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Monday, 26 November 2012
Page: 13292

Mr SIDEBOTTOM (BraddonParliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (12:06): We all know there are sections in the Australian economy that are under great strain, particularly due to issues like the high Australian dollar and increased imports. I do not need to remind members here that the agricultural community is far from immune to these forces. This includes sectors like the processing and fresh vegetable sector, which has a big presence in my electorate. To assess where we are and discuss options for the future, the Australian government is well on the way to delivering the nation's first ever national food plan. This is a commitment that we made at the last election. Following the release of the national food plan green paper by Minister Ludwig on 17 July, extensive stakeholder consultation has been undertaken and continues at this very moment. Feedback from this process is being used to inform the development of the national food plan, which will be released as a white paper in 2013.

The green paper is a discussion document intended to seek the community's views, to stimulate debate and launch the second part of the government's consultation process to develop the plan. The first part was the issue paper released in June 2011. Contrary to the assertions made by the member for Forrest in this motion, the green paper does address producer viability and outlines how current policy addresses issues affecting the food system including agricultural productivity, market access and skills and development. It also discusses potential changes the government may consider to policy programs and governance arrangements. The national food plan green paper sought feedback on a number of possible policy options in relation to improving producer viability, including increasing public expenditure on rural research and development, R&D, over the next 10 years, improving the rural research and development corporation model to enhance its effectiveness and efficiency, which we can do, ways government and business can expand food trade opportunities particularly with Asia, and an industry led working group to prepare a workforce development strategy focusing on ways to better use existing labour and skills initiatives in the agricultural sector.

The government is developing a national food plan to ensure its policies support its vision for a food system where Australians continue to enjoy a sustainable, globally competitive, resilient food supply that supports access to nutritious and affordable food. It is an important step to ensure a more integrated, coordinated and strategic focus to food related policy along the supply chain. The national food plan will link and complement the recently released R&D policy statement and the Australia in the Asian Century white paper.

In addition to the food plan, the government has released the Australia in the Asian Century white paper, which includes a national objective for Australian agriculture and food, and a case study showcasing the significant opportunities for the sector. I draw your attention to chapter 7 of that paper. The national objective outlines the vision for the agricultural and food sector and identifies pathways that will be taken to position Australia to meet the growing demand for food and capture the opportunities of the Asian century. Global food demand is expected to rise by over 30 per cent by 2025, with most demand coming from Asia. Our agriculture and food sector is extraordinarily well-placed to build on its strengths and to capture a healthy share of these growing markets, despite fierce competition. The white paper outlines how Australia can make the most of these opportunities through lifting productivity, enhancing capabilities, securing better access to markets—that in particular is crucial—having a shared interest in food security and building relationships in the region, again, is absolutely essential. Australia can build a food and production system that is globally competitive with productive and sustainable agriculture and food businesses, and a reputation as a reliable supply of safe, high quality food, agricultural products, services and technology to Asia. It also emphasises the importance of leadership and strong policy frameworks.

Productivity growth has been a main driver of the profitability of Australian agriculture and future productivity growth will be a key determinant of future income growth. Productivity growth in Australian agriculture over 25 years to 2011 has been about three per cent per year compared to one per cent across the market sector overall. R&D plays a vital role in supporting productivity growth in Australian agriculture, and the government's matching contributions are a key factor in leveraging industry contributions. We are a strong supporter of R&D; investing in the order of $700 million a year for rural R&D through cooperative research centres, the CSIRO, universities, RDCs and many other programs.