NSW State Election: How will the agricultural industry fare?

Published: February 2019 | By: Kaaren Latham

NSW Farmers talk to the Minister and Shadow Minister of Primary Industries about how they will help farmers and improve agricultural infrastructure.

NSW Farmers are asking the Minister and Shadow Minister of Primary Industries what they are going to do for the agricultural industry. 
NSW goes to the polls on Saturday, 23 March. Agriculture contributes more than $17.5 billion to the state’s economy, supporting rural and regional communities and economies, and NSW Farmers has put together a wish list aimed at ensuring this can continue to grow. The Association’s chief executive officer Pete Arkle says the next four years will be critical to developing the right operating environment for agriculture.

“We’ve put together a positive agenda that, if supported, will enable farmers to capture more value,” he says. “It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reduce the cost base, invest in infrastructure to increase efficiency, and increase consumer connections with the quality of the food and fibre being produced. Our vision is of a profitable and sustainable farming sector, and it extends beyond commodities to the environment, biosecurity, water, economics, and issues affecting our communities.”

“We’re calling on all sides of politics to commit to the policies, programs and reforms needed to help agriculture reach its full potential.”

Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair stands by his record. “Farmers and regional communities have been at the forefront of government decision-making over the past four years,” he says. “I have a seat at the leadership table, so can make sure agriculture is taken into account, including when setting financial priorities.”

Shadow Minister for Primary Industries Mick Veitch says he’s a strong advocate for both farmers and regional communities. “I grew up on a farm and have lived most of my life in regional NSW. I know how important it is to protect our clean, green image overseas, and to get a fair price at the farm gate.”

Click here to learn more about the Association’s election priorities.

PRIORITY ONE: Improve the business environment and prioritise the right to farm

What NSW Farmers wants

Farmers are facing three tiers of planning and environmental approvals, affecting their ability to invest and expand. As well as issues with neighbours in peri-urban areas, some local councils are proclaiming zones that effectively lock up large areas. 

“The Association is pushing for legislation that protects the ‘right to farm’, recognising the need to balance food and fibre production alongside urban development and environmental protection,” says Pete Arkle (pictured left, photo by David Hahn). 

Related to this is the need to continue fine-tuning biodiversity regulations. “The current framework works on net conservation benefit, allowing farmers to develop parts of their land so long as they then actively manage another area for the environment,” Pete says. “We believe this achieves better biodiversity outcomes as well as better farming outcomes, and will campaign strongly for this approach to remain in place.”

Properly-resourced agencies, such as Local Land Services, are also essential to work with farmers to protect and strengthen the environment.


What the Coalition is offering

Minister Niall Blair (pictured right) says a lot of work has already been done looking into planning laws. This includes a roundtable discussion co-hosted with NSW Farmers, and a study into whether there are actual or perceived issues, as well as the sorts of complaints being made against farmers and whether they’re being acted on.

“I know there’s more to do, however, and I’m happy to consider the possibility of legislation on the right to farm if that’s what’s needed,” the Minister says. “With the biodiversity legislation, quite a few approvals have been granted in the past 12 months, so I think that’s working well. Again, there’s still room for improvement.”

The Minister will continue working with the Association to develop a system that allows local responses for local situations and recognises the stewardship of farmers on behalf of the people of NSW.

What Labor is offering

Shadow Minister Mick Veitch (pictured left) acknowledges there can be tension between farmers, councils and the environment. He believes it’s a complex issue that’s probably best dealt with through the planning system.

“This is something that can’t be rushed, because it’s important to get the balance right,” he says. “Regional communities need land for housing, and we need to protect valuable agricultural land, but it needs flexibility. Climate change may cause shifts in production zones, and sub-division is the superannuation plan for some farmers.”
Labor has been upfront about its views on the current biodiversity legislation. “Biodiversity is in decline in NSW and we need to return to laws based on science,” the Shadow Minister says. “A robust regulatory system will protect the environment, save threatened species from extinction, ensure healthy soil and water for food production and habitat, and enhance carbon storage to reduce the impacts of climate change.

“I can guarantee farmers will have a seat at the table during discussions on the way forward as we develop our framework.”
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 In addition to the $240 million invested in the Biodiversity Conservation Trust, Labor’s review will also provide options for increasing investment in biodiversity conservation on private and public land.

PRIORITY TWO: Invest to improve infrastructure and connectivity

What NSW Farmers wants

Says Pete Arkle: “The ‘sandstone curtain’ is a barrier not just to farmers but to wider regional development. We need a scoping study to find solutions that would allow people and freight to travel between the Central West and western Sydney in less than three hours. Transport to ports and markets is a huge cost of production, jeopardising international competitiveness and increasing the cost of local manufacturing.”

Transport costs are hindering the development and expansion of farming in NSW. Source: Getty Images.

Energy and water prices have reached record highs, and the Association is calling for the establishment of an electricity innovation fund. “This could be used to help reduce the costs associated with the maintenance and upgrading of distribution networks,” Pete says. “Bringing down power costs would also help to encourage pressurised, water-efficient irrigation systems, which demand more energy.”

