SUBJECT/S: Labor’s plan for jobs; Productivity and sustainable profitability in the agriculture sector; Dairy crisis; Red meat sector.

LUCY BRENNAN, HOST: Joel, what’s your plan for Australian agriculture, how will our producers, growers and farmers benefit from a Labor led Government?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: The foundation of our plans are productivity, jobs and sustainable profitability. You know agriculture has so many wonderful opportunities but it also faces many challenges including a changing environment. The reality is our agriculture sector in recent years has been most marked by falling productivity, low profits and of course shrinking global market share. There is much work to be done. We can stay on the current path to moderate success or we can take a higher road to value add, to high profitability on a sustainable basis and that’s my plan.

HOST: And will this plan help Australian agriculture realise its full potential? Just today we’ve had Australia’s largest dairy cooperative – Murray Goulburn – announce that it’s further slashing the price that it’ll pay milk suppliers next season. There are some big challenges ahead for the ag industry.

FITZGIBBON: It’s all about helping agriculture to reach its full potential. It’s the private sector the enterprise of people which will ultimately determine its success but I firmly believe that government has a role both in supporting the sector but providing strategic guidance. Where I want to take it is on that high road to value-added products where others can’t match us, products which are niche, if you like, which receive a higher return. We need to get out of this heavy reliance on commodity markets where we are effectively price takers and dairy is a perfect example where we’re subject to fluctuating global prices and that is having a devastating impact at the moment on the dairy industry.

HOST: Joel, does Labor’s agenda include reviewing commonwealth funding of agricultural research and development institutions? We know how important R&D is for the ag sector. Will you be making any cuts to this particular funding if elected?

FITZGIBBON: Certainly not. We want to invest much more in research and we’ll restore the money that the Abbott-Turnbull Governments have cut to the CSIRO for example and we’ll certainly maintain funding levels for our research and development corporations. We are also building new institutions like my Institute for Biosecurity which will be so important to productivity. It’s effectively a war on weeds and other invasive species, but I do want to have a look at the research and development corporations to ensure that they are spending their money – the levy payer’s money in fact – in the most effective and efficient way and I’ll certainly be doing that. We can’t afford to be wasting one cent of that precious research money.

HOST: There’s a bit of talk about a deal that Labor has supposedly done with the Animal Justice Party, I’m hoping you can clarify this Joel. There are concerns a deal like this could lead to the end of Australian livestock production. Has Labor agreed to develop and expand innovative which can maximise plant-based food production.

FITZGIBBON: And that’s just a silly beat up. Of course the Labor Party is absolutely dedicated to our red meat sector. It’s the backbone of our agriculture sector. Just because we are interested in further diversifying our agriculture products doesn’t mean that we are doing it at the expense of other products, it’s just a silly thing to suggest. Asia is going to be very hungry. There will be heavy demand for beef, but there’ll also be heavy demand for other commodities and other products and we want to make sure that Australia is well placed to provide any and all of those.

HOST: So this deal with the Animal Justice Party to increase plant-based food production here in Australia will not impact our livestock industry?

FITZGIBBON: No, and the suggestion that it might is just a silly one and it demonstrates the National Party is desperate and it's particularly desperate in New England where of course Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is under threat of losing his electorate.

HOST: Joel, just days until voters do head to the polls, why should we support Labor?

FITZGIBBON: Well from an agriculture sector perspective we have plans that will rejuvenate our regional areas – our rural communities. We’ll do so by investing in people and infrastructure, in research and development, in productivity. We have a plan to take agriculture on a high value road where it’s not just hostage to commodity prices. That’s where agriculture needs to be and that’s going to be a great thing for our regional communities.

HOST: Well thanks so much for your time today Joel and all the best for the last few days of campaigning.

FITZGIBBON: It’s a great pleasure, thank you.


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