Another week has passed and still no agriculture white paper – not in substance anyway.
There is no big picture, no vision and no strategic plan. No objectives, no goals.
After an almost two year wait, expectations of a document of quality were raised but the mood will be somewhat sombre today.
White papers are about identifying strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for the development of a high-level strategy for overcoming the weaknesses and making the most of opportunities.
Labor began the process with the Asian Century White Paper and the National Food Plan, but the Abbott Government has provided no follow-through
We were hoping for a planning document but today the Abbott Government delivered a grab-bag of promises; some good, some bad and many either vague or on the never-never.
There is no new $4 billion commitment. This headline funding figure is a mirage, inflated by economy wide non-agriculture specific infrastructure projects, drought figures based on the total value of repayable loans, and is contingent upon unlikely contributions by cash-strapped state governments.
Despite all the opportunities ahead, productivity in Australian agriculture is in decline and our share of the global market is shrinking. Today’s White Paper did little to address those issues. There is no strategic guidance and no market-based price signals.
There is no meaningful recognition of our changing climate and the role sustainability measures and best practice land management programs will play in producing sustainable profitability. The Prime Minister talks a lot about water which is important, but there is no recognition that you need good soils too.
There appears to be very little for agriculture specific skills development, so important for our productivity effort and for bringing young people back to farming.
Any attempt to address our relatively high supply-chain costs are at best vague. How much will the White Paper reduce the cost of moving cattle, grains or horticulture produce from farm to port?
The White Paper reminds us of the desperate need for more infrastructure spending. We need to be encouraging of investment, including foreign investment, but Tony Abbott is closing the door to foreign investors with his changes to the Foreign Investment Review Board rules.
At the top of the list of the disappointed will be those in the fisheries and forestry sectors, they were excluded from the White Paper process. The agribusiness and food manufacturing sectors will also be asking: what about us?
It’s been a long wait for a document that, given its contents, could have been written 18 months ago.
Today Labor had hoped to welcome the White Paper. We have been determined to take a bipartisan approach to this important sector; to take it out of the short-term electoral cycle.
Like many in the agriculture sector, Labor is disappointed.
SATURDAY 4 JULY 2015