Farm lobby groups call for change

Jo FulwoodThe West Australian
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With a Federal Election just over a month away, farm lobby groups have called on the major parties to commit to the long-term financial viability of Australia's agricultural industry.

WA Farmers will highlight one policy priority each week in the lead-up to the election, beginning with a focus on expanding the live export trade.

President Dale Park said any incoming government needed to recognise the tough time farmers had experienced by committing to re-establishing the competitiveness and profitability of agriculture.

"We recognise that ESCAS is necessary for our export industry, but what we need from the next government is to streamline the process, and once this happens, this will bring cost saving to exporters and farmers," he said.

"It is an overly bureaucratic set- up and it should be turned into a quality assurance program so that the federal department has less of a hands on role.

"Farmers need to be a lot more competitive on the world market, and that means lower interest rates and a lower Australian dollar.

WA Farmers is also lobbying for the retention of the fuel tax credit scheme for off-road diesel used in agriculture, the development of a plan to ensure world leading research development and extension, and the development of a robust foreign investment policy."

Pastoralists and Graziers vice- president Tony Seabrook also called for a focus on farm profitability.

"Six years of ALP policy has been anti business, and any incoming government needs to recognise the impediments that have been put in the way of businesses operating profitably," he said.

"We have seen a massive blowout in the deficit and a large part of that is a fall in tax revenue. Tax revenue is directly related to business profit.

"Current labour laws are not conducive to effectively using labour in a way that small business can make a profit."

He called for a greater recognition that the Australian agriculture industry exported into a competitive world market.

"Any government impost to that process impacts on our profitability," Mr Seabrook said. Mr Seabrook also called for a complete review of the ESCAS system.

"ESCAS must be streamlined and the cost to exporters trying to comply with the rules and regulation has got to be reduced dramatically," he said.

"The cost of complying with ESCAS is destroying our export market and diminishing our capacity to enter a lot of markets that we used to be able to."

National Farmers Federation President Duncan Fraser said Australian agriculture needed to be a priority for all sides of Parliament, and the NFF would be looking for agriculture to be elevated in the policy debate between the major parties.

"Between now and September 7, major political parties will be judged by the NFF on their commitment to the agriculture sector and long-term policy vision," he said.

"A scorecard system will provide an evaluation of the policies of each of the parties, available for farmers and anyone else interested in pursuing a strong vision for Australian agriculture.

"We encourage all political parties to consider how they can best serve a strong, vibrant agriculture sector that ensures that Australians continue to have access to a sustainable supply of Australian grown food and fibre."

Amongst numerous policy priorities, the NFF will also lobby for agriculture to be embedded into the national curriculum, the overhaul of drought support measures, and the increase in total expenditure on R&D by one percent (of total national expenditure on R&D) by 2015.

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