Farm policy at risk in fragile parliament

Farm policy at risk in fragile parliament

Politics
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Derryn Hinch wants to ban live exports and others want tougher controls on foreign investment in what's expected to be a tight federal parliament, once again.

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Melbourne radio broadcaster Derryn Hinch and his Justice Party want live animal exports banned, despite the trade's intrinsic social and economic value to northern Australia.

Melbourne radio broadcaster Derryn Hinch and his Justice Party want live animal exports banned, despite the trade's intrinsic social and economic value to northern Australia.

AN extended Senate crossbench and minority government could provide menacing policy outcomes for Australian farmers and agriculture with regressive legislative moves potentially rammed through the new-look federal parliament.

Melbourne radio broadcaster Derryn Hinch appears set to be elected in the Senate representing Victoria on his Justice Party platform with one of his three core policy demands being a long-held desire to launch a campaign banning live exports.

At 72 years of age, Mr Hinch voted for the first time at the weekend’s election and says he’s opposed to compulsory voting, but admits he can’t scrap it because “the major parties don’t want to”.

On ABC radio this week, he said Nationals leader and Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce had “boasted” about Australia’s $1.9 billion live exports industry.

The Victorian Senator in waiting - also known as the “Human Headline”, who may rival Mr Joyce for national media attention - said he would “push very hard” and take up the fight in Canberra to end the live exports trade but expected to “lose again“.

“I first took 30,000 names to Canberra in 1981 to Primary Industries Minister Peter Nixon – presented him with a petition to end live exports,” he said.

“In those days it was horses to Japan for horse meat and sheep to the Middle East.

“I’ll push very hard – that’s a very high priority.”

Mr Hinch referred to a fire on board a live export ship off Fremantle that burned for four or five days where 10,000 to 11,000 sheep died and “nobody gave a damn”.

He said he was also working on Melbourne radio station 3AW when the Gillard government banned live cattle exports to Indonesia in mid-2011 and interviewed Animals Australia investigator Lyn White who exposed cruelty in abattoirs which sparked the heated public reaction underpinning the snap suspension.

“I went on air that afternoon on drive and said to Lyn White who I think is a great Australian and said to Lyn White, ‘Don’t pop the champagne corks just yet because it won’t last;’ and I think it lasted six weeks; didn’t last for long,” he said.

But Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association CEO Tracey Hayes said significant advances in animal welfare standards had been made since the Indonesian crisis five years ago and the 1980’s.

The Indonesian suspension saw the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System introduced in all live export markets to implement traceability and auditing standards and ensure animal welfare outcomes are achieved at international standards.

A report released in January last year said about 1.55 million head of cattle had been exported to Australia’s largest market Indonesia under ESCAS with only 384 (0.02 per cent) affected by non-compliance.

Ms Hayes said Mr Hinch was welcome to visit the Top End as a guest of the NTCA to advance and update his understanding of the trade and meet cattle producers who relied on it.

She said that would allow him to gain first-hand knowledge of the industry’s broader social and economic contribution to Northern Australia, including boosting indigenous employment and a viable market option for pastoral stations that also supported environmental land management.

Ms Hayes said animal welfare was a global challenge requiring a process of continual improvement, and is one in which “we, as producers, must maintain a clear line of sight right through the supply chain”.

But she said it was also important for the public to understand and acknowledge Australia was the only country out of the 100 exporting live animals that had an ESCAS system where responsibility was taken for improving welfare standards for animals exported from Australia and from other countries.

“The impact of this system is improving the welfare outcomes of animals in international markets supplied by Australia,” she said.

The Justice Party’s number one Tasmanian Senate candidate was Suzanne Cass who has been a long-term animal rights campaigner and led rallies in Hobart and Adelaide against live exports and also worked for the Tasmanian Greens.

Re-elected Tasmanian independent Senator Jacqui Lambie also wants to establish a 50 cents per litre milk levy to go straight to dairy farmers “to ensure they can survive the dairy price crisis”.

Tasmanian independent Senator Jacqui Lambie wants a 50 cent per litre milk levy.

Tasmanian independent Senator Jacqui Lambie wants a 50 cent per litre milk levy.

Fringe dairy industry group Farmer Power has supported the milk levy concept to address the dairy pricing crisis debated during the federal election campaign after Murray Goulburn clawed-back estimated farm gate returns in late April.

Farmer Power’s Chris Gleeson has said the only alternative to the pricing issue was a “milk pool” similar to the legislated single desk AWB national wheat pool for bulk what exports that was deregulated in 2008.

However, Australian Dairy Farmers President David Basham has rejected calls for highly-regulated markets or for dairy consumers to be “punished with a tax as proposed by some on the fringe of our industry”.

