Since the 2012 State election, Queensland’s agricultural sector has faced a range of challenges: a savage drought, increasing electricity prices, bio-security outbreaks, encroaching mining projects and the generational question - who will run the family farm?
However, these challenges belie an undeniable ‘opportunity’ for the State: to be a global leader in addressing world food demand, estimated by the United Nations to double by 2050.
With the 2015 State election taking place this Saturday, 31 January, the LNP and ALP parties have released agricultural policies intended (at least in part) to meet these challenges and opportunities.
In anticipation of this historic vote – which could have several outcomes including the return of the Government without its leader – Senior Associate Rob McEvoy summarises the parties’ pledges and promises, which they hope will decide marginal rural seats in their favour.
The LNP has set an ambitious goal of doubling agricultural production in Queensland by 2040, by increasing support for farming businesses. That support will be delivered by:
- Continuing to work with industry to develop a draft Beef Industry Action Plan – a plan to focus industry development and opening up new markets;
- Continuing to invest in agricultural research and development, including in 2015:
- $4.05 million for Sugar Research Australia;
- $6.9 million to the partnership with the University of Queensland in the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation; and
- $2.7 million to the Queensland University of Technology for agricultural robotics and tropical pulse research.
- Investing $14 million over 3 years on ‘natural resource management projects’, including projects to eradicate feral pests (such as wild dogs) and western weeds (such as the prickly acacia);
- Continuing the Drought Relief Assistance Scheme (DRAS) – which includes interest rate subsidies, fodder, water infrastructure assistance and mental health and community services; and
- Investing to attract young people to work in the agriculture sector, including on family farms (where younger generations are deterred by rising debts levels).
The LNP is also heavily relying on its track-record in Government, referring to its re-establishment of a dedicated Department of Agriculture, reforms to Workers Compensation laws (making it easier for farmers to employ workers) and the DRAS.
The ALP has pledged that it will:
- Set up a rural job agency to match workers with employers in rural areas (to stem youth migration to cities);
- Draw up a strategic long-term research and development plan for primary industries;
- Boost the state's bio-security capabilities;
- Invest $5 million for wild dog and cat eradication programs;
- Sponsor three food and agriculture trade missions to Asia and the Middle East every year;
- Hold an inquiry into power prices, including the impact of prices on the agricultural sector;
- Boost support for primary producers to deal with climate risks and prepare for drought; and
- Increase animal welfare oversight, including the development of codes of practice for the humane treatment of animals (on farm, in transport and at the point of slaughter).
Feedback from the agricultural sector
Given bi-partisan acknowledgement of the challenges the sector faces, and its opportunity to fuel a ‘food boom’, the consistent feedback from agricultural representative groups (such as the Queensland Farmers Federation and AgForce) is that both parties’ policy commitments are underwhelming.
Speaking at a Rural Press Club (RPC) function in Brisbane on Thursday 29 January, Queensland Farmers Federation chief executive officer Dan Galligan commented that whilst the LNP’s goal of doubling productivity over the next few decades was admirable, the current promises on which the party was campaigning lacked detail.
Speaking at the same function, AgForce chief executive officer Charles Burke praised the ALP’s policies on eradicating wild dogs and cats, but said it was alarming that Labour would reinstate draconian vegetation management laws (which restrict land clearing).
We await the results of tomorrow’s State election with interest and will be continuing to follow the implementation of policy commitments, whatever the outcome.
Polling opens at 8:00 am this Saturday, with 25% of the electorate expected to have already voted during pre-polling.