On 20 October 2014, the Australian Government released the Agricultural Competitiveness “Green” Paper, the latest step in delivering on a 2013 Coalition election promise to produce a White Paper on this subject matter.

The 172-page document, in its own words, “represents the summation of the views of the Australian public on the vital issue of the health and future of Australian agriculture”.  The paper also presents some compelling figures, including:

  • Australia’s food production feeds about 60 million people (roughly double the nation’s population);
  • China already has four times more cattle than are in Australia;
  • Australia produces about one percent of the value of the world’s agricultural output; and
  • Australia produces 20.2 percent of the world’s wool production (which is roughly double that of New Zealand and half of the United States).

The Green Paper has ‘whittled down’ submissions received during an extensive consultation process (which began in February 2014) into 11 key policy areas. It then explores the relevant issues in each area, summarises Government’s existing actions to date and sets out submitters’ ideas for reform.

By creating a ‘pool of ideas’, the Green Paper has laid a platform for the delivery of the White Paper, which will defineagricultural policy.

The process has also provided insight into what issues the Government views as important for the sector (e.g. continued family ownership of farms) and given stakeholder’s the opportunity to participate in policy making.

In this Alert, Senior Associate Rob McEvoy summarises the 11 policy areas set out by the Green Paper, a full version of which is available here.

Further submissions on the Green Paper can be made until 5:00 pm on 12 December 2014.

The White Paper is expected to be delivered in 2015.

The Policy Areas  

  • Infrastructure: building efficient and cost-effective transport and communications infrastructure to facilitate farm outputs and inputs, reduce operational costs and facilitate new or intensified agricultural production.
  • Working with the States and Territories: delivering improved outcomes for Australian agriculture, including by tackling deregulation through the Council of Australian Governments agenda.
  • Competition and regulation: giving farmers the best chance to earn a fair return on investment by ensuring fairness and transparency in the supply chain; and making sure that unnecessary red and green tape is removed and that necessary regulation creates the least possible costs for business and individuals.
  • Finance, business structures and taxation: improving access to finance, providing access to reliable independent business information and advice and ensuring that the tax system appropriately encourages investment.
  • Foreign investment: encouraging responsible foreign investment to build new production capacity and ensuring the foreign investment regulatory framework takes into account the needs of the agriculture sector.
  • Education, skills and training, and labour: ensuring agriculture is well covered in our education system; making education more accessible for children in remote areas; increasing skills of new and existing workers; enabling access to a flexible workforce; and attracting new entrants into agriculture.
  • Drought: building resilience and risk management capability and providing appropriate support to farm families and otherwise viable farm businesses suffering severe droughts.
  • Water and natural resource management: identifying and building the water infrastructure needed for Australia’s future water supply needs; ensuring sustainable and productive use of natural resources for economic growth and development; improving our knowledge of sustainable resources use; and managing weeds and pests.
  • Research, development and extension: boosting productivity through strategic and coordinated research and development and making sure that farmers can apply the latest innovations through ensuring effective extension of new knowledge and technology.
  • Biosecurity: protection our favourable animal and plant health status to maintain productivity and access to export markets.
  • Accessing international markets: giving our exporters the best chance of capturing high-value markets through addressing technical barriers to trade and ensuring trade negotiations deliver real commercial benefits for the sector and, by doing so, contributing to global food security.

Some commentators have criticised the Green Paper as not providing the serious review that the sector needs and advocating questionable farm policy, such as the continued support of small-scale enterprises that may be unable to survive on their own.

The top 25% of Australian farms account for 50 percent of the output and the bottom 25 percent account for only 8 percent of the output.