Senate debates

Tuesday, 10 September 2019



7:20 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise this evening to speak about my home state of Tasmania—the place I call home and the place I always love to return to after a sitting week here in Canberra. Tasmania is a small island, comprising only one per cent of our country's total land mass, but the island has some very distinct advantages. Tasmania has some of the cleanest air and water in the world. Consequently, agriculture is a major employer in Tasmania and, as a sector, makes the largest contribution to the state's economy. Because of its unique exposure to a vast maritime climate, bordering the Southern Ocean, Tasmania experiences over 13 per cent of Australia's total rainfall run-off, being twice as much as the Murray-Darling Basin.

Significant water-saturated clouds storming across the Southern Ocean from the west unleash themselves as they strike Tasmania's western mountains. Tasmania's west coast mountains are directly in the path of the roaring forties. These westerlies flow around the world via South America and arrive back in Tasmania full of rain-bearing clouds. We are fortunate in Tasmania that there is always a potential for significant rainfall just around the corner. The key now is to harness this rainfall run-off, developing systems to capture and store that water before it runs off into the sea. It's very encouraging to see that Tasmania's past and present governments, as well as farmers, are supporting a public-private partnership where the public sector assists farmers to establish various water capture schemes and their associated delivery systems. Farmers meet part of that cost as well as the ongoing charges for using the water: our food bowl in the making. No individual farmer can afford the total cost, but, under the partnership, large-scale, multiuser irrigation capture, storage and delivery schemes are viable.

What does this mean for Tasmania's farmers and our economy? Creating and expanding water capture, storage and irrigation systems for primary production facilitates greater potential of Tasmania's food production and helps diversity and transformation from traditional pursuits, such as forestry. Food production is always a higher-value opportunity. Each of the public-private partnership schemes seek to provide 95 per cent reliability of water supply to farmers—a level of water security previously never achieved in Australia. Tasmania already has a temperate climate and fertile soils, and, because it is an island, Tasmania has the biosecurity benefits of isolation. These factors alone, allied with Tasmania's skilled and increasingly creative farmers, have proven food processing and transport systems will facilitate a massive 'food bowl' industry in our state. Our freight equalisation scheme for eligible freight across Bass Strait to the mainland and beyond will give our Tasmanian brand increased credibility and strength both nationally and internationally. Our state also has the capacity to supply fresh product into the Northern Hemisphere in its off-season.

When you mix its clean air and water and the nutritional values of its rich soil, Tasmania has the capacity to produce the freshest, tastiest and healthiest fruit and vegetables in the world. Fruit and vegetable exports alone from Tasmania have increased by $15 million to $79 million in the past year, and this is set to increase exponentially in the future. Benefits are most certainly noticeable with increased primary production, employment and associated flow-on benefits to supporting industries, as well as Tasmania's rural and regional communities. Through the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture and the University of Tasmania, our state is further establishing expanded domestic and international markets with a sound research and development strategy.

Labor was the initial proponent of Tasmania's irrigation scheme back in 2008, so I'm proud that the current governments at state and federal level have supported Labor's vision for irrigation agriculture in Tasmania over time. With the progression of the remaining seven tranche schemes, Tasmania is well on the way to achieve so much more into the future in the primary production arena. It is also very clear that, with increased availability and reliability of irrigation for Tasmania's farmers, the opportunities to further our state's economy will have benefits for all Tasmania.