Sunday, 24 November 2013

Strong, vibrant agriculture

In the first week of the sitting of the new Federal parliament, the member for New England in NSW rose and gave his maiden speech to the House of Representatives. Barnaby Joyce is not only the new member for New England but also has been appointed Agriculture minister in the Abbott government. Barnaby has been a player in federal politics for some time and is one of the few who has moved from the Senate to the House of Representatives and in a smaller again club of those who have achieved being an elected Senator in one state, Queensland, to another state lower house seat.

Barnaby in his speech talked of family connections in the seat of New England and the importance of agriculture for Australia in the past but what was most refreshing was his support of the family farm and determination for a future of a strong, vibrant agricultural sector. 
Photo Barnaby Joyce sourced from The Land 
“My social belief, like most individuals' social belief, was immensely affected by that same life experience. It was premised on the notion that people who work hard and live decent lives, producing a good that has real worth, should be fairly paid and fairly dealt with. A nation that does not defend these people has lost its more noble instincts. In China this week the ruling Communist Party announced greater property rights for farmers. So this belief is ubiquitous and current. The farming community has always had to live with the belief that we make sacrifices because things will get better, but the better never seems to happen.

Now our debt between government and private sectors is massive. Many major businesses in mining and agriculture are now foreign owned and gone. The family farm of the 1970s is generally unviable, and the deft hand of an external conscience has crystallised so that farm management practices have to conform to a view whose religion is a quasi-alternative environmentalism—of forms, of paperwork and of trees having attained an anthropomorphic character. We have evolved to the ridiculous extent where animal rights are interchangeable with human rights.

My initial introduction to the agriculture portfolio handed over by the previous Labor government replicated the industry. It has been usurped to a point where, in many instances, it is the mere ambassador for agriculture. Water and vegetation are with state and federal environment departments. Sale of many agricultural products and land is with Trade and Treasury. Even determination of the use of agricultural products is held by independent authorities within the agricultural portfolio, with no say by the minister. I commend the Prime Minister for his decision to put forward a white paper to investigate the ways our nation can better deliver an agricultural outcome. If we are solely reliant on mines, we will live in a boom-bust cycle. If our future is only in services then we must contend with lower wages—one click away on the internet—as anything that can be done on the computer can be done somewhere else by someone else at a cheaper rate. We need a strong, vibrant agricultural sector for the future of this nation”.

The speech makes mention of a white paper into agriculture, indications are that is not going to be a token endeavour but a policy area of priority for this government. To hear that the minister, Barnaby Joyce wishes the paper to deliver policy that will rebuild resilience back into agriculture is for farmers like the listening to that first storm sound on a tin roof after prolonged drought. The elation is countered by those thoughts in the back of the mind of needing meaningful follow up to ensure a better future.

Barnaby stepped down from his Senate seat midterm to successfully contest New England. His replacement as the constitution requires is appointed by the Premier of the state of someone from the same party as the retiring member. Barry O’Sullivan was selected by the LNP party and should be the current Qld Senator replacing Barnaby but finds himself in a strange dimension of purgatory as you can read about in this Courier Mail article. Of interest is O’Sullivan’s role in the development of the white paper.  

"I think it's important that Queensland is represented as soon as possible because issues are on foot that need to be dealt with," Mr Joyce told The Courier-Mail.
"The LNP has selected Barry O'Sullivan and it is now for the parliament to send him down."

Mr Joyce is already planning an informal role for Mr O'Sullivan that will put him in an influential position in the development of the Abbott government's Agricultural White Paper.

"If he's sitting in his room at home, he's no use to anyone," he said.
"You have a resource at your disposal for the development of policy and currently that resource is not deployed."

Mr O'Sullivan welcomed the role and said he wanted to travel around Queensland to speak to farmers and other industries and "feed in as much information as I can to the minister for him to consider for his White Paper in 2014."

This white paper is too important for farmers to be affected by a political side show. Agriculture is clearly at crisis point as Ben Rees highlighted in his paper, Agriculture in Crisis - Rationalise or Reconstruct, presented at Merredin, Western Australia on April 15th 2013.  

“Today, rural Australia is at a cross-road: more of the same or, a new direction. For thirty years, the farm sector has been reconstructed and adjusted by successive political administrations and their advisors. The rural sector has been also bullied by community group spokespeople from the, environment, animal welfare, consumer groups and media.

Hopefully, this paper can contribute to understanding the failure of policy and encourage exploration of policies to rebuild a prosperous rural Australia. In this process farmers must recognise their role is to reject rationalisation; and, fight for a new direction.”

There are many farmers who would like to discuss positively solutions to the current crisis facing agriculture with any politician who wishes to come to them for information in the development of the white paper to build a resilient, strong and vibrant agricultural sector.   



  1. A great piece, Dale, with some very pertinent information contained in those extracts of Barnaby's brilliant Maiden Speech to the House of Reps.

    Never boring is our Barnaby, and how descriptively and well he describes the present day agricultural situation; for example, "farm management practices have to conform to a view whose religion is a quasi-alternative environmentalism—of forms, of paperwork and of trees having attained an anthropomorphic character."

