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Monday, 22 October 2018
Page: 10668


Mr SNOWDON (Lingiari) (17:31): Firstly, of course, I would like to acknowledge the importance of irrigated agriculture to our economy. I most particularly want to concentrate on its importance to my own electorate of Lingiari. The NT farming and agriculture industry is one of the most diverse farming groups anywhere in Australia, with fruit, vegetables and fodder produced in the tropical north; table grape and melon growers in the arid south; cropping systems from centre pivots to hydroponics; and markets from Rapid Creek to California.

I want to acknowledge the role of the NT Farmers Association; Greg Owens, the CEO; their board, which is chaired by Simon Smith, who is the president; and their team at the Coolalinga office. This is a very important, proactive association that is growing the agribusiness hub in Katherine, educating farmers on biosecurity and advocating governments at all levels on roads, labour, water and infrastructure needs.

I spoke about how big and diverse our industry is in the Northern Territory and Lingiari. By far, mangoes are our largest crop. In 2017, it was valued at $100 million, producing around 46 per cent of Australia's mangoes. It's a very important crop to the Australian community. The Northern Territory farming industry has developed quickly, now with 10,000 hectares of irrigated horticulture over 30 years, valued at $250 million, with a total tonnage produced in excess of 184,000 tonnes. If you contemplate that, in 1980, the figure was zero, it's enormous growth.

Agribusiness has made a very substantial contribution to the economy and businesses. Rural businesses underpin and sustain a myriad of related business, from freight and transport to packaging, fencing, fertilising and equipment suppliers. Farmers in the NT inject approximately $188 million for the purchase of local goods. Agriculture businesses also engage large numbers of permanent and seasonal staff whose wages circulate through the regional centres in the Northern Territory. Farmers in the Northern Territory, bearing in mind there was zero output in 1980, employ some 4,300 people today.

Currently in operation is the Sweetest Job NT campaign. This is a mango-industry project and the latest in a series of successful campaigns and programs aimed at meeting the demand of growers for seasonal agriculture workers and to raise awareness of and connect people to seasonal work opportunities in the local area. In 2018, the Sweetest Job NT project is supported and funded by Regional Development Australia Northern Territory, NT Farmers Association, Litchfield Council and the Northern Territory Department of Trade, Business and Innovation. Launched in September this year, there are over 130 local residents registered, with 21 currently being employed. We want that, not the sort of dodgy processes that have been proposed in this federal government to make unemployed people work in industries that they are not wanted in and don't want to work in.

I would also like to make special mention of the Vietnamese and Cambodian farming communities in the Top End who featured on the ABC's Landline program last year. In the Humpty Doo and Marrakai area there are about 30 farms operated by Vietnamese and Cambodian families who came to Australia as refugees from 2003 onwards and have since chosen to move to the Northern Territory and set up Asian vegetable farms with some now also transitioning to mangoes. With very little skills or money, many form small collectives and share their equipment and workers. They now contribute $40 million to the NT economy through farming, with top quality NT products sent to markets mainly in Sydney and Melbourne, filling a major gap in the domestic market as the growing season is opposite to the main markets of South Australia. These people, I emphasise, were refugees when they first came to this place.

Water is critical to every agricultural enterprise in the Northern Territory. The Territory has significant water resources but there are serious gaps in the adequacy of current water resource management arrangements and these gaps pose a threat to the future of the industry. The industry strongly supports all efforts aimed at implementing regulated water resource management arrangements to deliver sustainable, equitable and reliable access to water resources for all legitimate water users. The industry needs to have confidence in the integrity and transparency, equity, consistency, and robustness of water resources, water resource management, policy and its application. It's very important we acknowledge how great this industry is for the Northern Territory and northern Australia generally. I might say, we produce far more than they do in the Ord, which gets a lot more publicity than we do. (Time expired)