A (not quite) new Minister and Department Secretary take up the Agricultural reins

By Gabrielle Stannus

Australia has a ‘new’ Minister for Agriculture and a new Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. What could this mean for the Greenlife Industry?

The Hon David Littleproud MP, the Federal Member for Maranoa in Queensland is the ‘new’ Minister for Agriculture. Littleproud was previously Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources from December 2017 until May 2019 when the portfolio was separated with agriculture going to the Hon Bridget McKenzie. Until his recent reappointment to the agriculture portfolio, Littleproud served as the Minister for Water Resources, Drought, Rural Finance, Natural Disaster and Emergency Management, which has been high on the agenda in recent months.

Greenlife Industry Australia has welcomed Minister Littleproud's appointment to the role of Minister for Agriculture, as he is a passionate advocate for agriculture and regional Australia more broadly. As well as being the Minister for Agriculture, Littleproud retains the Drought and Emergency Management portfolios, not so insignificant roles given the current climate challenges this country is experiencing. He has also replaced Bridget McKenzie as the Deputy Leader of the Nationals.

The Minister has justifiably been busy over the last few months, implementing the Government's Drought Response, Resilience and Preparedness Plan and more recently its Bushfire Recovery programs. Minister Littleproud is familiar with the impact of drought, fire, flood and heat across all of Horticulture and the nursery industry, having previously met with growers in NSW before the 2019 election, hearing about the challenges they face.

Greenlife Industry members in drought and/or bushfire affected areas may be eligible for assistance as outlined below.

Future Drought Fund
Under the Drought Response, Resilience and Preparedness Plan, the Federal Government is providing a range of assistance to farmers and primary producers. These measures are aimed at helping farmers prepare for and manage the effects of drought and other challenges. The Future Drought Fund began at $3.9 billion with earnings to be reinvested until the balance reaches $5 billion. It will provide $100 million every year from July 2020 for new investment in drought resilience and preparedness.

Bushfire Recovery Grants & Concessional Loans
Together with state and territory governments, the Federal Government is providing Bushfire Recovery grants of up to $50,000 to eligible small businesses and non-profit organisations, where they have suffered direct damage to their premises or equipment from the bushfires and intend to re-establish in the community. The grants are available for clean-up and reinstatement activities, including replacement of goods and products.

In addition, concessional loans of up to $500,000 are being made to eligible small businesses (including primary producers) and non-profit organisations for:

  • Restoration and replacement of assets damaged by the bushfires; and
  • Working capital expenses where a business has suffered a significant loss of income as a result of the bushfires.
To support primary producers directly impacted by the bushfire crisis deal with their immediate needs, the Commonwealth government is also providing grants of up to $75,000.

For more information, visit the National Bushfire Recovery Agency’s website.

Whilst these are all important measures designed to help rural businesses get through these difficult times, more needs to be done to ensure that Greenlife Industry businesses can move on to a more productive future in a changing climate. And the new Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment may be able to help the Greenlife Industry achieve this through the implementation of its new horticultural strategies.

Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
In early December 2019, the Federal Government announced a major restructure of the public service, with changes to the departments responsible for agricultural, water and environmental outcomes across the country. Outgoing Agriculture Department Secretary Daryl Quinlivan was replaced by the new Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, Mr Andrew Metcalfe. Mr Metcalfe formerly headed up the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. The Government maintains that this is a merging of departmental resources, not portfolios. From a portfolio perspective, each minister will apparently maintain their own policy objectives.

Brian Acworth (GIA Director), Peter Vaughan (CEO) and John McDonald (National Biosecurity Manager) had a brief discussion with Mr Metcalfe at the recent launch of International Year of Plant Health, in Canberra. GIA will have follow up meetings with Mr Metcalfe and his departmental colleagues to continue the important discussions on biosecurity, quarantine, water and levy management.

This new 'super' Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment is developing the following strategies to help achieve its objective of a self-reliant, competitive and innovative Australia horticultural industry in a global marketplace:

  • Development of internationally competitive horticultural supply chains
  • Removal of impediments to export market access, and facilitation of exports
  • Support for industry ownership of key services
  • Assistance with market development projects and programs to increase consumption of horticulture products, and
  • Encouraging innovation along the value chain

Given the appointment of Minister Littleproud to the agricultural portfolio and the development of the new Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment, the time is ripe for the greenlife industry to remind the Federal Government that a very important part of production horticulture happens pre-farm gate.

“The nursery industry is more than just ornamentals. We are the starting place for providing those plants for all fruit, vegetable and nut production,” says Peter Vaughan, Greenlife Industry Australia CEO.

With the Federal Government aiming for an Australian agriculture industry worth $100 billion by 2030, the greenlife industry will be an important contributor in reaching this target and continue to collaborate with the new Minister and Department to highlight its value to this broader industry.

NB. Minister Littleproud was contacted for comment.