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NFF's 25th anniversary year address by NFF President, Mr Peter Corish, NSW Farmers' Association Annual Conference, The Wentworth Hotel, Sydney.



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C H E C K A G A I N S T D E L I V E R Y

NFF’s 25th Anniversary Year

Address by NFF President, Mr Peter Corish

NSW Farmers’ Association Annual Conference, The Wentworth Hotel, Sydney

22 July 2004

• Acknowledgements

Introduction

• Thankyou for the invitation to address the NSW Farmers’ Association Annual Conference - it’s great to be here.

• I note the theme of the conference this year is conservation farming, which is particularly timely given the significant win we have just achieved on national water reforms.

• I will come back to that issue in a moment, along with the pressing issues in relation to resource security over land and native vegetation.

• 2004 is NFF’s 25th Anniversary year and it has been a very big year for NFF and for Australian farmers in relation to our key policy priorities. I would like to talk about the latest developments in some of these key policy areas.

Resource Security

• Let me address in some detail the policy issues being tackled by NFF which tie in with the theme of your conference - conservation farming.

• Last month’s COAG meeting in Canberra resulted in a significant win for farmers in relation to National Water Initiative.

• The Intergovernmental Agreement for the National Water Initiative, agreed at COAG, will provide the long-term certainty that is needed by farmers, rural communities and the environment.

• Advances in water efficiency will only be made if farmers have clear security and tenure over access to water.

• The NWI should give farmers the confidence to invest in the latest efficient and environmentally sustainable management practices and to give banks and financiers certainty to support these investments.

• NFF will continue to work with the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments to ensure that the interests of farmers continue to be recognised during the process of implementation of the NWI.

• The next major policy priority for NFF in relation to resource security - that of land and native vegetation - presents a big challenge.

• Well before the last election, NFF decided that resource security in regard to both water and land would be our number one priority and we received commitments from both major parties in relation to these issues.

• While water has now been dealt with through COAG, the Government decided the way forward on native vegetation would be to start with a Productivity Commission inquiry.

• There is a real issue about the lack of consistency and integration of Commonwealth, State and intra-state biodiversity and native vegetation regulations which in turn is resulting in unacceptable development uncertainties for farmers.

• The Commission’s draft report in December recognised that inflexible environmental rules had imposed a significant burden on landholders and had in fact served as a barrier to efficient and sustainable farming practices.

• The Commission accepted farmers’ concerns that some rules imposed costs and hardships on farmers with little or no environmental benefits, and that in some circumstances these have led to perverse environmental outcomes.

• The final report was handed to the Treasurer on 14 April and NFF has been calling for it to be released as soon as possible.

• We have issued a number of press releases and written to the Treasurer on a number of occasions calling for it to be released before the Federal election.

• NFF believes the Commission’s report will underscore its call for COAG to address the issue of land and native vegetation.

• The Deputy Prime Minister, the Hon John Anderson MP said at the ABARE Conference in March that the Commonwealth Government would be looking beyond water to native vegetation management over the next three years:

• “I will be aiming to work with the States and Territories to reform the laws on the basis of the same principles we are applying to water: good science, the establishment of secure rights, market-based incentives and working in partnership with landholders and their communities.”

• NFF certainly welcomes this commitment by the Deputy Prime Minister and we believe the first step is to release the Productivity Commission report.

• The ALP has also recently indicated that it will work through COAG to develop an IGA on sustaining our land base and protecting Australia’s unique biodiversity.

• While water was a big challenge under our federal system, land and native vegetation will be far more complex and difficult to resolve. NFF will continue to push for an outcome which delivers farmers the security they need over their land and native vegetation to ensure that we can continue to farm sustainably into the future.

• I would like to now touch on some other important work by NFF on federal policy issues.

Trade

• You may have noted that the US Congress passed the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement last week.

• This is a very positive development. While NFF was disappointed about several aspects of the deal and our expectations were not met in a range of areas, particularly the outcome on sugar and beef, on balance NFF supports the agreement because of the significant market access opportunities for some agricultural commodities.

• In this regard, NFF is pleased that legislation to bring the agreement into force has been endorsed by lawmakers in the US.

• NFF calls on the ALP to support the agreement in the Australian Senate, so that the market access opportunities that do exist for Australian farmers can be realised.

• NFF is also currently engaged in high—level discussions with the Australian Government on the World Trade Organisation agriculture negotiations.

• Next week in Geneva WTO member countries will attempt to come to an agreement on moving the agriculture negotiations forward.

• Yes, these multilateral agreements take time and are never perfect, but we are making progress.

• We are, for example, on the verge of seeing the elimination of all forms of export subsidies in agriculture.

• NFF is also pushing hard for a real and meaningful reduction in tariffs.

Drought

• Some 87 per cent of New South Wales is now back in drought and winter conditions are taking their grip.

• NFF recently secured a commitment from the Federal Minister to adopt a streamlined approach to the consideration of Exceptional Circumstances (EC) extensions, for regions facing ongoing drought.

• The Minister has claimed the decision may benefit up to 35,000 farmers, many of which will be NSW farmers.

