House debates

Monday, 22 October 2018

Private Members' Business

Irrigated Agriculture

5:16 pm

Photo of Damian DrumDamian Drum (Murray, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) acknowledges the importance of irrigated agriculture to the Australian economy;

(2) notes that:

  (a) irrigated agricultural enterprises in 2016-17 contributed $15.5 billion to the Australian economy and accounts for 25 per cent of total Australian agricultural production; and

  (b) in 2016-17 there were 22,103 agricultural businesses that farmed 2,244,000 hectares of irrigated land in Australia;

(3) recognises that of the $15.5 billion contributed to the economy in 2016-17, the major commodities included:

  (a) fruit and nuts $3.5 billion;

  (b) vegetables $3.3 billion;

  (c) dairy $1.6 billion;

  (d) cotton $1.5 billion;

  (e) grapes $1.3 billion;

  (f) nurseries and turf $1.3 billion;

  (g) sugar cane $836 million;

  (h) beef cattle $684 million;

  (i) cereals $308 million; and

  (j) rice $252 million; and

(4) acknowledges the commitment, hard work and investment of irrigators in every state and territory in Australia and the contribution they make to our economy.

The gross value of production at the farm gate of Australian farms at the moment is over $60 billion. Of that, $15.5 billion is in relation to irrigated agriculture. The target set by the industry and fully supported by the coalition government is to get that $60 billion to $100 billion by 2030. It's a very sharp target but one that is achievable in the next 12 years. Irrigation is going to play an enormous part in that projected growth. It is often said in this place that agriculture is the backbone of this country's economy, and I think that's true. I think that's going to be the case even more so in the future. If agriculture is the backbone then I think irrigation within that agriculture is the heart that pumps the life into our agricultural economy.

Unfortunately, there is a misinformed minority that target our irrigators and call them somewhat in the vicinity of environmental vandals. I want to correct that misconception and set the record straight. Irrigators are farmers, men and women, who are champions of producing food and fibre for this great country. These men and women are also champions of sustainability. What they have done in recent years to improve the salinity and acidity of our soils is to be commended. Irrigation farmers produce food for our tables and fibre for our clothing not only here but also to families around the world. Australia's greatest asset is its people, and Australia's greatest limiting asset is water. These efficient, hardworking entrepreneurs manage the water to feed and clothe us and are located in every state and territory in Australia. In Western Australia, it's over $990 million; the Northern Territory, $100 million; Tasmania, over $769 million; Queensland, over $4 billion; New South Wales, $3.65 billion; and the ACT, $3 million. The largest contribution comes from Victoria, with $4.16 billion in irrigated agriculture.

One of the largest sections within Australia is obviously the Murray Darling Basin. While we have a contest going on for water within the Murray Darling Basin, areas like the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District have given up an enormous amount of water over recent periods towards a better balance of water use in this country—so, putting more water back to the environment. But we need to warn everybody very, very carefully that, if we take too much water out of our irrigation systems, we're going to reach a tipping point where the irrigation systems will become unsustainable. There is an element of 450 gigalitres of water that is questionable within the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, and that questionable amount of 450 gigalitres has stipulations placed upon it whereby it cannot be recovered for the environment if it is going to be socially and economically detrimental to the communities. This is an area which will hopefully be cleared up when we hold our next MINCO in mid-December.

I want to thank David Littleproud's officers and also the officers from Victoria and New South Wales, who have been working very hard on getting that neutrality test to ensure that any further water taken from irrigators in Australia can only be done so when it is proven beyond doubt that there will be no social or economic damage to individuals or their communities.

Photo of John McVeighJohn McVeigh (Groom, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Do we have a seconder for the motion?

Photo of Russell BroadbentRussell Broadbent (McMillan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

5:22 pm

Photo of Justine KeayJustine Keay (Braddon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome this motion put by the member for Murray, because irrigation projects do make a considerable difference in regional Australia and, of course, in my state of Tasmania. Deputy Speaker McVeigh, as you and I were on the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Water Resources, we saw a lot of irrigation making a huge difference in regional Australia. It improves production, if it's used efficiently and effectively. It's something I think we'll all be able to take back to our respective states and state governments that report on water efficiency.

