Another week has passed and the agriculture sector is still waiting for the Abbott Government’s long-promised agriculture White Paper.

This week during Senate Estimates the Secretary for the Department of Agriculture was asked about the White Paper and the time line for delivery. Dr Grimes stated that:

“ To the best of my knowledge, there is not a specific time frame. That is a matter for the government to determine”. 
Pg 137- Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee - Estimates 23 February 2015

 Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce need to be honest with the agriculture sector about when they can expect to see the delivery of the White Paper.

Prior to the election Tony Abbott promised that his government would deliver the White Paper within 12 months of office.

“The White Paper will be conducted by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and will report within 12 months. Our White Paper will also provide a clear, well-defined and transparent strategic approach to ensure the agriculture  sector remains a significant contributor to  the Australian economy and local communities”.

The Coalition’s policy for a competitive Agriculture sector, August 2013

The chaotic messaging from Barnaby Joyce about country of origin labelling following the Hepatitis A contamination crisis is a critical example of why the White Paper should have been delivered on time so that this very important issue can be progressed for the safety of all Australians.

Instead we saw that both Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce were slow to respond or to even grasp the enormity of the issue at hand.

Barnaby Joyce’s initial response to the Hepatitis A crisis was “A White Paper on the changes is due to go before cabinet as soon as possible before they become law".

Adding insult to injury it is not clear that Barnaby Joyce’s proposed ‘diagrammatic’ approach is a practical solution.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council’s CEO Gary Dawson said that the “Council is concerned that the government proposal does not appear to include requirements to wholly imported products. The system that's been floated today wouldn't change anything on the label of frozen berry imports”.

But what is clear is:

• That the Prime Minister’s website is now stating that “The White Paper is set for Completion in 2015”, with no specific date so we could see another 12 months of policy inertia.

• That the agriculture sector has no clear policy or strategic guidance from the Abbott Government at a time of enormous change – with both challenges and opportunities.

• That there are rumours that the Cabinet can’t agree on the White Paper’s shape and direction.

Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce can’t continue to promise farmers they’ll have answers to their questions when the White Paper is released. For many of them, it will be too late.

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