Ag commissioner role put in the spotlight

NSW Labor takes swipe at National's agriculture commissioner position

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Agriculture commissioner Daryl Quinlivan AO (left) and Shadow minister for primary industries, Jenny Aitchison (right).

Agriculture commissioner Daryl Quinlivan AO (left) and Shadow minister for primary industries, Jenny Aitchison (right).

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The ag commissioner role was a hot topic during budget estimates this week.

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NSW Labor has taken a swipe at the Nationals' agriculture commissioner position, declaring it was late, underfunded, and has no advocacy role for individual farmers.

But the man in question, Daryl Quinlivan AO, has rebutted the claims declaring the cost of his work was double what it appeared on paper.

The Berejiklian-Barilaro government committed $2 million over four years to appoint an agriculture commissioner, which was announced last August on a two year basis.

However, documents obtained by Labour under a Freedom of Information request noted a senior department officer said the funding was not available to deliver on the promise.

Mr Quinlivan's contract was capped at 150 days per year, with a daily rate of up to $2000 per day, up to a maximum of $250,000 a year.

During the budget estimates he said the direct costs of the project were significantly in excess of the notional budget.

"There is a small team in Mr Hansen's (Scott Hansen, director general of the Department of Primary Industries) department that is working for me-some part-time, some full-time," he said.

"The cost of that team would be significantly in excess of the notional budget for this project.

"If you are revisiting the question you asked the minister this morning, the cost of the work I am doing is significantly in excess of the half a million a year because of the staff costs but, as the minister said this morning, he has made it clear, as has Mr Hansen, that I can have whatever I need to do the job well.

"But, as I say, the direct costs of the project are significantly in excess of the notional budget."

He admitted there had been confusion from individual farmers about the nature of his role.

"I think the representative organisations are quite clear," he said.

"I have spent time with most of them in one form or another discussing this project and they are very well aware that we are essentially doing a policy review for the New South Wales Government.

"So I do not think there is any confusion amongst those groups, nor individuals who are closely associated with those representative groups.

"We have had approaches from individual farmers who are not connected to those kind of processes who, I think, have in their minds that the commissioner has authorities and powers and so on that would allow the office to intervene, mediate and arbitrate in disputes.

"So we have had to explain to them that that is not the role and that there are other processes for those people to pursue those grievances."

Shadow minister for primary industries, Jenny Aitchison, said the confusion by farmers was valid.

She wrote to the agriculture commissioner in September last year on a land use conflict impacting on a number of farmers.

Ms Aitchison was advised the commissioner was not able to respond to the farmers' land use conflict issues as he was employed in the category of a 'departmental staff member, or a contractor directed by a staff member'.

"It's ridiculous that primary producers across the state are unable to pick up the phone and talk to the agriculture commissioner. They have to send an email," Ms Aitchison said.

"Farmers have not been given a Agriculture Commissioner. They have been given a $250,000-a-year part-time bureaucrat who they can't even contact by telephone to advocate on their behalf."

Among the topics on Mr Quinlivan's agenda have been to deal with land use conflicts and recommending to government the need for a more comprehensive method of identifying agricultural land and classifying it to apply appropriate regulatory regimes.

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