In my state of Tasmania, we have had significant investment in irrigation. The Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment in a recent submission to a legislative council inquiry into Tasmanian irrigation stated:

Notwithstanding that less than 10 per cent of the state's agricultural land is irrigated, it produces 55 per cent of the gross value of Tasmania's agricultural production.

Irrigated land is estimated to produce more than 10 times the value per hectare compared with improved agricultural land that was not irrigated.

In my electorate, irrigation supports the dairy industry and a large number of crops, including potatoes, carrots, beans, peas, berries, poppies and pyrethrum. Sadly, Mr Deputy Speaker, we didn't get to go to Tasmania to see some of this magnificent irrigation at work.

It is important to note that every single irrigation project that is currently operational in Tasmania is a Labor project delivered by Labor or planned by Labor. It was Labor under the leadership of Jim Bacon who launched Tasmania's water development plan in August 2001. It's not that well-known, but beyond the west coast of Tasmania there is a large rain shadow and, even as we speak, some parts of the east coast of Tasmania are drought declared.

Labor's first project was to build the Meander Dam in the northern Midlands. In 2008, Labor established the Tasmanian Irrigation Pty Ltd. Tasmania Irrigation developed schemes as public-private partnerships, working with private landholders to establish how much water was wanted. The cost of building a scheme was shared between the public and private sectors. It has been enormously successful. Tasmania Irrigation progress the schemes from feasibility assessment through to the construction and operational stages. State and federal Labor contributed $220 million for Tranche One projects. There are now eight operational schemes from Tranche One throughout Tasmania. At the time, Labor's irrigation program represented a public-private commitment of over $310 million.

As stated earlier, these schemes change regional dynamics. For example, in Tasmania's Midlands scheme, farms reported that they would graze sheep for wool at around $200 a hectare, but with access to a reliable, secure supply of water they could switch to growing peas at $2,000 a hectare or poppies, worth anywhere from $2½ thousand to $4,000 per hectare. If you drive down the Midlands of Tasmania, you see the landscape has actually changed quite considerably.

In my electorate, at Labor's Dial Blythe scheme at South Riana, 44 farmers grow crops including pyrethrum and poppies and now have highly productive dairy operations. The Dial Blythe area once lacked surety of water, and this scheme now resolves that issue. Tranche 2 schemes are now either complete or under construction. Some credit is due to previous state and federal governments for continuing to roll out Labor's vision for tranche 2 schemes in the Southern Highlands, Swan Valley and Duck River, which is in my electorate, but that's where the credit seems to end. This coalition government was elected in 2013 and the Tasmanian Liberal government in 2014, yet it wasn't until late January of this year and the lead-up to the state election that the state Liberal government announced tranche 3 for Tasmania's irrigation—almost four years of inaction and lack of vision. For the coalition it's five years of inaction and no vision.

Tasmanian Irrigation identified a number of tranche 3 projects, many of which are in my electorate: Detention, Don, Flowerdale, Harcus and Sassafras. In total, there are 10 projects, with an estimated cost of around $500 million, and I welcome the fact that, after years of doing nothing, the Tasmanian government has finally submitted an application to infrastructure Australia for funding towards tranche 3. But I see this with a degree of cynicism that this has only happened in the lead-up to a federal election. If the state and federal governments were generally serious about building on Labor's work, this work should have been done some years ago. On this side of the House we have a proven record of delivering irrigation projects for Tasmania, and I am very confident that, if we are fortunate to be elected at the next federal election, Labor will continue to do just that.

5:26 pm

Photo of Nola MarinoNola Marino (Forrest, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very pleased to be talking about irrigated agriculture in Australia and the opportunities for growth, particularly in the WA agricultural sector. Of course, the importance of the quality of the water can't be understated. For the irrigators in the South West, we see everything: centre pivots, pipe-and-channel systems, pumping from aquifers and flood irrigation.

I see in the dairy industry Michael and Leanne Partridge at White Rocks—fourth-generation dairy farmers with an irrigated property. They've been farming almost 130 years as a family and they milk well over 650 cows. Dairy is a critical industry in my South West but is dependent on irrigation of a sort.

