Barnaby Joyce calls for a fair go, as farmers pray for political support

Agricultural Minister Barnaby Joyce has called for federal government action to boost Australia’s stalling farming sector, pushing for an increase in investment incentives, tax subsidies and access to concessional loans for farmers in a new consultation paper.

The Agricultural Competitiveness Green Paper, commissioned by Joyce and released yesterday, also proposes changes to the regulation of supermarket chains when dealing with farmers.

The proposal comes amidst fresh claims that grocery major Coles bullies its suppliers.

“As Agriculture Minister, I believe our farmers should be treated fairly and get the best farm gate return possible. I expect retailers to negotiate and contract with their suppliers in good faith and to pay a fair price,” said Joyce in a statement.

The broad-ranging green paper was produced from the result of more than 700 submissions from agricultural stakeholders and covers topics including infrastructure, foreign investment, education and training within the sector, biosecurity and drought relief.

Other proposals include the construction of 27 dams, increasing access to foreign labour, the removal of excessive health and safety requirements in the sector, an improvement in the efficiency of the native title system and an increase to the $100,000 off-farm income cap.

The government is now asking for feedback on the proposals ahead of the release of a white paper, scheduled for early next year.

But doubts have been cast over Joyce’s chances to push any proposed changes across the line in Parliament, with a “government source” yesterday telling Fairfax Media the Minister would have a “very serious fight” on his hands in the lead up to the release of the white paper.

Tony Mahar, general manager of policy with the National Farmers’ Federation, this morning told SmartCompany farmers are hoping for bipartisan support.

“We would like to think all parties support rural and regional economies,” says Mahar.

“The Senate knows farmers are supportive of these policies.”

He says the biggest takeout from the paper is the importance of bringing profitability back to the agriculture sector.

“The really important thing is focusing on giving an improved profit back to farmers, so they can grow and take advantage of the opportunities available to them.”

While Mahar says the paper, which shows the country only produces around 1% of the total global value of agricultural production, is attempting to cool expectations over Australia’s role as Asia’s “food bowl”,  he believes the industry has broad export potential.

“Australia can be high quality exporter, not just in China and Japan, but in a whole range of international markets.”

The paper argues that to achieve this, “we need to produce what consumers in these markets want, but we also need to access their markets. Export markets provide farmers with an important alternative to selling to the big two supermarkets.”

Submissions are open online until December 12, 2014.

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