16 April 2015
AGRICULTURE Minister Barnaby Joyce has defended the delay in releasing the agriculture white paper, saying he would rather it be robust than rushed.
“We could easily have had a white paper out last year but it will be worth the wait to make it substantial,” he said at a food forum in Melbourne last week.
“It will have meat on the bone.”
The Green Paper on the Competitiveness of the Agriculture Sector was released last October and the white paper was expected to be released before Christmas, so the federal government has been criticised for failing to deliver it.
Mr Joyce said the agriculture white paper would synthesize with white papers on tax reform and the development of northern Australia, which the Coalition is backing to take advantage of its proximity to Asia and its abundance of land and water.
He said for the white paper to be meaningful, the right supporting policy was needed including Country of Origin Labelling. He indicated legislation about such labelling was progressing.
He said getting funding was so vital, for spending on infrastructure.
“Our competitor Brazil is investing $66 billion into infrastructure that will decrease their freight costs and slash their prices, and we need to be able to compete on those fixed costs.
“We need to investment in areas where you make money and agriculture makes money for Australia,” he said.
He said a high level, strategic document would help Australia to become a “powerhouse in soft commodities”.
Earlier at the forum, opposition agriculture Joel Fitzgibbon said the white paper would be a document of rhetoric and compromise rather than a guiding one support by real funding.
“The delay makes it obvious that there are disagreements in government about it and now it’s caught up in in the budget process,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
He said the government needed to provide funding if its support for agriculture would be anything more than talk.
Mr Fitzgibbon called the government to include strategy to encourage private investment and make project applications faster and easier.
He said the Coalition’s decision to reduce the threshold for scrutiny of farmland sales by the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) to a cumulative $15 million earlier this year sent the wrong signal to potential overseas investors and he accused the Nationals of pandering to xenophobia.
Mr Joyce slammed Mr Fitzgibbon’s comment as sensationalist, and said politicians were elected by the people of Australia, who had consistently shown they wanted to know who owned farmland.
“It’s the proper oversight Australians want and we’re not saying people can’t invest but that scrutiny is in line with people’s expectations and the national interest”
National Farmers’ Federation president Brett Finlay stuck to his position that the white paper needed it to be a comprehensive business plan, supported by funding.
“The long delay means it’s very close to budget process and we would like to see it before then,” Mr Finlay said.
Liberal member for Hume Angus Taylor said it was worth spending time on the white paper to get it right.
“By Christmas, it would not matter if the white paper came out in February or later,” Mr Taylor said.
Courtesy of Farm Weekly
16 April 2015