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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3394

Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (13:24): As others speakers have noted, this is the International Year of the Farmer. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the importance of the farming sector to Australia and to the world, for that matter. I also thank the farming families of Australia for all that they do. I also, given that this motion talks about education, research and the like, acknowledge the good work that has been done for almost 100 years by the Waite Agricultural Research Institute, just out of Adelaide, and also the Roseworthy Agricultural College, which since 1883 has similarly been doing very good work. These are both colleges that the member for Murray, who has raised this issue, would like to see more students participate in.

This is an important issue and I certainly acknowledge that. It is important for the country. It is important for our economy and for our balance of trade. It is important for the families and the communities whose lives are dependent on the Australian agricultural production sector. I was reading the AgriFood Skills Australia annual report for 2010-11. I note within that report it says that the sector comprises 180,000 enterprises, employs 880,000 people and generates over $200 billion per annum for Australia's economy. Those are huge numbers, very important numbers.

Importantly, it is a sector with huge growth opportunities, producing an essential product in food and producing a product that Australia has the capacity to excel in. With some of South Australia's highest producing fruit and vegetable farmers located in the northern and north-eastern regions of Adelaide, I am acutely conscious of the sector's importance to the nation and to my own region. The Adelaide fruit and vegetable markets are located in my own electorate and I am very familiar with the activities there. I see the produce that comes into those markets; I see the level of activity that is created as a result of them and the flow-on effect that the agricultural sector has to the rest of our region, whether you are looking chemical manufacturers, irrigation suppliers, refrigeration mechanics and refrigeration manufacturers, packaging, clothing, transport, warehousing, retailing, food processing and so on. The list is endless of the community groups and sectors that rely on and benefit from a strong agricultural sector in this country.

In the brief time that I have available to me I want to make two points. In my view, the greatest threat to our agricultural sector comes from the unpredictable and extreme weather events that are confronting this country and the world, for that matter. I have to say, and I accept, that farmers have always been subjected to variable weather conditions. There is no question about that; there is no denying that. But in more recent times, consistent with scientific predictions, we have seen the incidents of floods, cyclones, droughts and bushfires increasing and the extremeness of those incidents also increasing as well as the frequency of them.

Whilst climate change is part and parcel of today's lifestyle, we are seeing it right here and now, when you look at the floods across the country that are occurring and the devastating effects that they are having on the sector as a whole. We saw it this year, we saw it last year and we saw it the year before. Those threats, in my view, pose the biggest risk to the future of the livelihoods of all of those agricultural people who depend on the land and on weather conditions. It was even more concerning when I read in a report that was only recently released by some of the climate scientists of Australia that in the future things are looking even more dire. Some of the comments they made were: 'Very significant reductions in average rainfall, increases in temperature and increases in extreme weather events across the major agricultural production zones suggest future decreases in production for agricultural commodities.' They went on to say, 'The area in which crops are likely to be viable will change significantly and Australia's food surpluses will likely shrink and potentially become negative in some years and in some scenarios.' That is what the climate scientists are saying, and those are certainly issues of concern. That brings us back to the question of putting more research into graduates so that they can better adjust to the changing climatic conditions, and I think that is one of the good reasons why we need to do that. Another point, which I do not have time to elaborate on, is that in recent decades we have, in my view, missed out on huge opportunities in the agricultural sector by not allowing to value add to the food that is produced in this country. All too often we are sending food offshore to be processed and, in turn, repackaged and then we are receiving it back in this country. We need to support those industries, which could do that on our own home ground. (Time expired)

Debate interrupted.