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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1934

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (MaranoaSecond Deputy Speaker) (18:30): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, in this, the Federation Chamber, as it is officially now. What an appropriate place the Federation Chamber is to speak on this year being designated the Australian Year of the Farmer since, long before Federation, farmers across this nation were feeding our population and also contributing to many other countries who needed food from Australia, clean and green as it is. This is going to be a year-long celebration of the vital role farmers play in feeding, clothing and housing all Australians. It will really give us an opportunity to celebrate these achievements. At the same time, it is important that we strengthen the connection between rural and city folk across this nation. Getting those connections is also an important element of celebrating the Australian Year of the Farmer.

This motion, and the Australian Year of the Farmer, recognises the important role that farmers play in our food and fibre production. Our city cousins—and people in our regional towns, for that matter—go down to the supermarket or the local store and buy their food, and we want them to connect to the role that farmers play in providing that produce and to get the connection between the paddock and the plate. Not only is it important for our city cousins and those in larger regional areas, but it is also important that children at school during this celebration year of the farmer gain an understanding of where our food comes from. Food does not just come off the supermarket shelf; it has an origin. As we work through this year celebrating the farmer it is important that we are able to get that connection across not only to our city cousins but also to schools across this country.

Australian agricultural products and related industries inject more than $405 billion into our national economy. Australian farmers provide food for some 60 million people both in Australia and around the world each and every day. They provide food for 22 million people in Australia, and 98 per cent of our food in Australia is provided by Australian farmers. The rest of it is of course exported. The sector provides direct employment for more than 300,000 people in our nation who live and work in regional and rural Australia. But the complete agricultural supply chain, including the affiliated food and fibre industries, provides jobs for some 1.6 million Australians. That is a vital part of our national economy. In fact, one in six working people work in the agricultural, food or fibre industry in Australia.

The former Prime Minister and members of the government might say that they saved us from going into recession during the global financial crisis. But whilst there were initiatives taken by the government, which I acknowledged at the time, the agricultural sector continued to grow during that very tight economic circumstance of the global financial crisis. We had one quarter of deficit growth. In the quarter after that we were saved from going into a technical recession because the agricultural sector continued to grow. That is another reason to celebrate the importance of our farmers and our food producers across this nation. Both within and beyond our borders, Australian farmers are making a significant contribution to addressing the global food security and supply issues. When we sit down at the dinner table tonight, and around the world as families sit down around their dinner tables tonight, there will be another 240,000 mouths to feed. There will be another 240,000 mouths to feed tomorrow night. What that means is that this calendar year there will be another 40 million people—net population growth—globally. We have got to start to focus on this issue of global food security. There will be another 240,000 mouths to be fed in the world today, and another 40 million this year—that is the net number—and these are figures that have come from the OECD and the United Nations. The population is expected, globally, to grow from the current 6.5 billion to some nine billion by 2050. Of course, the other interesting thing is that the United Nations is predicting there will be a 40 per cent rise in food prices by 2020 because, as the squeeze starts to come on, supply-demand factors will come in. So not only are we celebrating this year, the year of the farmer, but there are great challenges ahead for us and our farming communities as well as for government.

I think it was the CSIRO who stated, and the UN has also stated, that in the next 40 years we have got to produce 50 per cent more food than we produce today if we are to meet this challenge. And that is against the backdrop of those countries where there are huge population bubbles, where the soil types have been farmed since before the birth of Christ. They are old—ancient—soils. They have lost lots of their organic matter. Many are in semi-arid or desert areas. And do they have a capacity to increase food production? The challenge is before us all.

I want, as a Nuffield scholar myself, to acknowledge the great role that the Australian Nuffield farming scholarships have played in the Australian agricultural industries. This year there will be some 21 Australian Nuffield scholars travelling overseas and looking at agriculture and the focus on agriculture globally, not just in our own backyard. I have two from my own constituency going this year: James Walker from Longreach and Natalie Williams from Jericho. Andrew Dewar is from Clifton in the east of my electorate; a vegetable producer, he is completing his scholarship which he was awarded last year. Nuffield is making a significant contribution to giving farmers an opportunity to study overseas, to look at the trends overseas, to gain an understanding of the great challenges ahead, and I know that all of those Nuffield scholars who come back will be able to take up the challenge that is before us. I commend Lord Nuffield for the foundation he established so long ago, and I am very privileged to have been one of the recipients of a Nuffield scholarship prior to coming into this place. I wish them all well and I know they will make a difference.

One of the things that we have got to do in this country is to increase R&D funding. What we have seen under this government is a reduction in R&D funding, and that is not what we should be doing, because R&D will indeed give us an opportunity to progress our agricultural production. It is also about developing new varieties, making sure that we can produce food in the era of potential changes to our climate. So R&D is indeed essential as we go into the next 40 to 50 years with this huge global challenge in front of us.

I want to touch just quickly on the families of my electorate of Maranoa. In fact, 22 per cent of the workforce in Maranoa, based on the 2006 Census figures—it would have changed recently with the resource sector—had worked in the agricultural sector. A quarter of the state's beef and cattle enterprises are located in the electorate of Maranoa. My own home town of Roma boasts the largest store cattle selling centre in Australia—sometimes they tell me it is 'in the southern hemisphere' but I will say 'in Australia' here. Much of the Australian sheep industry and the wool industry is based in my electorate. Meat goats are taking a much bigger place in the Charleville abattoir in western Queensland, which is processing up to 15,000 goats per week, and goat meat has the largest percentage of meat consumed of any of the meats in the world. Goat meat is the most popular in the world, and 15,000 of goats are processed in the electorate of Maranoa each and every year. There is cotton production across the Darling Downs and Dirranbandi and border regions. We have barley, of course essential in beer production, which I noticed would interest many of my colleagues. Around Dalby in my electorate we have sorghum, which is also being converted into ethanol. All the feedstock from that goes into an intensive animal-livestock feeding industry. We have fruit and small crops in the east of the electorate. Something like 10 per cent of Queensland's avocados are produced in the electorate. The story goes on. In fact, 95 per cent of Queensland's apples are produced in the electorate of Maranoa. I commend all members of this House to talk about this throughout the year. This is the Australian Year of the Farmer. I commend the directors, Chairman Philip Bruem and the Managing Director Geoff Bell. I also acknowledge Glen McGrath who is the ambassador and Her Excellency the Governor-General Quentin Bryce. This is a year to join together to celebrate the Australian Year of the Farmer. (Time expired)