The new Federal Government: Opportunities for the nursery industry

By Gabrielle Stannus

With the Liberal-National Coalition recently re-elected to the federal government, we review their pre-election promises to identify opportunities for the nursery industry to achieve progress in three priority areas: Water, Workforce and Packaging.

In good news for producers experiencing water shortages due to drought, the Coalition pledged to expand the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund and the Future Drought Fund (from $3.9 billion to $5 billion over time), with an extra $100 million per annum committed to a range of projects mitigating the impact of drought.

Production nurseries in regional areas relying on water trading to keep their stock healthy may be pleased to hear that the Coalition has promised that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) will undertake a review of the southern basin water market.

The Coalition has also promised to establish the National Water Grid, a new statutory authority essentially responsible for water diversion projects. Whilst projects arising from this new body may eventually help bolster access to water for regional producers, any on-the-ground benefits may take some time to be realised. These benefits may or may not extend to many NGIA members whose businesses are in the peri-urban fringes of our larger cities along the east and west coast.

Large parts of eastern Australia continue to experience a severe multi-year drought, whilst other parts of the country are experiencing shorter-term rainfall deficiencies 1 .Therefore, the immediate concern of the nursery and garden industry is to ensure certainty of access to water and support for water use efficiency. This is vital at a regional, state and national level as the nursery industry traverses the country. And it is critical in ensuring that existing green space is maintained for its health, well-being and cooling benefits, and that green life can continue to be propagated.

To strengthen the national workforce, the Coalition promised to establish and fund initiatives including the following:

  • A National Agricultural Labour Advisory Committee to oversee the development of a National Agricultural Workforce Strategy
  • A National Skills Commission and Skills Organisations across the country, giving industry a great role in designing training courses
  • A new $585 million skills package with more than 80,000 new apprenticeships
  • A further $60 m investment in the Australian Apprentice Wage Subsidy trial
  • A Skill Shortages payment of $4,000 for eligible employers and $2,000 for apprentices

The Coalition also pledged to incentivise more new migrants to settle in regional areas of Australia where there are jobs and services for qualified people, including Nurserypersons.

These initiatives are timely given the nursery and garden industry completed its Nursery Industry Career Path Development Strategy in May. This national strategy outlines actions to attract, develop and retain a skilled and reliable workforce. It will focus on industry promotion, policy parameters, training systems, human resource management practices and defined career pathways. NGIA will now work with relevant government departments to help support the delivery of the strategy.

Nursery Industry Career Path Development Strategy (Image: NGIA)

To achieve this strategy’s aims, the NGIA could work with the new National Skills Commission and Skills Organisations to develop appropriate industry training. To help members and their apprentices receive the benefits of the Coalition’s proposed workforce incentives, the NGIA should also ensure that the skills of a qualified Nurseryperson are formally recognised in the National Skills Needs List.

The Coalition has promised to implement a $167 million Australian Recycling Investment plan to increase Australia’s recycling rates, and tackle plastic and other waste. This includes a new $100 million Australian Recycling Investment Fund through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to support the manufacturing of lower emissions and energy-efficient recycled content products.

The Coalition has also promised to:

  • Establish a Circular Economy Hub to drive innovation and establish an online marketplace to match buyers and sellers of waste ($1.6 m)
  • Allocate $20 million through a special round of the Cooperative Research Centres Projects to find new and innovative solutions to plastic recycling and waste
  • Invest an additional $20 million in the Product Stewardship Investment Fund

Plastic is one of the two most common waste materials in nurseries, being commonly used to make growing containers, product packaging and pallet wrap. Therefore, the Coalition’s proposal to reduce plastic waste seem very promising. Improving the domestic market for the reuse and recycling of plastic and other ‘waste’ at the end of its life cycle would help the nursery industry to reduce its environmental impact and improve both its profitability and sustainability. All members would benefit, including the producers (manufacturers) and suppliers (production and retail nurseries) of these products.

NGIA will work with the federal government to enable members to take advantage of the opportunities presented above. NGIA will also continue to work with the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) to ensure members and the industry are compliant with the government regulations for packaging.

1. Bureau of Meteorology 2019, ‘Drought’, viewed 19 June 2019