Mr Basham said if a fresh milk levy was imposed, it would potentially result in farmers in non-exporting markets like Northern NSW, Queensland and WA subsidising their south-eastern counterparts.

“This is not a workable solution,” he said.

“There are also potential difficulties associated with such a levy breaching Australian Competition and Consumer Commission regulations as well as potential issues with the World Trade Organisations.

“The fundamental issue our farmers continue to face is that they wear the bulk of financial risk in the dairy supply chain.

“We need a practical and viable solution to increase transparency in the way the milk pricing system works and to simplify milk contracts to ensure the volatility of the market is better balanced along the supply chain.”

Attracting ongoing foreign investment and capital into Australian agriculture is another policy area which could cause headaches in the new parliament.

Senator Lambie strongly opposed Chinese foreign investors taking-over the Van Diemens Land Company last year, urging Treasurer Scott Morrison to block the iconic dairy business being sold, despite it already being NZ owned.

She said one of her core policy pledges was to protect national food security which meant blocking the VDL transaction while calling for tougher scrutiny of the national interest by the Foreign Investment Review Board and mainstream politicians.

“Why can’t we have the same standards as the Chinese?” she said in a YouTube clip about her opposition to the VDL sale shared with other crossbenchers.

“What’s good for the goose is just as good for the bloody gander,” she said.

“I’m prepared to discriminate against any company who comes from a country that’s not democratic.

“It’s wrong for the Liberal government and their FIRB to treat companies from NZ, Japan or Korea the same as companies from China.

“Higher standards and more questions have to be asked by our government of Chinese companies simply because their country is not democratic and does not respect our rule of law or have our standards when it comes to corporate accountability or integrity.”

Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party is also set to have a strong influence on the new Senate crossbench and has already expressed opposition to selling the Kidman & Co cattle empire to Chinese investors.

Pauline Hanson and One Nation’s WA Senate candidate Rod Culleton.

Pauline Hanson and One Nation’s WA Senate candidate Rod Culleton.

Ms Hanson has also supported One Nation’s WA Senate candidate Rod Culleton in backing a Royal Commission into the banking sector; with a specific interest in ANZ’s take-over of the Landmark loan book.

Mr Culleton has an outside chance of being elected and during the campaign called for a moratorium on farm foreclosures for cattle producers in Northern Australia saying they had “unblemished” bank records before the Gillard government banned the live cattle trade to Indonesia in mid-2011 but are still recovering financially from that government decision and an extended drought.

“We want the receivers stopped - that’s what we want,” he said.

In the campaign, Ms Hanson told Fairfax Agricultural Media the Coalition’s changes to the FIRB’s rules for assessing agricultural sales “have not gone far enough” with many farm properties still able to be purchased for under $15 million.

“They are buying up properties and subdividing them and bringing out their families – this is a complete takeover,” she said.

“In a lot of countries around the world you cannot go and buy their land - common sense tells you foreigners should not be allowed to come in and buy up all of your land.

“We should actually be the food bowl of the world and grow the food here and then export it to other countries.”

Ms Hanson said she was against any foreign ownership of Australian agriculture; especially Kidman & Co.

She said the federal government had said no to the proposed sale to Chinese interests, ahead of the election, “but that’s not to say, after the election, they will turn around and say ‘yes’ and sell it”.

“Kidman should not be in the hands of foreign investors whatsoever,” she said.

“You’re talking about a cattle property that’s larger than the size of London, it’s about 1pc of the total size of Australia and should be utilised here.

“You have 180,000 head of cattle and that’s a big investment in the hands of Australians but why do foreigner investors want to buy it up?

“Because they can see the profits to be made from it, to actually sell or send the meat back to their own country to feed their own people but we should be value adding in Australia.

“I don’t believe in foreign ownership of our prime agricultural land.

“It should be kept in the hands of our own people to produce food and value-add and export products to help feed the world.”

Ms Hanson said Coles and Woolworths could also address the milk pricing crisis by charging consumers an extra 50c per litre.

“When you can pay $3.50 for half a litre of water and you’re paying $1 for a litre of milk it doesn’t make sense but this has gone on for so long it’s ridiculous,” she said.

“Unless we start supporting our dairy farmers we won’t have them anymore and where will our milk come from then?

“Do you think China or anyone else will sell their milk to us?”

Independents on the rise - SA Senator Nick Xenophon (left), Queensland MP Bob Katter and Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie have stood together on farm issues many times before.

Independents on the rise - SA Senator Nick Xenophon (left), Queensland MP Bob Katter and Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie have stood together on farm issues many times before.

