Address to Australian Egg Corporation Limited Industry Forum, Canberra



19 NOVEMBER, 2014


Thanks very much for the invitation to be here and for the story of my life, although I was cured of dairy farming very quickly; I left dairy farming when I was about 18 and got a trade in town because being tied to the farm on a daily basis I found was a bit tough.

I would firstly like to engage in some parochial hometown praise and congratulate Danny Jones (Pure foods) on his rural egg farmer of the year award, well done.

This is not my first stint in the portfolio I had a crack at being Parliamentary Secretary for agriculture back in 2004/05 and at that point in time had responsibility for the R&D corporations, so I've got to know quite a few of you at that point in time. It gave me recognition of the importance of agricultural research and development and the role that it plays, particularly in maintaining profitability at the farm gate. One of the key focuses for us as a government is working to ensure that there are strong returns to growers inside the farm gate and therefore the importance of our R&D programme.

We spend as a government something in the order of $700 million a year on rural R&D and extension, the extension being a very important part of it. One of the key planks of our agricultural policy at the last election was an additional $100 over four years to go into rural R&D with a number of key focuses. One key focus obviously was ensuring profitability behind the farm gate, but we also wanted to increase the value of primary production and strengthen primary producers' ability to adapt to opportunities and threats. Something that has been a difficulty for a lot of sectors for a considerable period of time and comes up in reviews again and again is strengthening on farm adoption and improving information flows. So they are the key areas we are focusing on with that $100 million.

Another area we're looking to pick up on is collaboration across all R&Ds and that is very important. A number of reports in the rural R&D sector over a number of years have emphasised the real need to ensure that there is value for dollar that's collected by the R&D corporations, converted into research and then extended back out to the industry.

There is a concern in some sectors that there hasn't been enough collaboration and there's been some duplication of effort. Given the tightness of the budget at the moment, and considering the tightness of the R&D dollar that's available, ensuring that the funds are spent effectively on behalf of the growers who it's taken from through the levy process, and then matched by the tax payer for the R&D effort, is important. We must make sure we get value for money and ensure that there's a return at the farm gate.

Of course with the drop off in productivity that's been demonstrated unfortunately over recent years, again there needs to be a focus on ensuring there's no duplication and that there is a strong focus on effective R&D and extension back to growers. That's really important.

Another really key part of our broader policy framework is the development of the Agricultural White Paper. The focus that Agriculture Minister Joyce has put on in that document is looking to see measures that will return profits back to the farm gate; it's a key plank of the focus of him and myself in the portfolio but also of government. We want agriculture to be recognised as one of the five key pillars of the economy and therefore it has to be a profitable enterprise in that context. So the Green Paper, as you would all be aware, is currently open for public comment and submissions close on the 15th of December. We urge your engagement with that process because the purpose of a White Paper is to provide a foundation block for policy into the future.

One thing I'd have to say I'm really pleased about is the strong sense of bipartisan support being espoused by the Shadow Minister Joel Fitzgibbon. I think if we can remove the political contest around agriculture, given that there will be some different perspectives around some elements, it makes for a much sounder base for the sector going forward. That's clearly the intention of the White Paper process.

One of the other elements that the government's working on very hard is reducing unnecessary regulation. We've already held two days where we've removed significant amounts of red tape out of the economy, we said we wanted to reduce it by $1 billion per year - at this point of time we've actually exceeded that number. I'm always willing to hear industry suggestions as to where you reasonably see that we can remove red tape or green tape. I think there are opportunities to continue to do that, bearing in mind that when we made our initial assessments through the taskforce before the election we found that a large part of that red tape wasn't necessarily at a commonwealth level, it was at a state level. State governments are saying to us that they're looking for ways to reduce impost on industry so we're more than happy to share that information with them and urge them to do likewise.

We're trying to take unnecessary regulation off the books, trying to provide unity in regulations across state boundaries, but also to reduce cost of government to industry. That's a very important focus and it's a conversation that we have regularly with our departments. I can assure you that the target for the department of agriculture is what I would call very ambitious - some may call it brave - but it's a big number. It's going to be very difficult to meet the target so your perspectives on how we might meet that are very welcome. If there are things that you think we might be able to do in that perspective, I'd certainly invite you to provide us with information around that.

One of the key planks of the agriculture portfolio is obviously biosecurity; we know that plays a significant role in your industry. We see concerns around outbreaks of particularly avian diseases, that is something that's of significant concern to us and it is probably one of the key functions of the department of agriculture. We really try to maintain a strong level of effort around that part of the portfolio, despite the budget pressures. Whether it's working offshore with our neighbours to ensure we don't get incursions across from those close neighbours, whether it's working within the country to deal with particular outbreaks that might occur, or whether it's dealing with exporters or farmers around their particular issues about market access - that's an important part of the role that we undertake in terms of biosecurity.

Of course, then there's the internal industry issues that you face yourself, particularly the arguments round classification of your product, eggs, in the supermarket. One of the key elements of that is where the market is actually driving the supply chain, that's not necessarily something that government can or will seek to influence, perhaps not something that we should seek to influence, but we're more than prepared to provide support and work with industry in the development of appropriate standards. We understand there is some good work that's being done at the moment in that context and we certainly support that. At the end of the day, there will be a market demand for a range of products and we would see the industry innovating over time to meet that market demand. I think it's very important that supplies to the market are well understood, the demands of the market are well understood and there's an opportunity to work with those in the supply chain to supply that market.

We well understand the difficulties in dealing with some of those who like to impose their perspective on the industry, and as someone who also has responsibility for fisheries and forestry, I can tell you it's something I feel very passionate bout. In relation to the forestry industry there are those who don't even want a native based forestry industry to exist, so we certainly understand those pressures and are more than happy to work with you to ensure that they are managed appropriately and perhaps some conversations later around some of the toolkit to deal with that might be an opportunity.

I understand that I've, or someone on my behalf, has indicated I'm happy to take questions and I certainly am. So I'll leave it at that and you'll probably get more value out of asking me what you really want to know rather than what I would like to tell you.

So again, thanks for the invitation to be here and I look forward to catching up with you during the day and I will also be at dinner this evening. Thank you.

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