By John Dollisson
In an ABC interview, our relatively new MP for the Queensland seat of Fairfax Mr Clive Palmer said:
“I’ve never needed a lobbyist personally to put my case. I’d rather put my case myself. But I don’t understand how other people look at things. A lot of people in business haven’t been involved in politics. They are frightened of ministers and the whole procedure. It’s not something to be frightened of. It’s something to go in and realise that people who go into politics, regardless of being Labor, Liberal or Nationals, primarily go in to serve the community.”
I write this editorial as I sit on a plane returning from two days of lobbying with the Voice of Horticulture (VOH) on critical issues affecting our industry.
We are spreading the word on the importance of horticulture. Horticulture is the largest employer in agriculture, is one of the largest sectors in agriculture (with a farm gate value exceeding $10 billion) and has significantly increasing exports. It represents over 30,000 producers of mainly small-to medium-sized family businesses, which are the backbone of Australia’s rural and regional communities. I believe that horticulture is not only the most productive sector in agriculture per square metre but probably the most productive across all resources – remember mining, even gold mining, can only be mined once!
The first meeting was with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet on the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper that they are preparing with the Minister of Agriculture. The Paper will set out the government’s future policy and support for agriculture. In addition to the obvious issues of high labour costs we also focused on trade and market access, which is essential for us to grow beyond supplying the domestic market, and the importance of sensible country-of-origin labelling. After a great hearing they agreed to accept a late submission focusing on horticulture’s priorities complemented with case studies on specific farmer success stories.
A further important point was made about the importance of post-farm gate income in the horticulture sector. Most horticultural post-farm gate handling including grading, storage and packing (before produce reaches wholesalers and retailers) is managed by producers, which is unlike other agriculture sectors where it is in separate hands and often foreign-owned.
The second meeting, with the Minister of Agriculture’s office, reinforced the work he is doing on pushing for greater support for agriculture and the new Biosecurity Bill currently before the Senate. The Bill provides a regulatory framework (which reflects and replaces the Quarantine Act 1906) to better manage biosecurity risk and needs our lobbying to get it through the Senate and implemented. It should provide a more transparent and open import risk process. I have scheduled further meetings in two weeks when the Bill will be considered by the Senate to add our weight to its passage and convince the opposition and cross bench Senators of its merits.
The third meeting was with the Department of Agriculture on how we as an industry can work more effectively on trade and market access issues. We also discussed the progress that Horticulture Innovation Australia (HIA) is making and how it is working with grower representative bodies like APAL (which I trust you have all joined as members so you have a say in how the industry is run – if not join here). We also met with the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) on the need for better, and more relevant and comprehensive data across horticulture. We have scheduled a further meeting with ABARES in Melbourne to discuss improved apple and pear data.
The final meeting, part of a regular series with the Chair and CEO of HIA, was to discuss implementation of the new organisation and more importantly provide feedback from all VOH members on progress and areas that need improved communications, better understanding, etc.
Enough of the work I do. Next week I look forward to doing a day of picking in a Yarra Valley orchard to gain a better understanding of the industry, fruit quality, labour management, OH&S issues, etc. I hope to have the opportunity to do a day of pruning later in the season – maybe one day I will be good enough to be an orchardist – for me it is an important learning experience and one that will help me talk to politicians and government bureaucrats with some first-hand experience.
In closing, APAL Chair Michele Allan and I will be commencing our orchard visits in June and we look forward to meeting you, discussing issues we can assist you with, and ways we can better communicate.
As important, is the upcoming National Horticulture Convention, 25-27 June, on the Gold Coast. We have spent a lot of time listening to your concerns, areas you would like advice, and lessons from the last Conference to make this an event you can’t afford to miss. We look forward to seeing you there to share a story, lean from you, address your specific issues and generally to have a great time after a great season.
As the American Editor Erin McKean said:
“For me, conferences are like little mental vacations: a chance to go visit an interesting place for a couple of days, and come back rested and refreshed with new ideas and perspectives.”