April 27, 2013
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has acknowledged the nation’s farmers are doing it tough financially due to the high Australian dollar and other immediate economic factors. Responding to questions from Fairfax Agricultural Media during her address to the National Press Club in Canberra yesterday, Ms Gillard said farmers faced “extraordinary pressures”. She said Labor’s election campaign focus heading into September 14 would include helping the farming sector realise the “incredible” opportunities ahead, amid rising food demand and economic growth in the Asian region. However, she refused to say whether she regretted the government’s abrupt suspension of live cattle exports to Indonesia in June 2011 and how much that decision would potentially damage Labor’s re-election chances. “I’ve talked extensively in the speech about the pressures on our economic diversity coming from the high Australian dollar and those pressures impinge on farmers in a variety of ways,” she said. “Farmers are facing the consequences of climate change. “Climate change is not a future tense proposition; we are living through climate change. “And people who have worked their land for year after year can often talk to you passionately, movingly, about the way in which their land has changed and things about how they go about making their land productive have needed to change as a result. “So there’s lots of pressures around. “But in our agricultural sector there are also some incredible opportunities and that is what we are focused on – on helping our farmers realise those incredible opportunities.” Ms Gillard said as hundreds of millions more people become middle class – as seen with Asia’s rise – they would change their diets and want more foods that are produced here in Australia including protein, meat, dairy and wine. “This is a huge opportunity for Australian farmers and we’ve got to be ready and right to seize it,” she said. “It’s about what we do overseas, it’s about the productivity of on-farm, it’s about working with the agricultural sector, it’s about getting the export links right. “All of these things are things we continue to work on with the agricultural sector and we’ll continue to work through them, including with the food strategy that Minister (Joe) Ludwig has been working on.” Ms Gillard said the decision she took on the live cattle trade was not easy and one the government knew would cause heartache and dislocation for a major industry. But she said her real concern, apart from the welfare of the animals involved, was for the industry. Ms Gillard said if the government didn’t act then, the Australian people would have effectively withdrawn the live export industry’s social licence. She said campaigns would have started in a way, “which meant that it could not be a continuing industry in our nation”. “We live in a democracy and if enough people get their campaigning up with sufficient force then they change markets, they change economics, they change the way that people do things. “And people (have) got their own views about that conduct and I’ve got my own view about some of that conduct too, but it’s a reality. “And if we did not work so that Australians could be satisfied, or more satisfied than they were about the animal welfare standards, then I think that would have been a threat to the existence of the industry. “So it’s a pretty tough call. “You take the short-term disruption and have an industry for the longer term, or do you try and tough it out and maybe not have the industry for the longer term? “Well on that call I thought the short-term disruption was better.” Opposition leader Tony Abbott didn’t answer media questions on the election date announcement, deferring instead to his address at the Press Club today. He read a prepared statement saying the Coalition was ready for the election which would be about trust. Under the Coalition’s “Real Solutions” plan, Mr Abbott said the carbon tax and mining tax would be abolished, and wasteful government spending eliminated, accompanied by other key initiatives. After the September 14 election date was announced, National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) president Jock Laurie called on all the federal government to secure the agricultural sector’s future sustainability by considering and funding sensible long-term policies. “In her address to the NFF’s 2012 National Congress, the Prime Minister called Australia an agricultural powerhouse and said that the future success of the industry will require a joint partnership between farm businesses, communities and the government,” Mr Laurie said. “As the Prime Minister has herself said, agriculture has been the sector with the largest productivity growth since 2007-08, while the Opposition leader has said that the growth in agriculture was the reason Australia avoided a recession during the global financial crisis. “To ensure the continued success of agriculture in Australia, now is the time to get the future policy settings right. “Which is why we are calling for a reprioritisation of Australian agriculture in the national agenda. “While we are yet to release our full election dossier, one thing is clear – we want to see agriculture elevated to the same importance as education and health, and so too does the Australian public.” Mr Laurie said now was the time to get the right policies in place including greater investment in infrastructure; a strong commitment to research, development and extension; improved workforce skills, training and education; and sustainable natural resource management.