Papalia is on a learning curve

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman
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He might not be from a farming background but new shadow agriculture minister Paul Papalia says he is keen to learn.

The member for Warnbro took the portfolio over from Collie MP Mick Murray in the recent Labor Party cabinet reshuffle but despite having little experience in the agriculture industry Mr Papalia already has some key issues he wants to push the Government on.

"I see the agriculture and food portfolios as incredibly important and a great opportunity to try to help a few subsectors within the agriculture sector," he said.

"People make the observation that I'm not a farmer and I fully concede that at the outset.

"But I think being a good minister is about being a leader and having the capacity to research and analyse information and then make decisions.

"I grew up in the country and I have an affinity and great admiration for farming people. People on the land do it tough and I know that. So anything I can do to assist them will be at the forefront of my mind."

That includes working on the big ticket items of GM crops, live export and Tier 3 rail.

"I think the fairly ill-disciplined rush towards allowing GM cropping in WA has impacted very unfairly on organic farmers and other non-GM crop farmers," Mr Papalia said.

"Their interests, and in my view their rights, have not been protected at all. I will be developing some policy focusing on that area but right now I will be going out and meeting people.

"I am happy to talk to people who see GM as a big part of their future … I very much welcome approaches from people who are GM converts, I'd love to see them deliver to me evidence that it's worthwhile and does anything other than allow the crop to absorb higher levels of poison."

Mr Papalia, who previously had a career in the defence forces during which he served in the Middle East, said he acknowledged the Federal Government handled the live export issue poorly.

"It would have made much more sense to me just to isolate the particular abattoirs in question and then allow people to continue through with the season," he said.

"The implications of what happened were dire for a lot of people.

"Having been over in Iraq when it was under sanctions and seen how the black market works in the Middle East it's a far more complex situation than people give credit for.

"I don't think anything knee jerk and short term should be undertaken without a lot of preparation of the industry and involvement of the industry."

The Burekup-born MP said he intended to meet Wheatbelt farmers regarding the Tier 3 situation and had already organised appointments with agricultural lobby groups and stakeholders.

But Mr Papalia acknowledges he and the Labor Party have an enormous task at hand before the next election.

"I only have a very short period of time prior to the next election," he said.

"We need to develop policies and the fact is, we're on the back foot coming up to the next election.

"To make any inroads we need to be aggressive, we need to be innovative and we have to come up with good policies that engage people and capture their imagination.

"And agriculture is a field we can do this in.

"This is an opportunity for people to influence the Labor Party's policies before the next election."

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