Sixteen months into my time in the Agriculture portfolio I believe the learning curve is plateauing.

I am thankful to a number of industry organisations and leaders for their assistance along my learning path – including CropLife.

When I say I’ve learned a lot over the past twelve months I refer mainly to the technical minutiae.

As important as that can be, what counts for me is not so much what I’ve learned but what I’ve had re-enforced and confirmed in my mind. For example, I remain convinced – as most do – that agriculture will play a significantly larger role in the Australia economy in the future.

Just how great a role is anything but pre-determined:

• It is undoubtedly true that the global population is fast approaching 9 billion;
• It is also true that the middle classes of Asia are also growing rapidly and food demand is increasing;
• And it’s true that we are geographically located in Asia; and
• Our clean, green, safe image provides us with a competitive edge.
But here are also some realities:

• The benefits of proximity can be (and sometimes are) more than off-set by inefficiencies in our supply chains;
• The retention of our clean, green safe image is not guaranteed and will require the highest attention of government – the exact opposite of what we are currently witnessing under this Government;
• We are constrained on volume deteriorating climatic conditions and by our limited natural resources – productive land and water resources;
• Access to foreign capital will remain a challenge; and
• Domestic price inflation could become an issue if our policy settings are not right.
The Dining Boom won’t come to us, we need to go to it and the competition will be intense.

Some of the problems and challenges I’ve identified will be overcome through innovation – including by companies in the plant science and crop protection sector.

Indeed how successful we are in capitalising on the Dining Boom will be determined more by the private sector than it will by government.

But there will be a big role for government and quite frankly, we have seen many signs the current government does not know how to tackle that responsibility.

There is no overarching and comprehensive strategic plan for Australian Agriculture. We are all waiting for the Government’s White Paper but if the Green Paper is any guide, our expectation should not be high.

Surely this strategic plan should be the Government’s highest priority yet the White Paper does not even deal with important matters like natural resource sustainability.

Labor began the strategic planning process when in Government – through the Asia Century White Paper, The National Food Plan and the Feeding the Future report. But in the past fourteen months we’ve had nothing but policy inertia.  While we procrastinate, our competitors are on the march.

I should say something about the recent Free Trade Agreements – with China, South Korea and Japan. We welcome the agreements as the culmination of the work of four successive governments. Further trade liberalisation is always a good thing for Australia.
But there can be no doubt that the benefits are overstated and indeed, the China deal is not complete and a number of technical trade barriers remain in place which could take years to overcome.

Indeed, I fear the hype around the FTA’s risk introducing a level of complacency in our approach to the opportunities of Asia.

There is no room for complacency in what is a very competitive world. There can be no doubt that the benefits are overstated and indeed, the China deal is not complete and a number of technical trade barriers remain in place which could take years to overcome.

I also thank Croplife and others for the assistance they provided to me in prosecuting the case within my own Party for the reversal of Labor’s APVMA re-registration scheme.

I will always back good policy and CropLife, the NFF and others put a cogent case that the re-registration was not optimal policy.

The final outcome was a good one – we retained all the good aspects of Labor’s 2013 reforms while repealing the sticking point – a good result.

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