ABC HOBART – TASMANIA COUNTRY HOUR
FRIDAY, 7 AUGUST 2015
SUBJECT/S: Tasmania visit; Water trading
TONY BRISCOE: Federal Labor’s Agriculture Spokesman, Joel Fitzgibbon is in the north of the State today after spending yesterday around the south talking to various farm groups. Joel Fitzgibbon has been meeting with mayors and some rural service organisations this morning to scope out priorities for an integrated agriculture plan. He is speaking here with Rosemary Grant.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AFFAIRS: Well of course the Labor Party is in that policy development phase and we’re coming to Tasmania regularly, not just me, but other shadow ministers. I suppose learning from people on the ground, drawing on that experience and that local knowledge, to ensure that at the next election we take a Tasmania policy package, one which is integrated, which is across the board, and provides Tasmania with the best opportunities it has to take up what are very significant challenges but also very significant opportunities for the island state.
ROSEMARY GRANT: Well let’s take both of those in turn. The significant challenges - what are the issues, what’s missing at the moment?
FITZGIBBON: Well distance of course is always a challenge for Tasmania and I’ve heard a lot about freight rates for example, and indeed capacity over the last couple of days. But the opportunities in terms of the middle class food demand in Asia are very, very significant and we need to ensure that Tasmania is best placed to take up those opportunities. We want Tasmania to be a major provider of food in Asia. We have a wonderful brand here: a clean green safe image and of course we want to push agriculture further up the value chain so that we are delivering the highest possible return at the farm gate.
GRANT: That sounds very similar to the broad thrust of the Coalition’s Agriculture White Paper doesn’t it?
FITZGIBBON: Quite to the contrary. There were high expectations that with respect to the White Paper we would see a big picture approach, high level strategic assessment and therefore guidance for the agriculture sector. Instead all we saw was a grab bag of announcements here and there, announcements that could have easily been made 18 months ago. Expectations were raised and I think people more broadly are quite disappointed.
GRANT: I know it’s not fashionable these days to announce your policies very much ahead of the next election but what are you formulating?
FITZGIBBON: Well certainly I’m not announcing policies today; I’m here to gather information. Anthony Albanese was here last week, Julie Collins is at it all the time and you will see a whole succession of shadow ministers in Tasmania over the coming months doing exactly what I’m doing. But we need an integrated plan for Tasmania. Today for example we heard a lot about skill shortages so it’s not just what we do - if you like inside the farm - or indeed even in food manufacturing, it’s about ensuring that we have the infrastructure – the roads, the rail, the ports, the broadband - that the sector will need to be successful and of course the people and the skills we need in the sector. Also research and development and innovation and ensuring we get that innovation down onto the farm at the farm level.
GRANT: Is this then not happening at the moment?
FITZGIBBON: It’s happening to an extent but it’s very very patchy and the key thing for me is to ensure that we’re not chasing so much volume but value. Ensuring that we’re not part of the commoditisation of the sector but we’re chasing niche markets where our producers can secure the highest return and I think there is a role for government in ensuring we do step on the right path.
GRANT: Can I ask you lastly about irrigation and water, you’ve met with Tasmania Irrigation this morning?
FITZGIBBON: I met with Tasmania Irrigation this morning. Of course the Labor Party is very proud of its legacy in that regard. Together with the former State Labor Government we invested some $240 million to not only kick start that scheme but to get it where it is today. It’s one of those big productivity enhancing measures that governments can be proud of and I’m very pleased that it continues now on a bipartisan manner. And I think, you know, in 20 years’ time people will look back and say; wow, what a wonderful thing that was for Tasmania and what a wonderful thing it has done for Tasmanian productivity.
GRANT: It’s got to the stage now that we are entering the era of water trading. This month there’s to be an auction of water from Tasmania Irrigation. The Liberals Member for Murray, Sharman Stone has suggested there needs to be broadly more transparency of water trading in Australia. What do you think of that?
FITZGIBBON: Well transparency is always very very important but so too is an adherence to market -based solutions and I do think we have to have a market-based approach to water. Look our natural resources are so important to us and we need to ensure that those natural resources - our soil and water resources in particular - are going to the areas where they’re going to deliver the highest return not only for growers or producers but also for the Nation. And I believe we can do more in soils. There is a lot of talk about dams for example and those sorts of systems, but you know it’s true that we can improve our soils and water retention in our soils for example, more quickly then we can build dams, and I’d like to see a market-based focus on our soils as well. In this the Year of the Soils - as mandated by the United Nations - there is too little talk about soil quality here in Australia and more sustainable and more productive farming processes because that will bring sustainable profitability.
GRANT: So by a market based approach you mean the highest value soils going to the highest users?
FITZGIBBON: Well first of all the sort of R&D innovation we need to lift the productivity of our soils but the former Labor Government’s approach to carbon for example – carbon sequestration - was in a sense a market-based approach to how we manage our soils and I think we need to think a lot more about that.
GRANT: Shadow Agriculture Spokesmen, Joel Fitzgibbon speaking there to Rose Grant in Launceston after a 2 day trip through Tasmania.