19 MARCH, 2014

Topics: Tasmanian Fruit and Vegetable Taskforce


ANNOUNCER: The Tasmanian Fruit and Vegetable Taskforce has been announced by the Federal Government. In the lead-up to the federal election Prime Minister Tony Abbott promised to establish the taskforce to come up with new ways to improve productivity, competitiveness and job numbers. Federal minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce will be part of the taskforce, as well as representatives from vegetable farming company Harvest Moon, processor Simplot, fruit and mushroom producer Costa as well as fruit and vegetable producer representatives including the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Tasmanian Irrigation. Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Senator Richard Colbeck, told Jane Ryan the aim is to incorporate recommendations made by the group into the Agricultural White Paper which is due out later this year.

COLBECK: We had a pretty good look around the state at key players in the fruit and vegetable industry. We wanted to get a range of perspectives from people who are innovators and would sit down and work with us and look ahead at the future for the industry. We also wanted people who have played an important role in developing policy work that was presented to the government and then opposition prior to the election.

RYAN: The taskforce's purpose is to establish where different levels of productivity can be improved and also to have a look at how regulation can be reduced where it impedes productivity. Can you tell me exactly how you see this rolling out?

COLBECK: We established the terms of reference for the taskforce and the general scope that we're looking to is around increasing returns for the growers, reducing costs, increasing competitiveness, investment and jobs growth across the supply chain. Of course one of the important things, which the growers themselves brought to us before the election, was the development of markets both domestically and for export. They're the things we will be focussing on during the work of the taskforce.

RYAN: These are lofty goals and they've been held for some time by many people operating within the fruit and veg sector. Can you tell me what's going to be different about this taskforce, is this just another talk-fest?

COLBECK: We are really determined that it isn't just another talk-fest and part of what we've done in our preparation for this process is we went back and looked at what's already happened in the past. We've looked at the reviews of previous processes so we can understand what the strengths and weaknesses of those have been. We've considered the reports of past processes so we can deal with all of that and not be looking back and not be repeating what has gone before us. This process can then feed into the work that the Prime Minister's economic council is going to be doing and also the Agricultural White Paper which is going to set out a framework for the future.

RYAN: A lot of the issues that are actually influencing the productivity levels of producers in Tasmania extend further than issues of production. We've already got a freight taskforce in Tasmania. To what degree will the Fruit and Vegetable Taskforce be actually addressing issues of infrastructure and trade negotiations outside of Tasmania?

COLBECK: There is important work happening in a number of those areas and I don't think it's valuable for the taskforce to be going over all of those issues as well. Those issues obviously need to be acknowledged because input costs are a key factor in grower returns, which is part of the scope of what the committee is going to be looking at. I don't want this to be just focussed on what government needs to do because government can't resolve all of the issues on its own. This process needs the industry to be stepping up where it needs to as well.

RYAN: You met with Simplot vegetable growers in the lead up to the election and they had a fairly strong outline of a plan to improve productivity. I'm wondering, have those members been invited to the taskforce and will any elements of that plan that has already been established be used or utilised though this taskforce process?

COLBECK: Yes and yes. Andrew Craigie, Stuart Greenhill, David Addison, and Simplot themselves are all participating in this process. We have drawn on the work that they did as part of preparing our documentation for the taskforce.

RYAN: When will the first meeting be?

COLBECK: The first meeting is set down for early April so that's not too far away and we're just preparing arrangements for that now and we'll be making an announcement about that a little bit closer to the event.

RYAN: Lastly, I'm wondering whether you think it is reasonable to anticipate some policy changes coming out of this taskforce?

COLBECK: The appointment of the taskforce members is only for a short period, it is only for four months. It's a very intensive process and we want to get the work done and we want to get the report prepared and handed to government so we can actually start to move. It's important that we get that done pretty quickly because it needs to feed into the Agricultural White Paper. We are very determined to get the Tasmanian economy moving again, so we'll be also talking to the Tasmanian government to have a cooperative approach across two levels of government and with industry. Hopefully we can get some really good recommendations in respect to policy for both governments to pick up and start implementing to the benefit of the fruit and vegetable industries in Tasmania.

190314 ABC Country Hour - Fruit and Vegetable Taskforce - Colbeck
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