Senator EDWARDS (13/03/13): I rise today to speak on the Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012. The coalition welcomes this bill as it attempts to simplify and remove some of the red tape associated with a number of agriculture related acts. It gives me great pleasure to join with Senator Colbeck in his comments and with Senator Siewert in her comments. I applaud the fact that the Greens recognise that we must remove costs, and I applaud the Greens’ acknowledgement that farmers are struggling in Western Australia and in my home state of South Australia through what have been the vagaries of agriculture since we settled this land in 1788.
I think it is also an opportune time to talk about the fact that soil in this country has probably about 50 per cent less carbon stored in it than it did when we settled this country. That is an issue that we should be looking to address with our research and development, and trying to provide farmers in this country with tools of a scientific basis with which to improve their carbon. As we all know the Direct Action Plan of the coalition would seek to restore carbon levels in this country back to the levels of the time when we came here and to make it more productive.
This Labor government has certainly not been a friend of agriculture in this country so far. Those opposite may talk about Australia as being the food bowl of Asia but they certainly are not doing much to make it happen. Part of the problem is the actual representation on the other side of the chamber. Working for a city based trade union or spending time as a Labor staffer before getting the nod for a position on a Labor Senate ticket does not give a person much exposure to rural industries. Doing the numbers to eliminate factional rivals is a long way removed from meticulous circumstances with fishing, farming and fibre family businesses.
We on this side, however, have a strong rural and regional representation. Senator Colbeck himself comes from regional Tasmania, I from the Clare Valley in South Australia, Senator McKenzie from Bendigo in Victoria, Senator Williams from the bush in New South Wales, Senator Heffernan from Junee in New South Wales and my South Australian colleague Senator Anne Ruston from the Riverland in South Australia. All my colleagues, in some way or another, have a firsthand knowledge and understanding of agricultural issues and are able to successfully handle and negotiate those industry concerns.
This is clearly demonstrated by Labor’s breakdown in Australia’s free trade agreement talks with Korea. Senator Colbeck spoke so eloquently about the ramifications of having a trade barrier of 15 per cent on everything that is going into South Korea. How can agricultural industries grow and compete internationally when Labor’s decision to ban live cattle exports and its about-face on the Abel Tasman fishing vessel are causing the international community to distrust the Australian government and remove opportunities for strengthening relationships and negotiation processes? With Australia’s $1 billion-a-year beef export market to Korea, the coalition recognises the importance of signing an all-inclusive free trade agreement. The longer Australia delays finalising a free trade agreement deal with South Korea, the harder it gets for our beef exporters to stop the US trade push, which is outmanoeuvring this Gillard government.
Never mind the mess that Labor has made in Tasmania and the timber industry, also labelled a disgrace by Senator Colbeck earlier today, or the complete shambles in which its state counterparts in my home state of South Australia have mismanaged the forestry industry. The ongoing impact of the Forestry South Australia sale has led to job losses and small businesses downsizing or, worse, closing down. At all levels, Labor just cannot manage our productive industries in this country. It does not understand business. It is a ‘tax and spend’, not a ‘support and grow’, government.
Despite Labor’s incompetence in agricultural industries, agriculture still contributes more than $5 billion annually in production to the South Australian economy, and more than double this in value-adding to Australia’s small and medium-sized enterprises. On 13,475 farms, 31,400 people are employed in agricultural production jobs, with 146,000 in the food sector alone. Agriculture is very important to my home state of South Australia and it is one of our major export industries, so we need to make sure we have the right policy settings to allow it to continue to prosper.
This bill is a step, albeit small, in the right direction. It amends eight portfolio acts, including wine legislation amendments. There are a large number of small to large wine businesses in the regions, employing a large number of people, from grape growing through to tourism. The industry provides much-needed economic activity—specifically in my hometown federal electorate of Wakefield, where unemployment is approximately 9.4 per cent, nearly twice the national average. Outrageously, unemployment is up 50 per cent in the last 12 months across the entire northern suburbs of Adelaide.
This bill will make two amendments to the Wine Australia Corporation Act 1980. The first of these amendments relates to the Label Integrity Program, which seeks to ensure the accuracy of label claims on vintage, variety and geographical indication of wine manufactured in Australia. These changes will reduce the record-keeping requirements of people who supply or receive wine goods that are packaged for sale to a consumer. These are positive changes which will be welcomed by retailers, wholesalers and wine industry representative bodies.
The second amendment alters the definition of ‘vintage’. It is up to a producer to choose whether they include the vintage on the wine label. However, if they do, they must follow the rules relating to vintage labelling. Currently a vintage year on a label is considered to be the period 1 July to 30 June the following year, and it appears on the label as the second of the two calendar years.
The majority of harvest occurs from late summer and finishing before 30 June; however, sometimes winemakers leave their grapes on the vines for a longer period in order to cultivate different flavours and create a higher sugar content—you might know that, Senator Williams, as botrytis. To allow for more accurate labelling of these late harvest wines, this amendment will change the definition of vintage year to be the period of 1 September to 31 August.
