Image for Tasmanian farmers are watching ...

So the long wait is over, and we now know exactly when the federal election is to be held. We’ll now get to have our say on who will form our next government on September 7th. In a way, it’s a relief to have the date set – now we can hope for an end to the relentless campaigning we’ve been subjected to over the past year.

Prime Minister Rudd acknowledged the importance of investment in agribusiness as part of his announcement of the election. He said that Chinese demand for Australian resources was levelling out and that this will impact on growth in the mining industry. On this basis, he added that it was important for the nation to ‘stop putting all of its eggs in one basket’.

Through these comments, and initiatives such as the National Food Plan and the Asian Century White Paper, the federal government has signalled that food, fibre and agriculture will be a priority if they secure another term. Similarly, the Coalition has indicated their commitment to the sector and identified agriculture as one of their key policy pillars.

What farmers and the broader rural sector now need to see is the detail behind the rhetoric, so that they can make up their own minds about what the major parties and independents have to offer.

Between now and the election, we will be judging major political parties on their commitment to the agriculture sector and long-term policy vision.

The National Farmers Federation will run a scorecard on the parties’ relative policies (something we plan to do in next year’s state election campaign). That scorecard will look at research, development and extension, measures to increase our international competitiveness, red tape reduction, elevating agriculture in the national education curriculum and improvements in our preparedness to meet the challenges of the Australian climate.

In Tasmania, agriculture holds a pre-eminent place in the economy - $1.7 billion annual value, 9 per cent of gross state product and 17,000 jobs. Therefore, we need to ensure that Tasmanian agriculture is on the national agenda and that the unique aspects of the Tasmanian sector are recognised and incorporated into national policy.

The TFGA has a number of key policy areas that we believe need to be addressed in this campaign:

•  Growing the Tasmanian Agriculture Sector: ensuring that Tasmanian agriculture is on the national agenda; and that the unique aspects of the Tasmanian sector are recognised and incorporated into national policy.
•  Investing in RD&E: TFGA supports the national call to drive innovation and productivity through increased investment in agriculture RD&E; and we want to see increasing public investment in RD&E.
•  Increasing competitiveness and profitability: ensuring that Tasmanian agriculture is nationally and globally competitive and the sector remains profitable; and delivering a reduction in pointless and contradictory regulatory restraints through the harmonisation of federal and state legislation and regulations.
•  Balancing agriculture and the environment:ensuring that the agriculture sector can increase production, while maintaining sustainable management of our natural resources. 
•  Freight equalisation: ensuring that the difficulties faced by Tasmanian producers in shipping their produce across Bass Strait are recognised; and that the existing system of freight equalisations is enhanced and simplified.

All politicians need to remember that the future of food, fibre and agriculture is dependent on policy decisions made today. These decisions are not just important for farmers but for the millions of Australians who eat, drink and wear what we produce every day. With the mining boom is coming to an end, Australians need to embrace the dining boom – and that will be led by Australian farmers.

Tasmanian farmers are watching - and they will be carefully considering where they place their votes.