Article – Northern development must be sustainable

18 August 2014
Dan Galligan
Queensland Farmers’ Federation
THE prospect of opening northern parts of the country to agricultural development is again in the spotlight with the Federal Government in the midst of a White Paper process that will describe its plans for the north.
This is expected to help fulfil the Coalition’s pre-election commitments, which at this stage lack specific detail but have also created sizeable expectations for this ‘new frontier’ of Australian farming.
QFF recently made a detailed submission to this process and outlined that there are both opportunities and challenges when it comes to developing northern Australia.
We are supportive of sustainable and sensible development of the north, but we also know that this is a well-trodden path for policy makers, with the history of northern development projects populated with as many failures as successes.
Likewise, the volume of work in terms of studies and reports into this policy area could fill a library, dating back more than 30 years.
QFF sees that the studies and groundwork are done, and that it is past time for government policy and action to catch up, just as past experience has provided the knowledge and experience to avoid previous failures.
This means we need to see sensible and sustainable development of the north, facilitated by policies that encourage growth and development, along with sufficient support for supply chain and logistics development, as well as market development.  One very obvious way of managing this in a coordinated and sustained way would be for progress to be made on the proposed Northern Ag Cooperative Research Centre.
QFF hopes that the White Paper, once finalised, spells out specific examples of new projects and infrastructure investment, because it is only once the specifics are clear that investors will be able to commit the required capital into making new projects happen.
This means we need to overcome the existing ‘chicken and egg’ dilemma that is associated with new industries and their need for the necessary infrastructure to support them.
Growth in production must also occur simultaneously with growth in market demand.
Australia has a highly productive and efficient farming system, but it is expensive to operate and many of our markets, particularly for horticultural produce, are already finely balanced.
So in addition to market development, QFF also sees a role for government and industry to educate consumers about the cost and value of Australian-produced food and fibre.
Government appears to be gradually accepting the pragmatic reality that Australia cannot become the food bowl of Asia per se; but that it has an important role to play in filling some market demands and in particular high value, high quality areas  areas.
Finally, it is QFF’s priority that the political and media focus on the north doesn’t detract and distract from the sizeable challenges that need to be confronted within our existing farming regions. Our existing farming regions must not be overlooked in the quest to develop a new northern frontier.
QFF continues to be a strong supporter of sensible and sustainable northern development. We continue to be frustrated by the slow progress of this development and hope that this current White Paper process will facilitate meaningful development.
The opportunities are enormous for the Australian economy, with great potential to feed millions of people across Australia and Asia. The next step is for proactive government leadership that facilitates collaboration and innovation in the region.
Courtesy of the QFF