Agriculture industry ‘ready to work with Labor’ as leaders label biosecurity and skills shortage key issues

Headshot of Cally Dupe
Cally DupeCountryman
Camera IconHarvest. Credit: Alisha Reading/Alisha Reading

Agriculture leaders say they are ready to work with new Albanese Government and have urged the new Prime Minister to prioritise biosecurity, labour shortages and resetting the trade relationship with China.

A huge red swing in WA on Saturday helped Anthony Albanese become the fourth Labor leader to take the party from opposition to Government since World War II.

Labor’s victory was also aided by the Greens and female “teal independents” who lay waste to traditional Liberal strongholds and pushed both parties to do more to cut carbon emissions, sparking concern from farmers.

The $81 billion agriculture industry is now waiting to find out who will be appointed agriculture minister on June 1.

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Labor takes the reins against a backdrop of escalating regional animal health threats in Indonesia — including lumpy skin and foot and mouth disease — and as industry grapples with most acute labour and skills shortages in 48 years.

National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson said NFF would continue its “productive relationship” with Mr Albanese, saying he had “already demonstrated strong support for the sector’s opportunities and challenges”.

National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson
Camera IconNational Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson. Credit: TheWest

Mr Albanese fronted the NFF’s National Conference in April, where he redirected $500m from the National Reconstruction Fund to agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food and fibre.

Ms Simson said Labor’s first priority should be ending the labour shortage, as well as creating a strategic and funded plan for regionalisation and support for farmers to capture the opportunities of a reduced emissions future.

She said biosecurity had “never been more important” and noted that while Labor committed to establishing long-term funding for biosecurity, specifics or costings were never released.

In regards to climate, Ms Simson said the NFF supported “many elements” of Labor’s climate change policy and hoped the Government would back farmers as they continued to “implement positive sustainability and biodiversity outcomes in the agriculture landscape”.

“Among the priority discussion points… will be the representation of Australia’s food, fibre and forestry interests at the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference,” she said.

WAFarmers president John Hassell said there was a shared view the new agriculture minister had to be “interested in supporting agriculture” and said biosecurity was his top priority.

WAFarmers president John Hassell.
Camera IconWAFarmers president John Hassell. Credit: Cally Dupe/Countryman

“More than anything, we want an agriculture minister interested in supporting agriculture,” he said.

“If they want to start doing things to damage agriculture… we will fight them.

“Biosecurity is crucial. We have lumpy skin and foot and mouth disease at our doorstep and both of those things would decimate northern Australia.

“This is a really huge issue for agriculture.”

Mr Hassell said farmers were concerned about the future of the $94m live sheep export industry and the “massive impact” Labor’s plan to ban the trade would have on the supply chain.

With The Greens on track to gain the balance on power in the Senate — with 12 of 76 seats — Mr Hassell said that he believed if the party had “any brains” they would engage with agriculture rather than trying to “bring it down”.

“What does worry me is a push for a carbon tax… and I am deeply concerned that agriculture is on the right side of the ledger already, but everyone wants someone else to pay for the pollution,” he said.

“No one seems to want to take responsibility. Politicians haven’t got the guts to say that it is the general population’s consumption that causes it indirectly.”

National research and policy group GrainGrowers also stands ready to work with the Labor Government to capitalise on the “opportunities the powerhouse grains sector has to offer”.

“We are excited to be able to work together on some of the big issues affecting growers… including climate change and ensuring robust and regional communities can continue to thrive,” GrainGrowers chair Brett Hosking said.

Mr Hosking said GrainGrowers’ initial conversations with the new agriculture minister would centre around the need for a market inquiry of the grains supply chain and investment opportunities to help growers manage climate variability.

GrainGrowers Limited chairman Brett Hosking. Picture: GrainGrowers Limited
Camera IconGrainGrowers Limited chairman Brett Hosking. GrainGrowers Limited Credit: GrainGrowers Limited/GrainGrowers Limited

Calls for a market inquiry have also been backed by Grain Producers Australia, which has flagged serious concerns about competition issues in the Australian grains market.

GPA chair Barry Large, a WA farmer who heads the national group, labelled Labor’s Federal election victory an opportunity to “engage constructively in renewed discussions” on key policy priorities for the Australian grains industry.

He said GPA welcomed the opportunity to work with the incoming Labor government and relevant ministers — including those for agriculture, trade and transport — to ensure grain producer views were central to their future plans and policy development agendas.

During the election campaign GPA wrote to each of the major parties, minor parties and independents with GPA’s policy priorities, seeking commitments.

Grain Producers Australia chair Barry Large.
Camera IconGrain Producers Australia chair Barry Large. Credit: Grain Producers Australia/Grain Producers Australia

“We were greatly encouraged by the ALP’s positive response, outlining their positive plans and demonstrating that they’re willing to listen to our issues and requests,” Mr Large said.

“We now look forward to getting on with the job, to deliver mutually beneficial outcomes for grain producers, regional communities and the national economy.”

GPA southern director Andrew Weidemann said record yields last harvest meant it was an ideal time to usher in new policy development and initiatives to boost the grains industry.

“Especially in key areas such as stronger biosecurity protections, enhanced market access, optimising market competition, increased local manufacturing to reduce input costs, better digital connectivity and greater access to farm labour,” he said.

“GPA’s key policy request (was) for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to conduct a market study of the grains supply chain. This can provide independent analysis and reforms to help resolve lingering competition issues impacting growers.”

The scrapping of the long-awaited agriculture visa was a sticking point for many of the groups, with Ms Simson saying it was “no secret” farmers had been hurt by Labor’s decision.

“Now the dust has settled… we will regroup with the new government on progressing the Ag Visa,” she said.

Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive Patrick Hutchinson said his organisation would push for a dedicated meat industry working visa instead.

Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive Patrick Hutchinson.
Camera IconAustralian Meat Industry Council chief executive Patrick Hutchinson. Credit: Ted Sealey Supplied

He said he and AMIC’s members were “eager to work with” the newly-formed government and to learn who the agriculture minister would be.

“Our first priority is to work with government on the critical workforce shortage for our industry,” said Mr Hutchinson.

“According to industry forecasts, which show a big uptick in cattle and sheep production, the industry only has enough staff to manage current livestock supply, which is at a historical low.”

Mr Hutchinson said industry “needed a plan” and was dedicated to supporting government on “any plans to support productivity” in the agriculture sector.

He also called on the Federal Government to prioritise biosecurity interests against a “backdrop of escalating regional animal health threats” in Indonesia.

“On the trade front, we are cautiously optimistic about the widely reported opportunity to reset the trading relationship with China under the new government,” Mr Hutchinson said.

“We hope that we will be able to embark on a new era of cooperative dialogue.

“We hope the finalisation of a number of free trade deals will be a priority.”

Wesfarmers chief executive Rob Scott congratulated Mr Albanese said it was “clear from the election result” the party had a mandate to address the challenges facing Australian communities, families and businesses.

Chief Executive Officer of Wesfarmers Rob Scott.
Camera IconChief executive officer of Wesfarmers Rob Scott. Credit: Michael Wilson/The West Australian

“As a nation, we’d benefit from increased workforce participation, further action on climate change, a resumption of immigration programs and tax reform across the federation,” he said.

“We’d also welcome measures which respond to current cost of living pressures as well as strategies which support long-term, sustainable gains in productivity, and with that, wages growth.”

The Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals — which CBH Group is a member of — urged the Labor Government to have “greater collaboration with the sector”.

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