House debates

Thursday, 11 June 2020

Questions without Notice


2:50 pm

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

My question is to the Minister for Agriculture. Drought and Emergency Management. Will the minister outline the importance of agriculture in leading Australia's recovery from the impacts of coronavirus?

2:51 pm

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Nicholls for his question. He represents an electorate with a very proud and rich history not only in agricultural production but also in processing. If there is one thing we can take from COVID-19,it is that Australians have awoken to the important role that agriculture plays in this country. Agriculture has provided Australia with one of the most secure food supply chains in the world. Despite the fires, the floods and the droughts, Australian primary producers have calmly and methodically continued to produce the very best food and fibre in the world.

The government moved very quickly to give the agricultural sector assurances that it was an essential service for Australians. That wasn't just the farmers; it was also the tyre fitters, the mechanics, the vets and the truckies who got the produce from the farm gate to the supermarkets on to your plate. We made sure we also supported them in practical measures by providing the labour required to harvest their produce. We extended the visas of those in the holiday-maker, seasonal worker and Pacific island visa categories by an additional 12 months, to provide our primary producers with the continuity of labour they need. They don't have the luxury of waiting for people to turn up to pick their fruit, their produce. They need them when their produce is ready. We were able to provide that certainty to Australian producers.

We also made sure that we continued to enrich brand Australia not just in producing the best food and fibre in the world but also by making sure the world continued to understand we're one of the most reliable suppliers in the world. We put $100 million into international air freight subsidies to keep our produce going around the world, keeping those expert markets open, particularly in high-end meat and in seafood, which was hit a very hard by COVID-19.

Despite all the challenges the agriculture sector has faced, in the first quarter of this year, on a five-year average, meat and live animal exports are up 41 per cent, dairy product exports are up 25 per cent and horticulture is up 31 per cent. To put that in perspective, the efforts of Australian agricultural producers are astounding. They continue to dust themselves off and have a crack, and they have had a mighty crack this year. With some rain, let me tell you, there's some buoyed optimism. ABARES has now predicted there will be an increase of over 50 per cent in our winter crop. These are astounding results by a sector that has been smashed from every part. It is also a huge lesson to every Australian that you should never take for granted the work that our primary producers do in supporting this nation, not only in our food security and our food supply but by being the bedrock of this nation's economy.