Independent SA Senator Nick Xenophon is also likely to have three Senators from his self-titled Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) in the Senate and Rebekha Sharkie in the Lower House which may also prove critical in forming government.

Ms Sharkie and Victorian Independent MP Cathy McGowan and Queensland Independent MP Bob Katter could all play critical roles in determining the final outcome of a potential hung parliament.

Mr Katter’s campaign was underpinned by a slogan of “Australia not for sale” and has strong protectionist policies around domestic agriculture including on foreign investment and free trade.

His Katter’s Australian Party policy said it will “put Australia’s interests first in respect to ownership of agricultural land, corporations, utilities, resources, and the means of production and ensure that foreign ownership or control of resources and agricultural production only occurs when it is in the national interest and does not undermine or threaten Australia’s independence and sovereignty”.

Senator Xenophon is regarded as a pragmatic political negotiator and has said he’s not against free trade “just against lousy deals”.

On trade, he said his priority is protecting as many jobs as possible in manufacturing and farming while implementing policy to support value-adding and anti-dumping laws.

Like Mr Katter, he has also taken a strong stand against the misuse of market power by the major retailers Coles and Woolworths that has caused negative impacts for farmers.

KAP policy says governments must ensure that a concentration of market power does not occur, “whether such concentration is monopolistic, oligopolistic or just unfairly out of balance”.

National Farmers Federation President Brent Finlay said he understood the hung parliament was a likely outcome of the weekend election and would continue to require close negotiations between varied political groups due to an expanded Senate crossbench.

National Farmers Federation President Brent Finlay will be keeping an even closer watch on farm policy machinations, in the new parliament.

National Farmers Federation President Brent Finlay will be keeping an even closer watch on farm policy machinations, in the new parliament.

However, Mr Finlay said it was important the independents or minor parties also understood NFF policy and the election demands of farmers and the detail on important issues like attracting continued foreign investment.

“Ask anybody in the street in the general public and they all have an opinion on foreign investment but they’ll also have different levels of understanding,” he said.

“Part of our communications to these politicians will be on what foreign investment actually means to Australian agriculture.

“We’ve seen the foreign investment debate heat up in recent times but it also needs to be understood we have a huge amount of foreign investment in this country from European countries, from the British, Americans and Canadians and other countries.

“Attracting capital into Australian agriculture is really important and understanding how it’s happening, what they are buying, who’s doing it, what the linkages are and how much of the supply chain they’re controlling are all important discussions.”

Mr Finlay said the NFF had supported a foreign investment register for foreign farmland and agribusiness acquisitions to improve transparency and strategic knowledge, “but we need more detail”.

He said the register implemented by the Coalition government in this term of office as part of tougher control measures “hasn’t given us enough detail for an informed debate”.

In other policy areas, Senator Xenophon and Mr Katter have described the Coalition’s moves towards improved Country of Origin Labelling standards as “a good start” after years of ongoing resistance.

“Australians deserve to know from where their food is coming and to be better protected from imported food that risks their health,” Senator Xenophon said last year.

Senator Xenophon and Mr Katter have also been outspoken the Murray Darling Basin Plan and improving landholder management around mining to protect water and environmental assets and giving farmers the right to say no to project development.

They’ve backed the establishment of the Australian Reconstruction and Development Board (ARDB) and introduced legislation supporting its progress in the previous parliament.

Senator Xenophon says the proposed ARDB would have the power to examine, reconstruct and improve the financial status of the Australian agricultural sector and its associated industries and infrastructures.

He said it would also be able to provide a commercial source of finance that isn’t available to farmers currently, particularly since the Global Financial Crisis.

“Scrapping the Commonwealth Development Bank over three decades ago made it more difficult for farmers to get finance and survive,” he said.

“The proposed Board will operate on a commercial basis, but take into account the cyclical nature of farming that traditional finance doesn’t address.

“(Barnaby Joyce) has an opportunity by supporting the Board to provide a massive breakthrough in rural finance and with it the viability of farmers.”

In 2014, Mr Katter said, “Open the door to survival - the ARDB - or open the door to an immoral land occupation and the death of some of this country’s finest and most contributing Australians; our farming and rural people”.

Mr Katter’s son and Queensland State MP Robbie Katter has also pushed the ARDB concept for Katter’s Australian Party around improving drought support measures.

“The ARDB bill is a financial instrument that is desperately needed to stop the spiralling rural debt crippling a large portion of the cattle industry - it has wide industry support and the support of peak lobby groups and has in the past had support from both sides of politics,” he said last year.

However, the Coalition rejected the ARDB proposal in the Agriculture Green Paper released in October 2014 saying “The government has no plans to progress this proposal” despite submissions backing its implementation.

At the time, Mr Joyce said, “I know there was a lot of interest in a rural reconstruction bank but you have to call it for what it is”.

