Labor’s $45 million plan for the Agriculture sector

There no doubt that our island has an enviable reputation when it comes to primary production.  Our natural competitive advantages in water, soil quality, climate and disease free status all provide opportunities for our farmers.

Labor understands farmers and the important role primary industry plays in our economy and our community.

Agriculture makes a significant contribution to the State’s employment, exports and investment. Our strong agriculture sector continues to be resilient and adapt to changing markets and environmental conditions.

Labor is committed to growing the agricultural sector so it continues to be a key driver of Tasmania’s economy.

Labor’s vision is to improve the sustainability of existing farms and provide investor certainty for new and emerging investment plans.

Labor will listen to the needs of farmers and establish the Primary Industries and Forestry Industry Advisory Council, which will provide direct input to the Minister for Primary Industry.

Eight Key Areas for Success

The new focus of State Government assistance to the agriculture sector will be to change from only concentrating on production, to also focusing on profitability.  We want to see the wealth of Tasmanian farmers grow faster than the national average.

To increase the profitability of Tasmanian farmers, Labor believes its role is to assist through 8 key areas:-

  1. Reducing costs to farmers
  2. New markets and promotion
  3. Listening to farmers – Industry Advisory Councils
  4. Investing in a Skilled Workforce
  5. Biosecurity
  6. Reputation
  7. Integrated Water Management
  8. Research innovation, education and commercialisation

Reducing Costs to Farmers

There is no doubt that the rising cost of energy has become a significant concern not only to farmers, but to other sectors and household consumers as well.

Labor’s comprehensive Energy Policy sets a bold target to generate 120 per cent of Tasmania’s energy needs from renewable sources within five years.

Our commitments are centered on harnessing the State’s enormous potential in renewable energy and restoring the State’s renewable energy advantage.

The national energy market is undergoing a significant transition, which Tasmanians should be benefitting from.  Within 12 months of a Majority Labor Government, we will ensure that energy prices are linked more closely to Tasmania’s cost of production, which is amongst the lowest in the country.

Labor will ask Government Business Enterprises to review executive bonuses and ensure that, if they are paid at all, they are linked to operational efficiencies and reductions in energy costs for households and small businesses rather than company profits.

To specifically reduce energy costs for farmers, one answer is for farms to generate their own electricity through renewable sources such as solar and wind. However, under current policies, energy that is generated through a renewable energy installation can only be used to offset costs behind one meter. That means if a large bank of solar panels is attached to a dairy it can only offset energy costs at the dairy, it can’t be used to power a pump or pivot irrigator on the same property.

A Majority Labor Government will work with TasNetworks to change the policy so that energy generated at one site can be used across all meters on the same property, provided it is used in real time. Landholders would be responsible for bearing the costs of transmitting energy on their property, including any infrastructure upgrades such as transformers.

This simple policy change will help decrease on farm energy costs by as much as 20 per cent, drive jobs and investment in renewable energy, as well as allowing for greater on-farm intensification and productivity. It is estimated the policy change could conservatively unlock more than $20 million in direct on-farm investment.

New markets and promotion – $0.5M for professional marketing

Opportunities to grow wealth of farmers can be best achieved by working together – government and industry – to get the best outcomes.

Labor in consultation with farmers will develop effective marketing strategies that capture and respond to information about national and international market trends, concentrating on changing consumer preferences.

Labor will pay particular attention to capturing opportunities to market agricultural products to interstate and global markets.

Labor will provide $500,000 for the professional marketing of our primary industries through Brand Tasmania.  This marketing will ensure our agriculture and primary industries are rightfully recognised as a critical part of Tasmania’s brand.

Our brand is one of our competitive strengths but we need to build on the foundations of what is already established.

It is also time for Tasmania to adopt a value-chain approach to marketing its produce.  Our state’s fabulous food should, as much as possible, be branded “Tasmanian” for interstate and overseas markets.

The value-chain approach is a philosophy about moving Tasmanian food producers from being price takers to partnering with a buyer in a way that fits both. If done well the relationship is more important to the buyer than price, particularly in overseas markets. It is a method of achieving higher value in food production.

A Majority Labor Government will help farmers to make a better connection between agricultural products and branding.  It is the start of a bigger branding journey.

When tourists visit Tasmania they taste our food, wine and other local produce.  Tasmanian branding of farm outputs can provide a way for them to re-live their experience, tempt them to return and invest.

Labor will also support direct export opportunities using air freight to key markets – this initiative will be progressed through the northern office of the Department of Economic Growth and Regional Development.

Listening to Farmers – Primary Industries and Forestry Industry Advisory Council

Labor committed to establishing Industry Advisory Councils in May 2017 and since then, industry leaders have spoken directly of the benefits of these forums to bring Government and Industry together.

The Primary Industries and Forestry Industry Advisory Council (FIAC) will also create a strong link between industry and Tasmania’s education system.

Labor’s proposed overhaul of skills and training will have significant benefits for agriculture in Tasmania.  The IAC will produce an Industry Development Plan, based on a full and comprehensive review of agriculture in Tasmania, overseen by the FIAC in the first year of Labor Government.

