FEDERAL Nationals leader Warren Truss has nominated strengthening Australian livestock exports - not just the cattle trade to Indonesia - as a leading priority for the newly elected Coalition government.
Mr Truss said his party’s first aim was to ensure regional Australians got their “fair share” of funding for infrastructure projects, regional schools, regional hospitals and health care and health services.
“We know we can’t do everything that we’d like to do because we know there are real challenges associated with the tasks that lay ahead with the country in real debt,” he said.
“But regional Australia is a big part of the solution and if we have strong regions, we also have a stronger nation.”
But rebuilding confidence in the live export trade and mending trade relations with Indonesia were also high on the agenda.
He said that rebuilding process would involve strong contact between the two countries at prime ministerial level, with new Prime Minister Tony Abbott saying he would apologise to Indonesia for the former Labor government’s snap ban on cattle exports in June 2011.
Mr Truss said the rebuilding process would also require stronger connections and regular contact between relevant ministers in both countries and industry working together with government to “re-open the doors”.
He said there have been some “slightly more positive signs” coming out of Indonesia in recent months, with cattle import permit restrictions softened by the Indonesian government.
But he said a lot more work was needed to maintain the trading relationship and recover lost ground for the Australian livestock industry.
“Remember, relations with other countries are not made and broken in a day,” he said.
“They need to be worked on the all of the time and we can’t take relationships with our major trading partners for granted or allow them to be dealt with, with a lack of respect at any time.”
Mr Truss said rebuilding market access for live sheep exports to the Middle East would also be important for the new government.
He also agreed it was important to ensure commercial arrangements were prioritised, in signing off on stalled memorandums of understanding between trading partners, while maintaining high standards of animal welfare.
National Farmers Federation president Duncan Fraser said investment in innovation, research, development and extension was critical to make Australian agriculture globally competitive.
He also highlighted the need to address growing labour shortages in the sector and maintain natural resource management, while increasing agricultural production.
“The need for agriculture to be reprioritised on the national agenda remains as strong as ever,” he said.
“During the election campaign we saw both major parties make varying levels of commitment to ensure that this is the case.
“It's now time for the Coalition government to turn their promises into action.”
NFF chief executive officer Matt Linnegar said the lobby group had held extensive discussions with the Coalition before the election on “what they might do rather than what they will do”.
“Now they’re in town we’ll pick up those discussions and go into more detail,” he said.
The NFF wanted more detail on how the Coalition planned to spend and allocate its additional $100 million to rural research, to increase sector profitability.
“We want to know what they mean by that promise but now it’s a question of how that happens and how they intend to approach the funding allocation,” he said.
The NFF also wanted more detail on Coalition plans to spend $2 million on improving agricultural education and work-force shortages.
The Coalition’s agricultural election policies were to:
* Remove red tape
* Complete trade agreements including a meaningful outcome for agriculture
* Invest $100 million in agricultural innovation, RD&E
* Reinstate $2.2 million in native title respondent funding
* Invest $15 million in helping small exporters meet the costs of trade
* Invest $8 million in minor-use chemical permits to increase access for farmers
* Commit $2 million to agricultural education, to help embed agriculture in the national curriculum
* Invest $100 million in improving mobile phone coverage for rural and regional communities.