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A Minister for Western NSW is also on the wish list. Given the scale of the projects being proposed, the Association believes a dedicated portfolio will help to bring the necessary focus to the initiatives outside the Sydney Basin.

What the Coalition is offering

The state Coalition government has allocated $87.2 billion over four years to infrastructure initiatives. “We’re doing everything we can to reduce input costs for both businesses and residents,” Minister Niall Blair says. “That includes looking into specific economic precincts in major centres, such as an intermodal hub in Parkes and at Western Sydney Airport.”
Airports are also part of the equation, with work underway to see how quarantine and biosecurity infrastructure may help to move both people and goods more efficiently within Australia and internationally.

The Port of Newcastle could help take the load off Port Botany, if a proposed container terminal goes ahead. It would save farmers an estimated $16-$22 per tonne. Source: Getty Images.

What Labor is offering

Labor has committed $1.5 million to a strategy that will examine not just Port Botany and the new Western Sydney Airport, but how to get produce to and from all the state’s ports. 

“There’s been a lot of money spent on improving transport links north and south, and it’s time to focus on east-west freight movements,” Shadow Minister Mick Veitch says.

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When it comes to the electricity market, deregulation was a nice sugar hit to the budget but not so good in the longer term, according to the Shadow Minister. “Government needs to focus on investment and other measures to harness distributed energy resources, including solar, battery storage and micro-grids, in order to reduce the costs associated with maintaining and upgrading the distribution networks.”

Many farmers are turning to solar power to reduce energy costs. Photo supplied by ReAqua.

PRIORITY THREE: Deliver regional food hubs and effective supply chains

What NSW Farmers wants

A bid to establish a Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Future Food Systems is being led by NSW Farmers. The Association is seeking a 10-year commitment from the state government to partner in this innovative and game-changing investment.
“The CRC will provide the technology and business solutions needed to create export-ready inland ports in major towns, to take advantage of local specialisation and help producers leverage export opportunities.” 

“By providing farmers with options on where they sell their products, it will also move away from a reliance on the most concentrated retail market in the world,” says Arkle. 

More help will be needed, though, with the Association calling for an Office of the Chief Advocate for Agriculture in NSW to be set up to help fight for the rights of farmers, and even run test cases in court on issues of abuse of market power and uncompetitive behaviour.

What the Coalition is offering

A commitment has been made to contribute $75,000 a year, plus in-kind support, if the CRC bid is successful. Linkages will also be made with the Western Sydney agribusiness precinct planning process.

Minister Niall Blair is aware of the frustration within the industry over issues such as environmental pressures, animal welfare and supply contracts. 

Growers will benefit enormously from a CRC, and allow them to expand overseas. Click here to read more about how we can benefit from international trade. Photo by: Brett Naseby.

“There is some assistance available, such as through the Environmental Defenders Office and the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission having an agricultural commissioner,” the Minister says. “But the government is open to looking at what else is needed.”

What Labor is offering

Says Shadow Minister Mick Veitch: “Innovation is important to agriculture, and innovation comes from research.” He questions the amount and type of agricultural research currently being done, and supports the concept of the CRC if it’s looking at things like transport, logistics, refrigeration and other aspects of the supply chain as well as production.

“Ultimately, CRCs are the domain of the federal government, and the best option for making it happen will be a state Labor government talking to a federal Labor government,” the Shadow Minister says.
PRIORITY FOUR: Tackling issues around drought

What NSW Farmers wants

While there’s been rain across many areas of the state in recent months, the drought will continue to have an impact.  

“Assistance to date has been practical and helpful, but financial counsellors and mental health services are stretched to near breaking point,” says Pete Arkle. More support would also be welcomed for regional businesses to help maintain their staff.

Farmers like Angus Atkinson have struggled with drought, receiving less than 20% of their average annual rainfall. Photo by: Jake Lindsay.

What the Coalition is offering

More than $1 billion has already been spent on various forms of state-based drought assistance, with a whole-of-government response providing practical measures such as waiving rates for Local Land Services, relief on water bills, discounts on vehicle registration, and help with preschool fees.

“The CRC will provide the technology and business solutions needed to create export-ready inland ports in major towns, to take advantage of local specialisation and help producers leverage export opportunities.” 

“We’re also very aware an extended period of recovery will need to be managed,” says Niall Blair. 

What Labor is offering

One of the lessons from the last drought is that not enough money was spent on mental health and financial counselling services, so that is a firm commitment. A job retention strategy is also needed, to keep farm workers in regional communities so they’re available once the drought breaks.

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Weeds are going to be a major issue, and conversations need to be happening now about how to deal with the explosion in paddocks, along roads and rail corridors, and in national parks,” Shadow Minister Mick Veitch says. “We also need plans in place to ensure seedstock supplies and to help farmers when the time comes to re-stock.”

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