Article – White paper battle lines drawn

18 June 2015
Colin Bettles
The Land

LABOR is under pressure to put its money where its mouth is in matching the Abbott government’s commitment to farming and northern development, according to Coalition backbencher Dan Tehan.

The Victorian Liberal MP, who serves as agriculture committee chair, gave this warning with the Abbott government’s Northern Development White Paper set to be unveiled on Thursday and Friday at joint launches, with the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper soon to follow.

Reports say the total spending program for both white papers could be in the vicinity of $1.7 to $2 billion.

Mr Tehan says that government funding dwarfs Labor’s proposed vision for the farm sector, offered during its last term in government via its $30.9 million National Food Plan proposal.

The May budget cut Labor’s $30.9m program to fund initiatives associated with the Coalition’s Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper.

Mr Tehan said Labor talked about agriculture – especially Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon – but the Abbott government was getting on with the job and delivering real money towards genuine initiatives to help boost the farm sector’s viability.

“What I’m expecting to see, and I’m sure will be the case, is you’ve seen a government with real commitment to developing northern Australia and a government with real commitment to ensuring agriculture is one of the key sectors of the nation’s economy,” he told Fairfax Media.

“These two white papers will basically give proof to that claim that we are serious about developing northern Australia and about continuing to develop Australian agriculture.

“You’ll see real policies with real dollars going into both of these white papers and you’ll see a genuine commitment from the government to both of these processes.”

Defending delays
While conceding the two documents had suffered ongoing delays, Mr Tehan said the later than planned releases would ensure the final contents were “absolutely worth the wait”.

“These will be serious policy documents backed by serious money and they will be well and truly worth the wait,” he said.

“And people will see a government really committed to developing the north and ensuring that agriculture continues to be a key sector of the economy, remembering that it wasn’t so long ago that agriculture saved us, after the global financial crisis, from going into recession.

“It is a key sector and with the three free trade agreements that we’ve signed now and are about to come into force – look out – because I can see agriculture continuing to be an absolute key to our future economic strength.”

Mr Tehan said the challenge for Labor was to come out and give bipartisan support to both of the white paper processes.

He said they also had to give bipartisan support for funding the government was “stumping up” for various initiatives, like developing water and agricultural transport infrastructure, research and development, and other measures.

Talk is cheap
Mr Tehan has also backed measures in the agricultural white paper to assist with developing a multi-peril crop insurance scheme to help mitigate risk for grain farmers.

“Talk is cheap but putting the actual money on the table shows that you’re absolutely genuine about taking action,” he said.

“What I’ll be looking for from Labor, and from Joel Fitzgibbon in particular, is to see them put their money where your mouths are.

“Labor’s Food Plan promised to deliver about $30 million over four years but we’re going to demonstrate a real commitment to funding the north and to funding agriculture.

“I want to see Joel Fitzgibbon put his money where his mouth is but also to go to his shadow treasurer Chris Bowen and make sure that he’s going to stump up a bipartisan commitment that matches every dollar we’re going to put into these two white papers.”

Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss will have oversight for implementing the northern white paper and said what the government was proposing would be “transitional” for the region, to tap into its huge potential, especially for agricultural production and feeding growing demand in rapidly developing Asian markets.
He said the white paper was “something that’s serious and it has a lot of new money in it for new projects”.

But he said Labor’s plan for the north was only “a shuffle of existing funding” which was “destined to disappear in the sands in a short period of time”.

“This is about some of the big picture projects – Ord State three – new agricultural developments but also infrastructure that’s vital to the north,” he said.

“This area is only three to five hours’ flying time from Darwin to Asia to all of the fastest growing markets in the world.

“Other parts of the north like Cairns are also very close to Asia, so this has to be a key part of our future development.

“Hopefully we’ll have it well and truly entrenched before there’s any change of government.

“But this is the kind of vision Australians expect from a hard working government and one they’d want to trust with another term.

“This is about making a significant difference.”

Mr Truss said Queensland LNP MP Warren Entsch had also led a committee with comprised members from other political parties which released the Pivot North report last year that contained recommendations which Labor supported.

“One would hope they don’t object to what we’re proposing,” he said.

“The money is in the budget, it’s a substantial amount and one would expect that the commitments made will be honoured.”

Last week, federal Treasurer Joe Hockey said the white paper would have “real money behind it”.

“We’re looking for common sense initiatives to be implemented, such as the instant asset write-off for fencing, which helps with things like pest control; putting real money into pest control and also preparing for the next drought,” he said.

“Northern Australia represents huge opportunities for the future of Australia.

“We want it to be not only the engine room for agricultural production in the Asian region over the next hundred years.

“But also, there’s a great opportunity to extend beyond traditional agriculture in a range of areas.

“The $5 billion package that I announced on budget night is specifically for areas like Longreach, where there are partnerships between the private sector, State government and the federal government, to build the infrastructure that ensures that Longreach and in fact, the whole of Western Queensland (and) Northern Australia is more successful and viable to the benefit of all Australians.”

Mr Hockey said roads, water, electricity costs and communications would all be highlighted in the agricultural white paper “in one form or another”.

Courtesy of The Land


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