Moves to simplify wine labelling are welcomed; however, there are moves to further complicate wine labelling and force winemakers to mandate unproven labelling requirements. For example, the Blewett review contained a series of recommendations that would significantly impact the wine sector. These included pregnancy warnings; mandating energy content; warnings as a part of broader health campaigns; minimum font size; contrast levels and boldness for warning messages and allergens et cetera; and clear ‘Made in Australia’ terminology and existing label compliance.
These and other spurious claims made by extremists made under the guise of health claims will only add regulation and bureaucratic red tape. How soon before the health zealots, emboldened by their success over the tobacco industry, start demanding similar so-called health warnings on the labels of wine containers? Make no mistake: well-meaning but poorly guided health groups will be pushing to get their way with their messages on labels. Backed by sympathetic academics wheeled out to speak for narrow-interest pressure groups, they will want wine and any other forms of alcohol to get the same treatment as cigarettes in terms of nonpromotion in an oversimplification of the debate which, if the wine industry does not respond to these insidious representations, it may face a campaign of misinformation and dumbing down of the facts.
Going back to the bill, it also contains some useful amendments to fisheries and levies legislation and some technical amendments. This bill will also repeal the now redundant States Grants (War Service and Land Settlement) Act 1952. Just as a point of interest, some 755,000 acres of land were acquired under the scheme in South Australia.
While this Bill may reduce some much needed red tape, there is so much more that this government could and should be doing in the agriculture portfolio. Of particular concern is educating our future work force—where are our trained and skilled agriculturalists going to come from? Only 800 agronomists are being trained in Australia each year when the demand is for around 5,000. What support is being given to agricultural industries to promote the increase of resources and opportunity for future sustainable practices?
There is an apparent disconnect between the need for more secondary school students to undertake science based courses, particularly those that have relevance to primary production and the information being provided to them when they are choosing courses for not only their late secondary years but also tertiary.
I have concerns that many school career advisers either do not mention courses with an agricultural component as a potential career or are consciously discouraging students from studying them. We need to increase the proportion but we need to be strategic about how we resource that increase to ensure that there are no gaps. Rural industries have concerns about their potential workforce in the future. Filling the increasing void between the number of jobs and the dwindling number of trained candidates is a worrying trend.
This issue needs to be viewed in light of Labor’s crackdown on the 457 visa scheme and the concern amongst business leaders as to the damage this does to confidence, investment and ultimately economic growth, job creation and incomes. Increasingly, businesses are looking to bring in workers from overseas to fill the vacancies and, while I have no problem with bringing in skilled and unskilled labour, it is an issue when you have areas like Wakefield with 9.4 per cent unemployment and 42 per cent youth unemployment in its northern suburbs.
Thousands of people are in a position and want the opportunity to be working but they just do not have the right skills. Of equal concern, education and the support of careers in the agriculture sector are not given enough attention when developing industry growth mechanisms. It is important that a balance be struck in building agricultural industries in Australia. A holistic approach must be taken when considering developing local education, training initiatives and foreign labour opportunities.
Furthermore, of paramount importance with this approach, it is crucial that we continue to promote agriculture in this country. Agriculture is one of our great strengths. It is one of our areas of true competitive advantage. Our farmers successfully compete against other countries without the same kinds of subsidies or government assistance. This is why we must continue to reduce the red and green tape for our farmers, something which this bill thankfully does.
But it does not go far enough and that is why the coalition is committed to taking over $1 billion of red bureaucratic tape out of our economy, helping our producers and businesses to be more productive and internationally competitive. That is why the coalition in our plan of real solutions for all Australians has agriculture as one of core pillars in our plan for the economy. We will build on our comparative strength in food production and better manage our precious water resources to help our agriculture sector truly become the food bowl of Asia with food security in a world demanding more of our food resources. We will support our fishing industry and review the declaration of the marine protected areas. Unlike Labor, we will establish genuine consultation with the fishing industry on research and strengthen the connection between science and sound fishing policy. Most importantly, the coalition will provide policy stability and certainty to our agricultural and production exports, particularly live exports, unlike Labor, who so flippantly shut down the trade overnight that day in June 2011.
Labor continued to add insult to injury when Mr Kelvin Thomson, Labor member for Wills, was appointed as the Parliamentary Secretary for Trade. Mr Thomson told the ABC’s PM program on 18 September 2012: ‘We would be much better off if we transitioned out of live animal export altogether and moved towards domestic processing.’ This is not the kind of talk live cattle producers want to hear from their Parliamentary Secretary for Trade. It doesn’t provide the kind of certainty producers need and the coalition will provide. It does not provide the certainty that the bankers of cattle producers across northern Australia want to hear. It does not provide the security that the Indonesian government, looking to feed hundreds of millions of people, would like to hear.
Agriculture and farming communities deserve to be given a fair go and the coalition is committed to deliver opportunity so that industries can grow and successfully compete on equal playing fields both domestically and internationally. I will support the passage of this bill but lay at the feet of the Labor Party that it could have been more extensive reform. But it seems they are still burdened with the yoke of the Greens and their socialistic ways.