“I don’t think that has the capacity to get up, so there’s no point burning energy on something that you don’t think is going to happen,” he said.

The Coalition’s $240 million agricultural election policy package included plans to implement a Regional Investment Corporation to streamline administration of Commonwealth funded drought concessional loans and funding for building dams.

The RIC would act as a central funding delivery agency, rather than a mishmash of State and Territory governments, which may go some way towards satisfying some of the crossbench demands for an ARDB.

While agreeing on some issues, Mr Katter may well push back against Senator Xenophon’s views and Mr Hinch on wanting to phase-out live exports out over three years which Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie and the Green’s Melbourne MP Adam Bandt support.

The NXT’s crop biotech policy says farmers and consumers should have the right to say no to GM while demanding government play a continued role supporting research into long-term effects on human and plant health.

However, SA farmers want the State government to move beyond political posturing and fear campaigns to support widespread scientific understanding about the safety of Genetically Modified crops like canola and end its moratorium on commercial production.

They want farmers to access crop biotechnology; especially given federal regulators have long-approved products like GM canola as being safe to human health and the environment.

Federally, Labor and the Coalition both support GM crops as does the NFF while the Greens continue to apply a precautionary principle, despite leader Richard Di Natale admitting that, as a former doctor, he supports the science of genetic modification.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale has pledged to fight One Nation.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale has pledged to fight One Nation.

Ms Hanson has also called for a Royal Commission into climate science – but Senator Di Natale said his party would “stand against Pauline Hanson’s racist and bigoted agenda” and be her opposition, in the Senate.

“We’ll take it right up to her to show that in a modern Australia there is no place for racism, there is no place for bigotry, and there's no place for the sort of hatred that Pauline Hanson is spreading through her views,” he said.

Senator Di Natale said Ms Hanson’s rejection of climate science had no place in a modern, twenty-first century Australia.

“Now is the time for our country to lead innovation in the clean energy economy, not pop on a tin foil hat and question the worldwide consensus for action on global warming,” he said.

“The Greens will be letting Pauline Hanson know that we want a country that doesn’t pray on people’s fears and anxiety, but rather appeals to their better nature to bring this country together, not divide it the way she will.”

One National also has a policy to ban locally operating Australian and non-Australian companies from paying a Halal certification tax and to make the collection of monies from it illegal, believing it indirectly funds terrorism.

“By buying Halal certified products, it means that you are financially supporting the Islamisation of Australia, including Sharia Law, which opposes our Australian Constitution and democracy,” the policy says.

“The Halal certification fees extracted from companies would have to be passed on to the consumer as this is a large cost to them.”

It says the estimated worth of Halal accreditation worldwide was in excess of $2.5 trillion per annum and certification is a “money making racket” with a reported 900 Australian companies undertaking the practice, like iconic food brands, with that number growing.

A Senate inquiry handed down in late 2015 into third party food certification said there was an estimated 1.6 billion consumers in the halal market worldwide, making it one of the biggest food markets in the world and the global halal food market expected to be worth 1.6 trillion dollars in 2018.

The report also said the Australian red meat export sector was worth $1.4 billion in 2013-14 with halal certification required for exports to Indonesia, Malaysia, Iran, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Brunei, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

“These are significant markets for the meat industry and third party certification is instrumental in providing exporters access to these markets,” it said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s submission to the inquiry said “Were we unable to offer Australian government assured halal certification to our Muslim and other trading partners, access for our red meat exports to these markets would be limited and potentially denied, with a corresponding deleterious effect on the Australian red meat export industry”.

“Likewise, if other food businesses did not have access to commercial halal certification services this would limit their ability to access a large and growing pool of Muslim consumers, many of whom reside in rapidly growing economies within our region,” it said.

The report said the Australian Crime Commission had confirmed that no direct link between halal certification in Australia and the funding of terrorism had been found.

It also made seven recommendations including that food manufacturers clearly label products which have received third party certification.

It also recommended that the government, through the Department of Agriculture, consider the monitoring and compliance of halal certification of meat for export; and becoming the sole signatory on the government halal certificate.

Mr Finlay – who is a Queensland cattle producer – said the support for One Nation had been described by some critics as a protest vote but it had existed for a number of years in the State.

He said about 20pc of Queensland voters at State and federal elections were looking to put their vote somewhere else, apart from the mainstream parties.

“Is it a protest vote or do they just not like the policies of the major parties?” he said.

“The major parties need to take notice of that and continue to reach out because that vote hasn’t gone away and potentially isn’t going to go away – so they have to deal with it.

“We certainly engage with everyone in agriculture and in rural and regional Australia.”

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