The Industry Advisory Councils will play a key role in directing how TAFE dollars are spent to meet workforce requirements.  The FIAC will also assist in the design of export marketing projects and commercialisation opportunities for emerging produce.

Investing in a Skilled Workforce

Labor agrees that for the agriculture sector to remain competitive the focus needs to be on attracting, retaining and developing a motivated workforce.

Our proposal to overhaul skills and training will have significant benefits for agriculture in Tasmania.

Through the Primary Industry and Forestry Advisory Council, a Workforce Development Plan will be developed that can inform and direct the allocation of skills and training funding to where it is needed.

Industry priorities will be set through the Industry Advisory Councils and ensure TasTAFE can be rebuilt to deliver the best possible skills outcomes for workers and employers.

Labor will also provide $3 million worth of scholarships for apprentices and trainees.  This will greatly benefit the agriculture sector, as individuals under this program will be provided with a rebate of $1,000 to cover the costs of their studies.

Biosecurity

Labor will restore the frontline of Tasmania’s biosecurity system.

Biosecurity is critical to Tasmania’s brand and our export economy. The Liberals have consistently undermined the biosecurity system, including cutting $1 million from Biosecurity Tasmania in their first budget.

At the same time, we have seen record numbers of tourists coming to our state, through every entry point – from our airports, our ports and on the Spirits of Tasmania.

Over the past four years we have seen unacceptable biosecurity breaches, including Norwegian salmon on supermarket shelves, blueberry rust and myrtle rust.

The latest discovery of Queensland fruit fly on Flinders Island and Tasmania’s mainland could devastate our critical horticultural industry.

Urgent action is required to give confidence to international markets that we are taking this issue seriously and investing in bolstering our biosecurity capability.

A Majority Labor Government will allocate $3.7 million and Federal Labor would contribute $2 million to recruit an additional 20 biosecurity officers over the next four years, bolstering the state’s biosecurity frontline.

In addition, we will prepare a Biosecurity Emergency Management Plan, similar to the Emergency Management Plan that covers natural disasters like bushfires and coordinates agency responses. This will include specific preparedness projects for potential biosecurity threats. Responding to emergencies requires careful planning and a well-executed strategy.

Biosecurity staff do an amazing job but under the Liberals they have been forced to focus on day-to-day challenges rather than plan for potential threats.

Additional staff will help to relieve pressure on Biosecurity Tasmania, while ensuring they are better equipped to cope with ever-increasing pressures. Our biosecurity system must be focused on prevention and preparedness, not reactivity and damage control.

This is an investment in protecting our economy and in protecting the Tasmanian brand.

Reputation

Labor will strive to uphold our enviable reputation for the highest quality produce and ethical production.

Labor supports the need for an ongoing commitment to our clean, green image through strict primary production food safety laws, a moratorium on commercial release of genetically modified food crops and animals into the environment, a ban on fracking for oil or gas and to continue our hormone growth promotant free status.

Labor will also promote ongoing, effective stewardship of environmental values on private land.

Labor supports world – leading animal welfare standards in food production and will continue to build community partnerships to improve the capacity and confidence of rural and regional areas.

Restrictions on sow stall and cage-egg production will assist industry to adapt to changing consumer preferences in this area.

Labor recognises the need for a properly funded animal welfare inspectorate service.

A majority Labor Government will continue to support Tasmania’s unique agricultural sector through Tasmania-specific research, development, extension, education and evaluation. It is crucial for all sides of politics to support organisations that play a vital role in the care and wellbeing of all animals, whilst continuing to educate the community on the expectations of animal welfare.

Labor will ensure that the same high standards we place on our own farmers are applied to State Government procurement policies.  Farmers who do the right thing will not be disadvantaged when competing for Government contracts.

Labor will re-introduce the Treasury Instruction to ensure the Tasmanian Government only buys cage free eggs.

Integrated Water Management Strategy and $30 million for new schemes

A majority Labor Government will continue to support the development of its successful Tasmanian irrigation and water infrastructure projects and protect Tasmanian farmers from the effects of drought and provide the surety that will underpin future growth in the State’s agricultural sector.

Labor will contribute $30 million of investment in more water irrigation schemes and infrastructure across the term, through Tasmanian Irrigation.

Labor wants to keep the price of water affordable and reliable for farmers.

Labor believes it is important for Tasmanian Irrigation to begin to transition from a construction company to a more lean, trading and operationally focused organisation.

Labor was a leader in rolling out the current water irrigation system and we can also be the leaders in the future.

Labor will ensure irrigation water is affordable by applying strong economic scrutiny of new schemes before they are built and being sensible about the use of taxpayer funds to underpin the viability of any new projects.

Labor has made it clear that there is further value to extract beyond single irrigation schemes by progressing the connection of schemes and the establishment of water grids.

Labor supports the development of an Integrated Water Management Strategy.

Water management in Tasmania is currently fractured, with potential for conflicts of interest, confusion over roles and responsibilities and a lack of coordination and communication.

