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White Paper a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ chance to speak up on ag policy

James Nason, 19/12/2013

Ever found yourself thinking, while moving cattle through afternoon heat, or driving home from a tough sale, or sitting on a tractor pulling a cultivator at three in the morning, what you’d do if you ran the show?

That is, what you think needs to be done to improve farm-gate returns in Australia, if only the people in Canberra had the common sense to see it ?

If so Barnaby Joyce wants to hear from you. 

Australia’s new agriculture minister last week launched a new 'agricultural competitiveness white paper'.

There’s a fair chance that as news of the initiative was reported, terms like  ‘white papers’ and ‘green papers’ washed across the collective consciousness of the farm sector without penetrating too deeply, with many dismissing the bureaucratic jargon as just another political stunt with little significance to the real world.

However Mr Joyce is now going out of his way to try to convince grass roots producers to take notice of what he is trying to achieve with the white paper, and why he believes it offers a ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ to shape future agricultural policy.

In his words, Australia has a Government in place that is genuinely interested in making the changes required to restore the farm sector to profitability and that opportunity won’t last forever.

“We have a window of light,” he told Beef Central yesterday. “I genuinely believe Tony Abbott’s mind is in this space, but I’m not a fool, we’re not going to be here (in Government) forever, so let’s make the most of it while we have got the chance.”

So what is a white paper and what can it achieve?

In simple terms the process involves getting views from as many stakeholders across Australian agriculture as possible on what is needed to improve farm-gate returns in Australia.

The Government will then draft the the critical problems and opportunities identified during the public consultation process into a "green paper", which in turn will lead to the formation of a range of policy options which will be presented in a white paper.

The resulting policy options will then be considered by Cabinet, and those that are passed will then proceed to Parliament to be enacted into legislation.

Mr Joyce said most people had ideas on what was needed to restore profitability to agriculture, and the white paper process now presented them with a unique opportunity to express those views directly to Government.

He drew from his own experiences growing up on a farm in the NSW New England to  illustrate how he hopes the process will work.

“I don’t now how many times I would get to the sunny end of the race whilst I was drenching sheep and think, by gosh, if I ran the show, this is what I would do.

“For other people it might be that they have got a heap of forms they have to fill out, or charges that they can never quite work out why they have to pay them, they just do it because the Government tells them to do it.

“Well now is the time to say I do this reluctantly, but I think they’re BS.

“We have to those ideas because achieving anything in politics doesn’t come by divine inspiration, it comes by a process of going out and searching for the ideas then trying to deliver an outcome.

“I really do need people to submit their ideas.”

Beef Central asked Mr Joyce to offer some examples of the types of outcome in which the process could possibly result.

“One part of the policy might be a number of big new irrigation areas, with a new investment product that is attracting money from Australian super funds into building them," he said.

“Another could be the key logistics process of railway lines from ports that either should be under construction or that we should be heading towards to investing in to build agriculture.

“There (could be) a coordinated approach between state and federal Governments to remove excessive green tape that has usurped the ownership rights of so many farmers such as excessive tree clearing laws.

“Here is another idea: I don’t know why I can buy a block of flats in Sydney, and if I earn over $250,000 I can negatively gear those flats, but I can’t buy a place in the country and negatively gear it.

“And people say ‘oh those Pitt Street farmers’, well I say I like those Pitt Street farmers, they’re better than Wall Street farmers because I want Australians to be investing in Australian farms.”

One of the big questions surrounding the white paper process is whether there will be enough money available at Federal Government level to meaningfully fund any of the initiatives that are identified.

Mr Joyce told Beef Central that agriculture and mining were among the few sectors that put money on the table, and investment in these areas was crucial to the nation’s future.

He said there were a variety of ways that new initiatives could be funded, and nominated superannuation funds as one possible source.

On that note he is meeting with banking industry representatives today to discuss the policies that are needed to deliver money into agriculture.

“I’ll be asking them what are the things we need to change to get Australian superannuation funds to invest money in Australian agriculture.”

Mr Joyce said the process would not ignore previous work and that the findings of the National Farmers Federation-led Blueprint for the Bush process, which involved interviews with 4000 plus farmers, would be taken into account.

“We will be picking up all that information, even the previous government’s food survey, that all of this becomes part of this.

“If the Blueprint represents your views then we’ve got it, if someone says the Blueprint doesn’t represent their views, well okay, don’t be scared to something in yourself.

“A lot of people are paid good money to go through everything you send in.”

  • For more information on the agricultural competitiveness white paper and to have your say, click here

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