Out at Myalup I've got Ivankovich Farms, a family-owned growing-and-packaging business specialising in onions, carrots and shallot production. They are also supplying the local, national and export markets. Their irrigation system is actually tested to international standards, scheduled to deliver water to crops on a needs basis. They're constantly monitoring their soils and equipment. They also host a local weather station that provides evaporation data publicly available on Vegetables WA and the Agriculture and Food departmental websites. They also have solar power and battery storage and are part of the EnviroVeg program and Vegetables WA good practice. They are doing an outstanding jobs.

At Capel Farms the Norton and Blakers families grow broccolini on 150 acres of irrigated agriculture out of the Yarragadee Aquifer. They also grow avocados, chard and red beetroot lead.

Pennie and Michael Patane of Patane Produce grow carrots, potatoes, onions and broccoli and supply to the international, national and local markets. They also run 300 head of European and angus steers, part of their environmental sustainability program, so that they can consume vegetable products that are not fit for commercial use. This produces a grass-and-vegetable-fed animal, and you can imagine the quality in that.

We look at whether it's the beef industry or the dairy industry, right the way across, and I'm particularly pleased to see that our federal government has made funding available for the Myalup-Wellington project, a critical project to help secure water supplies and the quality of water in the South West region in, in my view, perpetuity. There is $140 million directly and a $50 million loan. We will see the upgrade and desalination of the Wellington Dam. This is really critical because the quality of the water is what matters. Anybody who is a farmer understands the importance of the quality of the water. This is also water for growth. It's a gravity-fed system. It's environmentally sound. It'll be upgrading the pipe system in the Collie River irrigation district. This will be a very important project for the south-west to secure the water supplies in the longer term. At the moment, the Collie River irrigation district has 200 kilometres of open concrete and earthen channel still using over 350 of the Dethridge wheel type supply points.

Negus Enterprises down at Tutunup are milking around 1,300 dairy cows. It's run by Oscar and Tammy and Oscar and Wendy. They're using a centre pivot as their form of irrigation. They are what's known as 'legendairy' dairy farmers. They milk their cows fresh about three times a day to get 15 to 20 per cent extra milk production out of them. They're constantly upgrading what they do and how they do it. They use versatile feed sources and a corn harvester.

I look around at the opportunities that go with irrigated agriculture, like beef, and at the other industries that go with it, like the abattoirs, that exist because of irrigated agriculture. In Australia, I've said previously, we tend to take our farmers and the access to quality, beautifully grown food for granted. It's irrigated agriculture that is providing a huge proportion of that on a small amount of land. I commend every irrigated farmer in Australia. I think you're doing a fabulous job.

5:31 pm

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

Firstly, of course, I would like to acknowledge the importance of irrigated agriculture to our economy. I most particularly want to concentrate on its importance to my own electorate of Lingiari. The NT farming and agriculture industry is one of the most diverse farming groups anywhere in Australia, with fruit, vegetables and fodder produced in the tropical north; table grape and melon growers in the arid south; cropping systems from centre pivots to hydroponics; and markets from Rapid Creek to California.

I want to acknowledge the role of the NT Farmers Association; Greg Owens, the CEO; their board, which is chaired by Simon Smith, who is the president; and their team at the Coolalinga office. This is a very important, proactive association that growing the agribusiness hub in Katherine, educating farmers on biosecurity and advocating governments at all levels on roads, labour, water and infrastructure needs.

I spoke about how big and diverse our industry is in the Northern Territory and Lingiari. By far, mangoes are our largest crop. In 2017, it was valued at $100 million, producing around 46 per cent of Australia's mangoes. It's a very important crop to the Australian community. The Northern Territory farming industry has developed quickly, now with 10,000 hectares of irrigated horticulture over 30 years, valued at $250 million, with a total tonnage produced in excess of 184,000 tonnes. If you contemplate that, in 1980, the figure was zero, it's enormous growth.

Agribusiness has made a very substantial contribution to the economy and businesses. Rural businesses underpin and sustain a myriad of related business, from freight and transport to packaging, fencing, fertilising and equipment suppliers. Farmers in the NT inject approximately $188 million for the purchase of local goods. Agriculture businesses also engage large numbers of permanent and seasonal staff whose wages circulate through the regional centres in the Northern Territory. Farmers in the Northern Territory, bearing in mind there was zero output in 1980, employ some 4,300 people today.

