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Nationals support horticulture and agriculture industry with fair prices and prioritising water infrastructure in regional Australia

Acknowledgment and gratitude for the horticulture industry's contribution during challenging times. Commitment to support agriculture, repeal unfavourable policies, and promote fair prices. Water infrastructure and stewardship emphasised.

By news@gippsland - 7th June 2023 - Back to News

Well, thank you to the AusVeg team. Can I firstly acknowledge you, the men and women of the horticulture industry that helped our nation deliver its first surplus in over 10 years, but also your efforts during one of our nation's most challenging times since the Second World War, the supply chains that kept our nation fed during Covid-19 are something that you, your industry should be proud of.

The Liberal Nationals is grateful for the horticulture industry's role in ensuring food supply during challenging times, thanking them on behalf of the nation

The Liberal Nationals is grateful for the horticulture industry's role in ensuring food supply during challenging times, thanking them on behalf of the nation

Food security appreciation

There weren't fights over the last banana or last apple in our supermarkets while there was on toilet paper, because of your efforts, because of the professionalism and the pride and conviction of what you do in feeding our great nation and feeding parts of the world.

And we should make sure that not only the world understands that, but Australians understand that. And as the Australian Agriculture Minister at the time, I was profoundly proud that while many other parts of our economy and our society were falling apart, Australian agriculture wasn't, it continued to do its job.

Despite the adversity and the challenges that you faced, you continued to make sure that food was on those shelves, that Australians had that comfort of knowing that that primal instinct of being fed was being looked after by the men and women of the Australian agricultural sector. And for that, I say on behalf of a grateful nation, thank you.

Constructive leadership

While political fortunes have changed, my job's changed, my purpose hasn't, and becoming the leader of The Nationals, I felt it important that while my job is to hold the government to account, my job is also to make sure that I'm constructive in making sure that if there is a good idea now for regional Australia, for agriculture, for horticulture, that I'm part of that conversation and part of that solution.

And proudly, one of the first acts I undertook was to go to the government's Jobs and Skills Summit. I felt it important that regional Australia and that agriculture had a voice, had a voice in the decision-making process of the new government, and made sure that we took constructive ideas and proudly, one of the ideas that we conceived was allowing veterans and pensions to work a few more hours every week, without affecting their pay, their pensions.

That's common sense. And the government to their credit, has taken that up. We also believe that in the last Budget, one of the best ways to actually help those on social security payments, through a cost-of-living crisis is to allow all of them to work extra, every week. Instead of the Australian taxpayer putting out $40 a fortnight extra, why not get productivity out of those that are on JobSeeker, allow them to work a couple extra hours a week.

Ag visa commitment

We also have made a commitment as part of any future Coalition government that The Nationals are part of, that the Ag visa will be reinstated. And I made that commitment today. Vietnam signed up to the Ag visa and other ASEAN countries in fact have subsequently offered to also sign up, but that has been rejected by this government.

And one of the points I made at the Jobs and Skills Summit after the NFF and COSBOA, who represent many of the processing sector, identified 172,000 workers required to get food from a paddock to your plate, was that we couldn't rely solely on the PALM scheme. At best, 42,000 workers competing with aged care, childcare, healthcare.

And now the changes announced yesterday by the government are ones that we will also repeal - the restrictions on the PALM scheme will make it even more difficult, even more difficult for the hort sector moving forward, when backpackers, while coming back, are still not coming back to the scale that we need.

Worker restrictions concern

And in fact, in their latest review, we are also concerned that the government has been silent on changes to the working holiday maker, restricting it to just 12 months, which would restrict even further the number of backpackers out there in the horticultural sector.

These are serious concerns about constraints, significant constraints on you and investment decisions that you will make in your businesses about growing and moving forward. And it's important that we have a sensible conversation moving forward about how we do that.

The conversation should be about productivity and protection, increasing our productivity by giving you the tools that you need, which is the human workforce, the human capital to make sure that you can plan and invest and grow your businesses. But the protection being that those that actually go outside their scope of practice and exploit people, then should be penalised.

Balanced protection dialogue

Our focus should be on protection and making sure that our policy settings aren't skewed in a perverse way of trying to protect people that actually strip away productivity, that strip away investment confidence. That's not common sense. And that's the conversation that we'll have.

And I'll also be making sure and the constructive conversation I've already had with the government around competition policy, around some of the reforms that we started in transparency, in making sure that these increased costs that you are bearing, that the supermarkets, one, aren't profiteering from, but two are making sure that you are getting passed back to you equitably and fairly.