We recognise that addressing these issues will not be a simple task, but it is necessary to ensure we have a contemporary and effective approach to water management into the future.

Labor commits to working with all water entities, including Hydro Tasmania, TasWater, DPIPWE and Tasmanian Irrigation to maximise any synergistic advantages in combining rivers, dams and schemes to benefit primary production – be that to reduce the cost of water, enhance the quality and volume of flow as well as reduce seasonal variances in supply.

Research innovation and education – Centre of Excellence in Agriculture Research, Education and Commercialisation

Tasmania is well placed internationally to become a destination for leading agriculture research, to the same level as the science undertaken by leading bodies such as the Menzies Institute for Medical Research and the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies.

To continually improve to reach our full potential, the agricultural sector needs to continually innovate.

This will require skilled and dedicated workers.

Currently agricultural research, extension and education facilities are spread out across numerous facilities – this of course leads to less than desirable fragmentation of research projects, people and institutions as well as unnecessary duplication of services and costs.

The opportunity to consolidate existing research stations onto one site to create a Centre of Excellence in Agricultural Research, Education and Commercialisation is Labor’s plan to take agriculture in Tasmania into the future.

The primary purpose of the Centre of Excellence would be to integrate education, research and industry together in a central location.

Our policy reflects the fact that the primary role of our education system is to get our future generations job-ready.

Agriculture is a major employer within the state and the need to have trained employees is vital to the success of small and large businesses operating in the Agriculture industry

The Centre of Excellence will help us develop an employment plan that will provide opportunities for Tasmanians, whilst supporting farmers and their industry.

We want to encourage people to pursue a career in agriculture by promoting it to students and providing better integration and articulation pathways from school to VET or University so that we can build the skilled workforce the industry needs for the future.

A Majority Labor Government in its first year will commission a business plan to identity the potential sites for a Centre of Excellence in Agriculture in the north of the State and bring all of the participants together to create the next generation of Tasmanian farmers.

The site will be expected to house a commercial kitchen and food manufacturing facilities at the same location to create a truly world class paddock-to-plate research and innovation hub.

Labor’s proposed overhaul of skills and training will have significant benefits for agriculture in Tasmania.

Agriculture is one of Tasmania’s truly competitive strengths, especially off the back of the irrigation rollout.

But to reach its full potential, the sector needs skilled, dedicated workers.

An initial commitment of $2.5 million is made to ensure this project is progressed, with further investment to be determined by the results of the business plan.

Other initiatives

Fracking

Labor supports a permanent ban on fracking for oil and gas in Tasmania.

There are no known commercial deposits of oil or gas in Tasmania that would warrant placing an unacceptable threat on Tasmania’s agriculture sector.

A Majority Labor Government will enact this ban within 12 months of the term.

Management of Wildlife

Labor supports the existing arrangements in place for the management of over populations of wildlife and pests on private land.

The management of wildlife and pests on public land is a resource intensive activity however Labor will continue to invest in programs to manage and control over populations of wildlife and pests where their impact is detrimental to the farmers and the environment.

In relation to National Parks, Labor will employ an additional 30 Park Rangers, who will be in part responsible for the control of wildlife and pests in these areas.

This important issue can also be raised for a coordinated approach with Local Government, through Partnership Agreements Labor will form with all Councils across the State.

National Heavy Vehicle Regulator Regulations

Labor accepts that new regulations for heavy vehicle use have not been adequately communicated to users.

As such we support a 12-month delay on the introduction of these regulations for farmers and the agriculture industry.

We commit to working alongside the TFGA to ensure that the uniform national standards for heavy vehicles are equitable for Tasmanian primary producers.

Quad Bike Safety

A Majority Labor Government will provide assistance to farmers to invest in equipment to reduce the risk of injury and death to quad bike users.

Labor will commit $250,000 towards a pilot program providing farmers with a $450 subsidy on the purchase of Australian Standards Approved safety roll cages, helmets and other safety equipment.

Support for Rural Alive and Well

Labor recognises that Rural Alive and Well has a proven track record of providing a valuable service to the farming community.  Labor acknowledges that mental health is a critical issue to communities in rural and regional areas.

Labor will provide RAW with a total of $1.8 million of additional funding over three years.

Support for Tasmanian Women in Agriculture

A Majority Labor Government will provide Tasmanian Women in Agriculture with $80,000 of funding to assist in building capacity for more rural women to take leadership roles in Tasmanian primary industries.

Landcare Grants and Resource Management

Labor recognises the important contribution Natural Resource Management (NRM) makes across the State, coordinating community involvement in landcare programs, as well as facilitating important international connections to agricultural services and research.

A Majority Labor Government will provide $3 million over three years to assist NRM North, NRM South and Cradle Coast NRM to continue to operate and maintain our reputation for clean and green food and agricultural products.

A Majority Labor Government will also make available a $4 million Landcare Grant program over four years, to assist Landcare groups to co-invest with farmers and other community organisations to undertake practical on-ground works for sustainable agriculture and improvements to waterways.