Currently in operation is the Sweetest Job NT campaign. This is a mango industry project and the latest in a series of successful campaigns and programs aimed at meeting the demand of growers for seasonal agriculture workers and to raise awareness of and connect people to seasonal work opportunities in the local area. In 2018, the Sweetest Job NT project is supported and funded by Regional Development Australia Northern Territory, NT Farmers Association, Litchfield Council and the Northern Territory Department of Trade, Business and Innovation. Launched in September this year, there are over 130 local residents registered, with 21 currently being employed. We want that, not the sort of dodgy processes that have been proposed in this federal government to make unemployed people work in industries that they are not wanted in and don't want to work in.

I would also like to make special mention the Vietnamese and Cambodian farming communities in the Top End who featured on the ABC's Landline program last year. In the Humpty Doo and Marrakai area there are about 30 farms operated by Vietnamese and Cambodian families who came to Australia as refugees from 2003 onwards and have since chosen to move to the Northern Territory and set up Asian vegetable farms with some now also transitioning to mangoes. With very little skills or money, many form small collectives and share their equipment and workers. They now contribute $40 million to the NT economy through farming, with top quality NT products sent to markets mainly in Sydney and Melbourne, filling a major gap in the domestic market as the growing season is opposite to the main markets of South Australia. These people, I emphasise, were refugees when they first came to this place.

Water is critical to every agricultural enterprise in the Northern Territory. The Territory has significant water resources but there are serious gaps in the adequacy of current water resource management arrangements and these gaps pose a threat to the future of the industry. The industry strongly supports all efforts aimed at implementing regulated water resource management arrangements to deliver sustainable, equitable and reliable access to water resources for all legitimate water users. The industry needs to have confidence in the integrity and transparency, equity, consistency, and robustness of water resources, water resource management, policy and its application. It's very important we acknowledge how great this industry is for the Northern Territory and northern Australia generally. I might say, we produce far more than they do in the Ord, which gets a lot more publicity than we do. (Time expired)

5:37 pm

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (New England, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd say that the Egyptians knew it and that's how they brought about the Egyptian economy. It's probably the reason why the Romans decided they wanted to basically take over or invade Egypt. It wasn't because of the pyramids; it was because of—

An honourable member: they invented everything.

They certainly had a very good wheat crop, which the Roman empire was very interested in and that was basically what drove them into that neck of the woods. So the politics of irrigation have been with us for as long as man—as a gender-neutral term—has been on this earth. What we also noted in the growth of our nation, whether it's Sydney with Warragamba Dam or Brisbane with Wivenhoe Dam—I remember the application going through for the expansion of the water storage in Canberra to go from 4,000 to 80,000 gigs—is we have got to have water storage if we are going to have irrigation. If you don't believe in building water storages, if you don't believe in building dams then it makes sense that you will not have irrigation. It's worth about $15 billion, the irrigated industry. It is permanent plantings such as fruit, nuts and vegetables. They are in excess of $3 billion each. Cotton and dairy are also incredibly important in that space. Australia, without a shadow of a doubt, is the driest inhabited continent on earth. If you don't have irrigation then land that could be worth $30,000 an acre or, in some instances, maybe $15,000 to $20,000 an acre, will go down to maybe less than $1,000 an acre. Without water, it has much more of a reduced value. So water is wealth.

We have to drive forward. It's incredibly frustrating in this place that every time you go to build a water storage, someone comes up with some reason why you can't do it. I can go through the litany of Chaffey Dam, which we build after fighting for so long. It was the Birralong frog there. Everyone had a reason not to build it. Nathan Dam, to this day, is not built because the boggomoss snail came up there. For the expansion of Warragamba Dam, it is the regent honeyeater; and for O'Connell Creek Dam, it is the scaley snake skink that stops it. If you name a dam, I will tell you the environmental problem that apparently is why they can't build it. This of course is a dip of the lid, worshipping the god of inertia, which believes somehow you can attain wealth without developing the country.

We have so much more knowledge now of environmentally sustainable irrigation. It primarily revolves around what they call 'end of valley flows' and what is a reasonable amount of water to extract, what is an unreasonable amount of water to extract and how you keep the biota of the river in a sustainable form by letting enough through. What we also note with irrigation, of course, is the regulation that a body of water has to move through the watercourse. In times such as these—droughts—where the riverbeds would be completely and utterly dry, below the regulated dams you will still find water flowing. Therefore, because the water brings life, the capacity for the environmental regeneration is so much better. That is just a fact, because there is water in the river.

