Senate debates

Monday, 23 March 2020

Questions without Notice

Coronavirus

2:51 pm

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | Hansard source

I thank Senator McKenzie for her question and her very obvious longstanding interest in all things rural and regional Australia. Agriculture and its downstream industries are absolutely an essential part of the Australian economy and they are an essential service. The government recognises the necessity of keeping these industries running efficiently and effectively but particularly in the time of crisis that we are now facing.

Agriculture obviously has linkages right through the supply chain, which has flow-on benefits for employment in other industries but particularly for employment in our rural and regional areas. The food and beverage manufacturing sector is one of the largest manufacturing sectors in Australia and not only plays a critical role in our economy but also plays an extraordinarily critical role in the ongoing food security for this country. We obviously understand that COVID-19 and potential associated travel restrictions may have an impact on the availability of both domestic and migrant labour to harvest horticultural commodities. That's why the government is in the process of preparing a number of options to minimise the impact on the supply chain—from labour right the way through to the transportation of our primary produce. We will keep working closely with farmers because we believe the farmers are best placed to inform us about what they need to ensure the solutions are actually going to be designed with the farmers in mind to protect our food chain for all Australians.

To that end, we convened the Food and Grocery Sector Group as part of the government's critical infrastructure network to ensure supermarkets and food producers have access to the information they need to ensure the supply chains remain flowing. We are also working with states and territories through the national coordination mechanism to make sure that we continue to coordinate critical agriculture and food supply chain issues during this time. I want to reassure all Australians that, despite the current outbreak of COVID-19, we have more than enough food to feed ourselves.

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