people on both sides of the House talking about people in a derogatory way and saying, 'They're just farmers; that's over in cockies corner. Those people—who may come from leafy suburbs or from outer metropolitan areas—are fed by the Australian farmers each and every day and their families are fed by farmers each and every day. The importance of agriculture cannot be understated. If we do not look at the alarm bells that are now ringing and do something about making sure that we get a new generation moving into agriculture, we are going to find that in 30 to 40 years' time not only will we be flat out producing enough affordable food for ourselves but many parts of the world will find themselves in a situation of starvation. There are also many right now that are in a state of starvation.

Australian farmers—and there are 135,000 farms in Australia—do an extraordinary job, but too few of their children or relatives are taking up the challenge of agriculture in the future. Those 135,000 farms feed 60 million mouths every day: 22 million Australians—we produce almost 98 per cent of the food we eat in Australia, and fibre—and another 38 to 40 million people in many other parts of the world.

We are talking about jobs here in Australia, and that is what this motion is all about. Something like 1.6 million Australians are employed directly or indirectly in the agricultural sector. The parliamentary secretary who spoke before me spoke not just about working on the farm but also about the agricultural industry beyond the farm gate—the extension work, the agribusiness, the food technology areas. There are a whole lot of very exciting sectors that young people should be made more aware of as a career path. There could be no more noble an occupation than to be a food or fibre producer in Australia and to participate in the great challenge that the world is facing in meeting the need to feed the world in the years to come. It should start at school, as the member for Murray highlights in her motion. Where is it in the first year reading book when kids, at that very impressionable age, are starting to understand where food comes from? When I went to school, in the year 1 reader—it might have been the prep 1 reader—there were stories about visiting a farm and about the very basic forms of agriculture and food so that children young enough to be in their first year at school could start to learn about the source of the food in their lunch box or the food they had for little lunch or at home at night. It sounds very basic but we have to start there; it is all about education. The other thing is to make sure that in our national curriculum there is an opportunity to promote the importance of an agricultural career as a pathway to a very noble occupation in the future. The other thing I want to see is money invested in research and development. For far too long, not only in Australia but around the world, agricultural research has taken not second place or third place but is way down the end of the line when it comes to money being invested in research and development. There seems to be more money going into developing new and faster chips for computers, iPhones and all that other gadgetry than there is going into agriculture—so that we can meet this huge challenge that the world has in relation to feeding the world by 2050, when they say that we have to produce as much food in the next 40 years as we have produced in the last 1,000 years. It is a huge challenge. Do not quote me as being accurate on those figures, but it is of that magnitude.

I commend this motion to both sides of the House. In this forthcoming budget, let us make sure that there is more money for R&D for agriculture in this year of the farmer.