Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce with Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey at Murrumbateman this week.THE Coalition government’s Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper has been delayed to ensure the final product is right and gives the nation confidence in agriculture’s big future, says Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Nanjing Night Net

Mr Abbott addressed the White Paper’s delay when announcing plans to implement new transparency measures and tighter scrutiny of agricultural foreign investment on Wednesday.

He made the announcement on a fifth-generation mixed farming property at Murrumbateman NSW, about 45 minutes from Canberra.

Mr Abbott was joined on the Hodgkinson family’s property “Vale View” in a delegation that included Treasurer Joe Hockey, Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and Hume Liberal MP Angus Taylor.

One of the Coalition government key election commitments was to make agriculture one of the five key pillars of the national economy, which the PM has openly supported.

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce says the White Paper will be a “seminal” document that outlines the government’s agricultural policy vision and direction in view of that goal and driving export opportunities via the Asian dining boom and future food security.

He released a draft Green Paper last October at the National Farmers’ Federation annual congress, but the final paper has yet to pass approval by the Coalition Cabinet – despite an initial promise it would be finalised by late 2014.

However, Mr Abbott said the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper “will be coming soon” and it was “important to get it right”.

“I always say that it’s more important to get things right than to rush them,” he said.

“There were a couple of things that we perhaps did try to do a little bit too quickly last year and we’ve learnt some important and salutary, even chastening lessons from that.

“So, there was an extensive consultation process. We are in the business of finalising the White Paper.

“It will be out soon but we do want to make sure it’s right and I’m absolutely confident that when it comes out it will give the whole country confidence that agriculture is going to be at least as big a part of Australia’s future as it has been of the past.”

Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has made a regular example of the White Paper’s delay, with his latest statement accusing the government of failing to deliver it when promised.

His most recent attack cited the Coalition’s agricultural policy, announced in the lead-up to the 2013 federal election.

“The White Paper will be conducted by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and will report within 12 months,” that document said.

Mr Fitzgibbon said the agriculture sector deserved to know when the Abbott government would deliver its “long-awaited White Paper”.

“The Prime Minister’s website is now stating that ‘the White Paper is set for completion in 2015’ – no specific date, so we could see another 12 months of policy inertia,” he said.

“Meanwhile, the ag sector has no clear policy and strategic guidance from the Abbott government at a time of enormous change – with both challenges and opportunities.

“Barnaby Joyce and Tony Abbott can’t continue to promise farmers they’ll have answers to their questions when the White Paper is released.

“For many of them, it will be too late.”

But Mr Joyce told Fairfax Agricultural Media the White Paper was scheduled for an upcoming Cabinet meeting and he expected the final document to be out in about a month and a half.

“We want a formidable document, not a motherhood statement,” he said.

“I could have got a motherhood statement out ages ago – if that’s what people wanted – but that’s not going to cut the mustard.

“It’s got to be something substantial and the more substantial it is, the more work that’s required and the more lobbying that’s required.”

Mr Joyce said the White Paper was currently undergoing a “final run-through” and had a place booked at booked in Cabinet later on.

“I think people will be pretty happy with what they see (but) I just don’t want to blow it up by pre-empting it,” he said.

“After a lot of hard work getting it together, I want to give it the best chance of getting through.”

The deadline for feedback on the Green Paper closed last December after it initially received about 700 submissions from a range of stakeholder groups.

Its topics included: enhancing infrastructure; drought policy; competition laws and other regulations; market access and trade; taxation structures and foreign investment.

The Green Paper said many of its policy overlapped with the work of other reviews like the Harper Competition Review and Taxation White Paper.

“In instances where such overlap occurs, particularly where it relates to areas broader than the agricultural sector, any findings or recommendations arising from the Agriculture White Paper process may be referred to the other appropriate review processes,” it said.

“It will be important, also, that Australia’s policies remain consistent with our international obligations, as we expect from other countries.

“As such, this Green Paper is presented as a discussion of possible options proposed by stakeholders for improving the competitiveness of the sector.

“Not all options discussed in the Green Paper will be taken forward in the White Paper.”

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