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Queries raised on biosecurity, carbon and next ag minister

Eric Barker, May 23, 2022

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was this morning sworn in by Governor General David Hurley. Photo: Anthony Albanese Twitter

WITH Australia voting to dump its almost decade-old Coalition Government on the weekend, the agricultural industry is still trying to work out what lies ahead with Labor.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese was this morning sworn in as the new Prime Minister, along with four senior frontbenchers, Penny Wong, Richard Marles, Jim Chalmers and Katy Gallagher, before jetting off to Tokyo for the Quad meeting with Japan, the United States and India.

While the four senior ministers have been named, speculation has been mounting over who will take the agriculture portfolio – with current agriculture spokeswoman Julie Collins being criticised for a lack of policies during the campaign. Many names have been put forward to replace her, including former Opposition leader Bill Shorten.

Either way, a final verdict on the agriculture portfolio will have to wait until the caucus meeting at the end of the month – with Mr Albanese telling media this morning the portfolios will be divided among the four sworn in ministers on an interim basis.

Lobby groups hoping for biosecurity push

With lumpy skin and foot and mouth disease right on Australia’s doorstep in Indonesia, lobby groups have been calling on the new government to focus on biosecurity.

In a statement, the Red Meat Advisory Council said it was keen to see how the government was going to treat biosecurity. The organisation was also keen to see food labelling made a priority.

“RMAC congratulates Anthony Albanese and Labor on their election victory. We look forward to working with the Albanese Government to advance the interests of Australia’s 75,000 red meat and livestock businesses and 445,000 employees,” the statement said.

“We’ll be seeking to urgently partner with the new government to deliver on their commitments such as bolstering biosecurity capabilities, with Lumpy Skin Disease and Foot and Mouth Disease now on Australia’s doorstep and to deliver accurate and clear food labelling with Labor recognising Australian families are being deceived by misleading labels and descriptions used by manufactured plant-based protein companies.”

NSW Farmers have also highlighted biosecurity as a priority and chief executive officer Pete Arkle said the organisation was keen to work through biosecurity issues.

“Throughout the campaign the farming community highlighted a number of concerns that need to be addressed, and we stand ready to work collaboratively for a stronger farming future.

“There are big concerns around sustainable biosecurity funding and preparedness, and we very much want to see the competition policy failures resolved in a prompt manner,” Mr Arkle said.

How will carbon and ag meet?

The carbon industry looks like it will be a winner from the election, with at least nine “Teal” independent candidates taking inner city seats from the Liberals – all campaigning for stronger climate action. The Greens also picked up new seats and Prime Minister Albanese has vowed to “end the climate war”.

The Carbon Market Institute welcomed the new government and CEO John Connor said it could be a “watershed” election for the industry.

“It has been disappointing to see that effective carbon policy has often been overtaken by partisan politics and scare campaigns,” Mr Connor said.

“We look forward to having more robust discussions with both major parties about the policies that effectively driving emissions reductions and removals, and direct finance to where it’s most needed for mitigation, trust and integrity in this emerging market.”

But exactly how the carbon industry will work in with agriculture under the new government remains to be seen.

Labor’s climate change and energy spokesman Chis Bowen promised a review of carbon farming methods commonly used in Western Qld and NSW after concerns were raised about their integrity earlier this year.

Farmers for Climate Action CEO Fiona Davis said the agricultural industry was part of the solution to reducing emissions.

“We need deep emissions reductions this decade to protect Australian farmers from extreme weather events caused by climate change, and ensure we are able to continue to produce food for Australia and the world,” Ms Davis said.

“Australian farmers have shown that agriculture is ready and able to lead. With the right policy support, Australian agriculture can be carbon neutral well before 2050. But emissions reductions are needed across all sectors of the economy. Other sectors need to play their part and rapidly reduce emissions.

“If we act quickly, there are huge economic opportunities for farmers and regional Australians. Let’s not miss the opportunity to create secure, resilient jobs and livelihoods for farmers and regional Australians.”

Beef Central will be at the Carbon Farmers of Australia conference in Albury this week to discuss these issues further.

Processors hoping to address workforce shortages

Worker shortages are the main priority for the Australian Meat Industry Council and CEO Patrick Hutchinson said the entire industry was suffering from them.

“Our first priority is to work with government on the critical workforce shortage for our industry and address the need for a dedicated meat industry working visa,” Mr Hutchinson said.

“We believe the shortages will have an impact on two areas, one is on farmers, and one is on food security. Prior to the election, the ACTU also recognised this issue at the COSBOA Summit, stating ongoing workforce shortages will have an impact on feeding the nation and the world.

“According to industry forecasts, which show a big uptick in cattle and sheep production, the industry only has enough staff to manage the current livestock supply, which is at a historical low. Therefore, if the current workforce shortages are not addressed, we will not have the capacity to meet the rising throughput.”

 

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