• While the EC extension decision will deliver peace of mind to those eligible farmers facing the unrelenting pressures of drought, there is no doubt the EC policy does need serious overhaul.

• Prolonged delays, confusion over selective declarations including certain industries and not others, and inflexible eligibility criteria have left many farmers wondering whether EC policy is set up to fail.

• The message to the Federal and State Ministers at the National Drought Roundtable was clear:

• “While farmers recognise the need for criteria, the future EC declaration system needs to be a whole lot simpler and farmers need to be given the chance to mount their own case against the assistance criteria.”

• There was also strong agreement that future drought assistance should be about a hand up and not a hand out, and should support farmers in the good years to implement drought preparations through tax incentives, enhanced FMDs, R&D and FarmBIS.

• In the months since the Roundtable, NFF has maintained pressure on the PIMC and officials to forge ahead with meaningful changes to the NDP.

• The PIMC will meet in Melbourne next Tuesday with the single objective of advancing drought reform.

• After reviewing the Policy Options Paper prepared by Federal and State officials, NFF is optimistic that a commitment can be reached on simplifying and streamlining the EC declaration system.

• NFF will be also calling on Ministers to enhance the accessibility of current preparedness programs; reaffirm support for EC business support and commit to considering new and improved preparedness options for endorsement at the October PIMC meeting.

Industrial Relations

• The NFF Industrial Relations Committee continues to work hard on a number of fronts and I know the Chair of that Committee, Duncan Fraser, will be keeping you updated on that work so I don’t propose to go into a lot of detail today.

• However, I would like to highlight that NFF had a significant win this month when the Australian Government decided to cut red tape associated with superannuation. The Government clearly listened to farmers’ concerns and decided to remove the employer superannuation notification requirements introduced in July last year.

Transport

• NFF was also pleased that the Federal Government heard our call for a significant broadening of fuel excise rebates, which was announced under the Government’s Energy White Paper last month.

• This move will cut farm costs and simply tax compliance for farmers.

• Farmers will be able to obtain a full rebate for all offroad business activities, and not just for diesel, but for all fuel. Our only disappointment is that these changes will not be fully implemented until 2012.

Market Dominance Issues

• At the NFF Annual Conference last month it was agreed that if significant improvements in the Retail Grocery Code of Conduct were not achieved we would have no choice but to call for a mandatory code of conduct, ensuring that no cost is imposed on producers.

• NFF was disappointed earlier this month by the Federal Government’s response to the Review of the Code. The Government’s response does not go far enough in addressing the problems facing farmers - including abuse of market power and a lack of fair trading.

• NFF supports the Federal Opposition’s proposals this month for major improvements to the Retail Grocery Code, including changes to improve mediation, Code definitions and administration of the Code. NFF looks forward to seeing more detail on the Opposition’s policy and we would like to see the Government consider this approach.

• In relation to the Trade Practices Act, the Government’s introduction of legislation to reform the Act will provide farmers with a long-awaited tool to address market dominance issues.

Federal Election

• Many of the issues I have mentioned will make up the NFF Federal Election Priorities, the final details of which will be considered by the NFF Policy Council in late August.

• On top of these issues, our priorities will include industrial relations, farm costs, including labour costs and enhancements to the Tax Zone Rebate arrangements.

• While the election spotlight has been cast on the marginal seats on the fringes of our capital cities, with 11 of the 18 marginal seats in rural and regional Australia, no party will be willing to turn their back on regional Australia.

• NFF will be emphasising that good farm policies are good regional policies, and that NFF’s election priorities advance the interests of all regional Australians.

• NFF will be looking for, and has in some cases already secured, clear commitments from both major political parties on our key priorities.

• NFF looks forward to working closely with NSW Farmers’ in ensuring farm issues are given the priority they deserve in our 42nd Federal Parliament, who ever may occupy the front bench.

NFF Restructure

• As NFF celebrates its 25th Anniversary this year, it is fitting that the NFF Council last month agreed to restructure NFF to ensure it continues to be a strong voice for Australian farmers.

• The restructure, which involves the creation of a separate Finance Trust, Board and Policy Council, will give NFF greater flexibility for fundraising and will enable more efficient corporate governance.

NFF 25th Anniversary

• Finally, can I just comment briefly on NFF’s 25th Anniversary celebrations. Tomorrow at NFF House, I will launch the NFF 25th Anniversary Album - a book of history, photographs and other nostalgia in celebration of 25 years of achievement for Australian farmers.

• Copies of the book will be available through NFF House and extracts of the book will be posted on the NFF website in the near future.

• I commend the book to you and I encourage you all to join in celebrating what we, as NFF and its members, have achieved in the past 25 years by working together.

• One of the great aspects of this anniversary is that as much as it is about reflecting on our past successes and achievements, it is also about looking forward to future challenges. And reflecting on our past achievements means reflecting on what we, as farmers, can achieve when we stand strong and united.

• Together, NFF and NSW Farmers Association have a proud record of working for and achieving policy outcomes to the advantage of farmers in NSW and Australia.

• We at NFF thank you for your dedication and we look forward to being part of the same team for the next 25 years and beyond.

• Thankyou

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