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Agriculture Report Must be Used as a Catalyst for Change

16 February 2006

Today’s release of the ‘Creating Our Future: agriculture and food policy for the next generation’ report by the Agriculture and Food Policy Reference Group represents an important step towards the establishment of a blueprint for a sustainable and profitable future for Australia’s agriculture and food industries, the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) said today.

“The Reference Group Report provides a comprehensive assessment of the challenges and opportunities that Australia’s agriculture and food industries will face in coming years, and recommends strategies and policies that will help ensure farmers and food businesses are able to not only survive, but prosper in a changing business environment,” NFF CEO, Mr Ben Fargher said.

“While the Reference Group is optimistic about the future for Australia family farms and food enterprises, the Group also highlights the need for individual farm businesses, industries, supply chains and Governments to be more flexible and responsive in order to overcome the challenges ahead.”

Mr Fargher said that the release of the report should not be taken as the end of a process, but rather should be seen as the beginning of a path that will deliver a strong vision for the future of Australia’s agriculture industry.

“The legacy of this report will be determined by the actions of both industry and Governments in responding to its findings,” Mr Fargher said.

“The Agriculture and Food Policy Reference Group was formed in response to NFF’s call for a national blueprint for agriculture, and it vital that today’s report provides a catalyst for Governments and industry to come together in developing and delivering an integrated national long-term framework for Australian agriculture.

“In terms of details, NFF strongly agrees with the Reference Group’s conclusions that innovation and leading edge research and development and more productive supply chain partnerships will be hallmarks of a success for farm businesses, and agricultural and food industries of the future,” Mr Fargher said.

“The report’s clear directive to Governments on the importance of minimising the regulatory burden facing businesses, maintaining sound economic management, and eliminating policies which stifle innovation, such as State GM moratoriums, cannot be overlooked by policy makers at both Commonwealth and State levels.

“NFF particularly welcomes the Reference Group’s strong recommendation on the need for a new environmental management program that delivers farmers robust property rights for both land and water and provides direct support to those producers delivering environmental services on behalf of the entire Australian community.

“Land and water resource security, and improved support for on-farm environmental activities have represented key NFF priorities for a number of years, and it is encouraging that such a comprehensive, independent review has lead to strong and supportive recommendations on these critical issues.

“The Reference Group’s call for Government to overhaul the tax zone rebate as a means of encouraging business and community growth in regional Australia is also a timely contribution to the current tax reform debate.

“A consistent theme through the report is the importance of people to the future of our sector highlighting the need for farmers, with Governments, to place greater importance on education, skills and labour supply issues. NFF’s recently released Labour Shortage Action Plan is aimed at addressing these critical issues.

“The report, rightly in NFF’s view, highlights that efficient transport infrastructure, telecommunications infrastructure, trade reform, and climate change are key issues to address to ensure a competitive and sustainable future for agricultural industries,” Mr Fargher said.

NFF does, however, have reservations over the Reference Group's recommendation that Exceptional Circumstances (EC) business assistance be abolished by 2010. While NFF believes an enhanced commitment to assisting farmers to better prepare for drought will lead to a reduction in future demand for drought assistance, the arbitrary 2010 deadline is unjustified and fails to recognise the challenge farmers will face in recovering from the recent severe drought.

NFF encourages the Federal Agriculture Minister, the Hon. Peter McGauran, in conjunction with his State and Territory Primary Industry ministerial counterparts, to detail a clear process through which Government will respond to, and act upon the recommendations outlined in today’s report.

“While a committed response from governments is critical, NFF also recognises the importance of the Federation taking a lead on behalf of Australian agricultural industries in responding to this Report, and therefore we will be using the Reference Group report as a key input into the development of a new NFF Strategic Plan,” Mr Fargher said.

“NFF wishes to acknowledge the significant time and commitment put in by the Reference Group members,” Mr Fargher concluded.

Media Enquiries: Emma Keogh, NFF Public Relations Officer, (02) 6273 3855 or 0408 448 250.

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