WINNING RURAL HEARTS AND MINDS

FARMONLINE OPINION PIECE

Food bowl, food boom, dining boom - call it what you like – the emerging middle classes of Asia have the potential to underpin our future economic prosperity, but only if we are smart.

I don’t believe we’ve been quite smart enough – at least not yet.

And while I believe our success or otherwise will be primarily determined by the private sector and its industry leaders – who already have significant runs on the board - I do believe there are important roles for government and therefore, a rewarding role for the nation’s Agriculture Minister.  I want to be part of this.

I cite 8 areas in particular where I believe effective government action will be critical:  Laying out a strategic vision and plan; tackling the tough natural resource allocation questions; securing the right market access outcomes; establishing the best methods for leveraging public infrastructure funding; establishing and maintaining a regulatory regime which addresses real market failure issues without unnecessarily burdening business with red tape and which is welcoming of investment, including foreign investment; protecting Australia’s safe, clean green image as a provider of food; maximising our research & development effort – allowing us to do more with less while delivering niche products and high returns; and building human capital through world’s-best-practice education.

Each and every one of these points present great challenges for government and so far it hasn’t done enough – not the current government, not past governments.

Doing better will require greater levels of enthusiasm across every part of government.

And it will take an enthusiastic minister to enthuse the rest.

I was enthusiastic about taking on those challenges when Kevin Rudd asked me that crucial question a year ago and I’ve lost none of that enthusiasm.

And I’m happy to say I believe Barnaby Joyce shares my enthusiasm – he’s just not as good at the job as me!

That takes me to my third point – and it’s a more political point than the previous two.

Barnaby and I have both said publically on a number of occasions that - as best we can - we want to bring a bi-partisan approach to agriculture.  We mean it.

Sure, there will be times when I have an appropriate crack at him – I’d be letting you down if I didn’t.

But on the whole we don’t want agriculture to be subject to the whims of the 3-year political cycle.  It’s too important.

So if Barnaby’s agriculture and northern Australia white papers effectively lay the groundwork for what we are trying to achieve then I’ll welcome them.

But there is a broader political point.

When I sought the opportunity to serve in the agriculture portfolio I did so partly because I wanted to make Labor as competitive as it can be in this space.

That of course is a good thing for the Labor Party’s electoral prospects but it is also – more importantly – a good thing for agriculture and the communities it supports economically and socially.

Too often I’ve seen rural electorates become stuck between a Coalition which has taken them for granted and a Labor Party which has just found them too hard.

That narrative must end and one of my key main missions in life is to be the person who ends it.

But importantly, I believe that the most effective way to win the hearts and minds in rural and regional Australia is to develop and stick to good policy.

This article was first published in FARMONLINE on Monday the 25th of August 2014.


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