In the Northern Territory you have a different form of irrigation, which predominantly relies on things such as aquifers—and getting the CSIRO to get proper understanding of the aquifers is incredibly important. It doesn't matter where you go. In St George with the red soils irrigation for such things as onions and rockmelons is proving to be so beneficial. If you go to the Moree, there is the immense wealth that came from Copeton Dam and the irrigation of cotton. Might I remind everybody that if it wasn't for the cotton crop, you wouldn't have cotton seed. If you didn't have cotton seed one of the main dietary components that sustained our cattle through this drought would be lost. Cotton seed, absolutely and utterly, is a high-protein feed supplement that is vitally important and works symbiotically with the feed requirements of stock during the drought. In Stanthorpe it's granite soils. With granite soils you see the permanent planting. Even there now we are trying to drive the Emu Swamp Dam.

Unfortunately, the Labor Party always takes money out of our dams' portfolio. I heard before about what we're doing in the Tasmanian midlands. I was happy to be down there to open part of that, to put federal money towards the development of that, to bring wealth to the midlands of Tasmania. I have been known, in my time in parliament, to be almost pathological in my desire to build more dams. And that will remain, because if we don't have dams, you won't have irrigation. If you don't have irrigation, a lot of people in the world who we are feeding will starve to death.

5:42 pm

Photo of Joanne RyanJoanne Ryan (Lalor, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to follow the member for Wentworth on this motion, given that while he was the minister in charge he failed to deliver $10 million to the Werribee Irrigation District.

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (New England, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a point of order, I take that as a compliment, or maybe a slip of the tongue, but the member Wentworth has not at this point been decided. I do know that I am prime ministerial in my approach. Thank you very much.

Photo of Joanne RyanJoanne Ryan (Lalor, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for New England, as minister, failed to give $10 million to the Werribee South growers in my electorate. The irrigation system for Werribee South was developed in 1912 and had not been redeveloped since, until, of course, quite recently state Labor committed, under Minister Neville, to see to the redevelopment and refreshment of that irrigation, because it's been losing up to 30 per cent of the water going down those channels to Werribee South.

I put myself on the list today to speak on this important motion, because, of the $3 billion worth of vegetables, $180 million worth of lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower and fennel are produced in my electorate. It's a small pocket of the City of Wyndham called Werribee South, and vegetable growers began there in the 1920s when Italian migrants joined our community and began farming the area. They were joined, over time, by many from Greece, Macedonia and Albania.

Those farmers have now been there for generations. They have been agile and innovative in their work. They now do four crops a year on the soil in Werribee South, aided by groundwater as well as leaning into risk and taking recycled water and using the river water from the Werribee River. They have branched into hydroponics, transport and logistics, and export. I want to commend them for the generations of work they have done and give them a guarantee that this member for Lalor, like those before her, will commit to ensuring that this farming district remains a farming district and that their contribution to the vegetables for Australian consumption will be rewarded and will continue to the next generation. I particularly say that to the latest generation of these modern farmers now, young men and women committed to seeing these traditions continue as they find new modern ways to produce their crops. I commend them also for recent innovations with the direct employment of refugees in our community, particularly those from Burma, who are relishing the agricultural work that they are being directly employed by these farmers to do each day.

I stress again the role the Victorian state Labor government has played in ensuring that this terrific agricultural area continues—that is, in the modernisation of those channels. I welcome it. At the beginning of this process when I first approached the Victorian state water minister, Lisa Neville, we looked at the impact this was having on our river, the amount of water we were losing in the channels, what that meant to our irrigators and to our river and how we could best set this area up for future generations. It's about a $32 million spend. We've finished stage 1. We're on to stage 2. There is still an opportunity for this federal government to meet the contribution by the state government and to put in their $11 million contribution that would mean so much to growers in my area, who have taken it upon themselves to lean into risk, to invest in their farms over the last 10 years and to make a commitment long term into the future of this agricultural area. They understand how important it is. They have 40 kilometres of new pipeline to replace the old channels. I call on this government to support the growers of Werribee South and make a commitment to see the modernisation of this area, so we can guarantee healthy lettuces, cauliflowers and new innovations like fennel going to market from Werribee South every week.

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for this debate has expired.

Debate adjourned.