Fair pricing commitment

And I've written to the Competition Policy Minister and in fact had conversations about further reforms that we need to take. We're not looking to fix prices, we're just looking for fair prices, transparent prices that I think Australian consumers are prepared to pay. They're prepared to support Australian farmers for their cost of production.

So it's up to us as governments, as policy leaders, to make sure that we give them that framework. So I give you that commitment that we'll continue to work constructively with Andrew Leigh to bring forward any policy changes that he's prepared to continue on that pathway that we were as a government, that The Nationals will support, that we will support sensible competition reforms.

We think that's an equitable way about making sure your hard work is rewarded. We give you that commitment. The other commitment I give you today is the fresh food tax announcement of the Budget will be scrapped.

Equitable import policy

We will not be passing on $153 million of cost to you to pay for the biosecurity costs of your foreign competitors to bring their product to this country. The policies that we were putting in place were around a cost recovery model. In fact, you are paying for any of your exports as it stands at the moment.

There is a cost recovery component for you to export your goods around the world. And we are moving to a full cost recovery model for exporters. But so too, should it be for importers, you should not have to pay for your competitors to bring their product in.

And so that will be also around the container level. In fact, we were about to bring that in in December last year. A container levy and a full cost recovery model, not only for exporters but also for importers and to change tact and to charge Australian farmers is not common sense.

Importer cost responsibility

And so the first announcement that we made post-Budget is that that will be scrapped. That we will impose those costs on importers, not Australian farmers. And I can give you that pledge today that that will be one of the first acts of any future Coalition government.

The last piece that I think we all need to be cognisant of is about providing you the tools, the tools that you require to be able to produce the best food in the world, but to do it more efficiently and do it to a great extent. And that's about water.

It's about making sure you have water security. Sadly, there's been over $7 billion ripped out of water infrastructure spending. That's about growing the agricultural pie. If we want to have an agricultural sector that produces consistently more than $100 billion worth of output every year, then water is the way to do it.

Water infrastructure support

And we need to make sure that state governments have the courage and conviction to dig some holes, to plumb this country and to build the storages that we need to grow capacity. And the money that we put aside will be there to partner stakes, to grow and to build water infrastructure.

That's how Australian agriculture, that's how regional Australia, and that's what horticulture will play one of the most pivotal roles in. Our growth as the agricultural sector well above $100 billion will come from horticulture. And the beauty of that is the intensity of horticulture in its employment and its inputs, mean that the whole economy gets greater benefit from horticulture playing a role in that.

And so that water infrastructure is pivotal to you. It's pivotal to our nation. But so too will be water policy on the Murray Darling. Let me assure you, as a Queenslander in Adelaide, it is a little dangerous to talk about water policy, but I'm proud of the fact that when I was Water Minister, we did have support.

Water project uncertainty

We had all the states, including South Australia, support in achieving the Northern Basin review, the sustainable diversion limits we put through parliament that allows us to use infrastructure to return water to the environment, not by banks. And thirdly, the neutrality test on the extra 450 gigalitres, we even had South Australia sign up to that neutrality test - that was akin to getting peace in the Middle East.

And I'm proud of the fact that we've shown maturity as a nation. But unfortunately, I fear that we will no longer be allowed to continue on with those projects to deliver the 2,750 gigalitres in the plan through the infrastructure programs to deliver water back to the environment.

That's common sense. But unfortunately, that expiry date of June next year, I think will come and it will mean that the government will not allow the states to continue on that pathway to build the infrastructure, to return the water to the environment and then get out of your lives.

Buyback impact concerns

But even more worryingly is the 450 gigalitres extra in addition to the plan that I believe the government will move and has made very public statements about returning that water through buybacks. That will decimate, decimate regional communities. It'll decimate horticulture and agriculture.

And so it's important that as the stewards of our land, of our environment, that you are proud of your achievements in returning already over 2100 gigalitres back to the environment, participating in programs that reduce our carbon footprint and look after our biodiversity.

Stewardship recognition call

In fact, one of my proudest achievements as Agriculture Minister was introducing a biodiversity stewardship program, the first country in the world that could measure improvement in biodiversity and creating a marketplace for it. So we have a proud history, and it's important that policy makers and the broader community understand your stewardship. Because if you don't, then perverse outcomes will be at your doorstep, not just on immigration policy, but also on environmental policy.

So my closing remark is this, be loud. Be proud. You've achieved so much for our nation. Our nation sometimes takes that just simply too much for granted. But it's important that you tell them. You remind them of what you do and how you do it.

Pictures from Gippsland Greenhouse Produce Pty Ltd Facebook page.


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