Legislative Council: Wednesday, February 07, 2024


Agricultural Industry

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI (Leader of the Opposition) (17:05): I move:

That this council—

1. Recognises the significant value of the agricultural industry and thanks those primary producers who secure over $17 billion per annum to the South Australian economy;

2. Notes that the sheep industry is forecasting the worst fall in prices since 2014, policy induced disruptions to the sector, and the highest cost of doing business in history; and

3. Calls on the Malinauskas Labor government to condemn the policy actions of the federal government which is harming the sheep industry and the agricultural sector more broadly.

Today, I move this motion to highlight a matter of utmost importance to our community and our economy, and in doing so I emphasise the significance of our agricultural industry, the cornerstone of our identity, prosperity and heritage. First and foremost, it is imperative that we recognise the immense value that our primary producers bring to our community and the broader South Australian economy.

The toil and dedication of our farmers contributes over $17 billion annually, not only sustaining their livelihoods but also bolstering the economic foundation of our great state. Let us take a moment to express our gratitude to those hardworking individuals who, despite numerous challenges, continue to cultivate our land, nurture our livestock and provide for our tables. Their commitment ensures the resilience and vitality of the agricultural sector, an industry deeply woven into the fabric of South Australia.

However, our celebration of the agricultural industry must not blind us to the pressing challenges it currently faces, particularly within the sheep industry. Recently, the sheep industry has been confronted with the harsh reality of the worst fall in prices since 2014. This alarming downturn is compounded by policy-induced disruptions, creating a storm of uncertainty for our primary producers, and it is the Labor governments both state and federal whose policies and ideologies have created this uncertainty in our farming communities.

The sheep industry, a vital component of our agricultural landscape, is grappling with significant challenges. The sector faces not only external market forces but also the highest cost of doing business in its history. These challenges threaten the very livelihoods of those who have tirelessly sustained our agricultural legacy. It is with deep concern that we note the policy actions of the federal government, which regrettably are contributing to the hardships faced by the sheep industry and, by extension, the agricultural sector at large. As representatives of this community, it is our responsibility to call upon the Malinauskas Labor government to condemn these policy actions that are harming our primary producers in South Australia.

I want to specifically talk about the consequences of a couple of policy decisions of the federal Labor government, which are being supported by this current state Labor government, that have had and are continuing to have a detrimental effect on several aspects of the sheep industry. Let us firstly look to the ban on live sheep exports. Back in September last year, after Prime Minister Albanese announced that his Labor government would ban live sheep exports, nearly two dozen farmers and livestock groups signed an open letter to the Prime Minister, pleading for the government to reverse its decision, warning it will cause irreversible harm to the struggling sheep industry and threaten Australia's political ties and $1.1 billion trade partnerships with the Middle East.

But the current arrogant federal Labor government have ignored producers, they have ignored farmers and they have ignored regional communities. They are hiding their $50,000 independent report into the consequences of ending the live sheep export industry. Might I add, the firm used to produce this report unsurprisingly has also provided reports for other activist groups, which in itself begs the question in regard to independence.

These decisions saw mutton prices, which were more than $100 in January, drop as low as $1 per head in some instances during September last year amid a national oversupply of 640,000 sheep, which has led to some farmers opting to shoot their stock. To add insult to injury, these rock-bottom mutton prices were not reflected at the supermarket check-outs, where shoppers were still paying $10 a kilo for half a leg of lamb or $28 for lamb loin chops at our major supermarket chains.

We know there is not widespread support for the ban. It is a cynical ploy to quiet the inner-city Greens that the ALP needs at election time. The ban is not supported by farmers on the ground. It is not supported by national farming groups and it is not even supported by Labor politicians in Western Australia, such as Premier Roger Cook, who called it an unnecessary burden on producers. Given the damage it will do to the industry, the minister should show support for farmers, such as her WA colleague, and call on her federal counterparts to reconsider this damaging policy.

We are also seeing the incompetence of both state and federal Labor governments with the rollout of the sheep and goat electronic identification for traceability. So much so that only last week WoolProducers Australia, the national organisation representing woolgrowers, pulled their support for the mandatory rollout citing 'ongoing concerns with how the process is unfolding'. They do not believe 'that adequate government funding from both the commonwealth and state governments has been committed', and they are absolutely right.

The fat lamb or prime meat producers have already indicated to the opposition and to the media that the government did not have their confidence with this program, but to now have parts of the wool industry also walking away is a sad indictment on the confidence of the industry in the Albanese and Malinauskas governments, but that is no surprise.

It took the state agriculture minister a month after her big announcement of funding—funding that was woefully modest and not new money—to practically set up any form of scheme to assist producers. Many stakeholders are still in the dark in regard to subsidies on infrastructure delivery because it seems the minister cannot make any decisions or display any sense of leadership on this issue because, despite the initial pretence to the contrary when they were campaigning for the election and directly thereafter, they cannot hide away from the cold-hearted facts and that is that Labor ignores the regions, always have and always will.

It is incumbent on the Malinauskas Labor government as a representative body of the people to advocate for all South Australians and that includes the interests of our agricultural community. It is incumbent upon us to stand united in our call for policies that support and sustain our farmers, rather than subjecting them to undue hardships.

In conclusion, let us not forget the resilience and tenacity embedded in the heart of our agricultural industry. As representatives of the people, we must stand together, acknowledging the challenges faced by our primary producers, and demand action from our government to secure a prosperous future for our agricultural sector.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. I.K. Hunter.