    I also love your analogy, likening the announcement of Prime Minister Tony Abbott's 'white paper' investigation into agriculture to the sound of the first storm on a tin roof after prolonged drought. Yes, and also as in the case of that first storm, despite the intense feelings of relief, hope and expectation, one is plagued by the thought of whether it will follow through to a desperately needed positive outcome.

    Barnaby's disclosure of the agriculture portfolio's fragmentation through other federal departments controlling key agricultural areas (e.g. water and vegetation being under environment) helps to explain why it is so difficult for an embattled farmer to achieve a just and commonsense outcome in a dispute.

    And Barnaby being a person of action, and time being of the essence with the rural sector in crisis, can't you sense his frustration with those members of the LNP who are so blind to the urgency of the situation they think it more important to hold reservations about Barry O'Sullivan than to allow him to get on the vital task at hand.

  2. Thanks Elizebeth, you picked up an interesting revelation out of Barnaby's speech when you wrote, "agriculture portfolio's fragmentation through other federal departments controlling key agricultural areas (e.g. water and vegetation being under environment) helps to explain why it is so difficult for an embattled farmer to achieve a just and common sense outcome in a dispute."
    I didn't have the space above to comment further on this as I was trying to create awareness of the existence of the forthcoming white paper but it's something that should be addressed in the white paper. How can we have an effective agricultural minister in charge of DAFF when many areas important to agriculture have been stripped away from the portfolio.
    This shows the approach by previous Labor governments both State & Federally. Agriculture was not seen as important, it was usually in the outer cabinet and the role of the minister was of the "mere ambassador for agriculture", someone to maintain a likeable character in an ineffectual role.

    1. I so agree with you, Dale when you say: “How can we have an effective agricultural minister in charge of DAFF when many areas important to agriculture have been stripped away from the portfolio.” This issue definitely needs to be addressed in the white paper.

      Obviously though it wouldn’t be a simple matter extricating those key agricultural areas from the other portfolios; especially, for instance, water and vegetation from the environment portfolio with its numerous climate change connections.

      But it’s certainly not Barnaby’s style to be a “mere ambassador for agriculture”. He rightly declares: “We need a strong, vibrant agricultural sector for the future of this nation.” He needs to be able to get on with the vital task of helping to restore for rural Australia what Labor has been destroying, without being hamstrung by an emasculated agriculture portfolio.

  3. Agree, great speech by Barnaby, very constructive ideas proposed, excellent initiative by Dale to Post, and Elizebeth's comment is SO erudite! I hope many read this as maybe there is hope at hand that our agricultural industries might now get some real leadership, and direction.
    Cheers bro' al (Gosh - so long since I have been here, I nearly forgot my password, and 'sign off'! al :-)

    1. As bro al long since I have been here....busy with my own stuff but great to see what is happening here on my own "home" grounds.

      We all still have much to achieve but I am proud of you all!

    2. Don't know how you manage all you do, Geoff, not to mention bro' al. Time certainly seems to be a rare commodity these days.

  4. It is to be hoped that the urban media and the Liberal “dries” give Barnaby Joyce a fair go and do not cry foul every time he attempts to breathe some life into rural industry.
    Even now, when desperation has been oozing from the pores of rural industry for decades the NFF claims that the low prices will make rural industry more efficient!!! Who are they kidding?
    Ben Rees also has an article in Online Opinion, Economic philosophy fails Australian agriculture.
    A table on page two of the article shows how farm debt as a proportion of Gross value of Farm Production (GVFP) has gone from 49.5% in 1969 to 135.4% in 2012. In other words debt is now greater than GVFP. This figure has not to this point been ringing any alarm bells.

  5. The Liberal "dries" or the centre right free traders got their knickers in a knot over Hockey's decision not to allow ADM to take over Graincorp. There was a flurry of indignant articles published including the view that Truss & Barnaby had an undue influence over the decision. In all the bleating about how investment and markets should be allowed to operate in Australia I don't know if too many cast a glance at what may be happening back down the chain behind the farm gate.

    Mick Keogh of the Australian Farm Institute published an article with the very appropriate title of, Agricultural ignorance no problem for those with an opinion about Graincorp
    On the main it focused on the deplorable & misinformed comments by Paul Howe who believes "Ma & Pa family farms" need to be replaced by corporations.

    Howe's comments have been slammed by Tony Abbott & Barnaby who defended family farms. But I had to laugh at the report that Bill Heffernan made a "courtesy" phone call after he read the article. I can see Bill doing that too.

  6. The future of agriculture white paper terms of reference will be released today by Barnaby Joyce.
    From The Australian, City-farmer tax break vital, says Barnaby Joyce
    "Mr Joyce will unveil today the terms of reference for an agriculture white paper to be released within 12 months, which will strive to double agricultural production

    He said the family farm still had a place in the future of agriculture but the trend towards lower profits at the farm gate had to be reversed.

    The release of the terms of reference for the agriculture white paper are expected to coincide with the release of the terms of reference for the review of competition policy, which is expected to also examine the power that large companies, such as supermarkets, have on smaller businesses and primary producers.

    Mr Joyce said a priority of the white paper would be boosting returns at the farm gate.

    The government will publish a green paper in April or May with the full policy paper set to be released by the end of the year."


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