It's been almost five years since Ferny Grove's Mark Furner was sworn in as Queensland's Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries.
Back in December 2017, many were quick to stereotype the city-based minister who took on the portfolio after a cabinet reshuffle.
Queensland Country Life put 14 questions to Mr Furner in September to find out a little more about the man at the helm of the state's agricultural pursuits.
He likes his steak cooked medium, is the son of a dairy farmer and spent his early career driving rigid body and semi-trailers carting the commodities he represents today.
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1 - What's a typical day like for you?
There's no such thing as a 'typical' day when you're the Agriculture Minister! Mondays are usually dominated by Cabinet and meetings with my department but every other day I could be meeting stakeholders or travelling across this great state. Just recently I attended Community Cabinet on Thursday Island, visiting communities up in the Torres Strait for two days. That was followed by a quick visit to Roma where I helped celebrate the QCWA's 100th anniversary with the local branch. That is what I love about this job- it's so varied.
2 - What is one of the highlights or biggest achievements of your time as agriculture minister?
In 2020 Queensland faced an unprecedented challenge. The COVID-19 global pandemic changed the way we lived and operated. It closed international borders and borders between the states. I am proud of how the Palaszczuk Government worked closely with industry to support our producers and fishers during this time. Not only did we declare agriculture an essential industry, my department provided regular briefings to more than 70 industry bodies through the Agriculture Coordination Group.
I want to pay tribute to the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, especially the Agriculture Coordination Officers that worked within their communities to help agribusinesses with their workforce needs. We were the only state to trial on-farm quarantine of pacific island workers- more than 5,200 were quarantined on farm or in regional centres and that allowed Queensland produce to make it to supermarkets all over this country.
Because of our work with industry, the value of Queensland agriculture continued to grow during the pandemic and is now worth more than $23.5 billion dollars. I am proud of the work the Palaszczuk Government has done in delivering key reforms in my portfolio. Through the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy we are continuing to provide much needed reforms to Queensland's fisheries so that we can continue to support the thousands of good jobs that help sustain this billion-dollar industry.
Reforms to drought assistance means we are supporting our farmers to take action now to prepare for future droughts. The assistance schemes are open to more industries like horticulture. Another highlight has been working with the Premier to see the expansion of cluster fencing to 9,000 kilometres, protecting and bringing the sheep industry back into western Queensland.
3 - What is a regret or something you wish turned out differently during your time as agriculture minister?
The failure of the passing of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme over a decade ago is impacting my time now as minister.
There is a realisation across the industry, consumers, and the world that climate change is real and happening- and we are taking action now, through such steps as the Low Emissions Roadmap.
But we are a decade behind where we need to be, owing to the Greens and the LNP ganging up at a federal level and causing a decade of climate wars. The time for politics is past. That is why the Palaszczuk Government is working with industry now to ensure a clean, green sustainable agricultural sector. This is what consumers here and around the world are demanding.
If we do not engage and start acting now, we will be left behind and other countries who have taken climate action will step in to fill the need for clean, green produce.
4 - What's something that people in the ag industry may not know about you? Any secret talents or skills!
My links to the agriculture sector go further than most people realise. Growing up I worked at a butcher, fish and chip shop and fruit and veg store. I spent my early career driving rigid body and semi-trailers carting many of the commodities I represent today- wool, cotton, timber, frozen and chilled meat containers among others.
5 - Personally, have you enjoyed your time as ag minister? Why?
I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as Minister. Queensland producers are salt of the earth, hard-working people who produce top-quality produce that people around the world enjoy every day. It is a privilege to be in this role as Minister, working with industry to help this sector grow.
6 - What was the biggest challenge to overcome when taking on this role? How did you overcome it?
I think it has been people's early perception of me when I came into this portfolio. Just because I did not come off the land, despite my dad being a dairy farmer, I sometimes got stereotyped. In fact you are better placed because you're not biased or beholden to any one group. I came into this portfolio with an open mind, willing to listen so that I could make informed decisions. I see myself as a warm and engaging person and as a result I have developed many friendships with farmers who I'm proud to know them as friends.
7 - A lot of community consultation is labelled as performative, what role do industry groups have in actual discussion?
A good government is a government that listens. And the Palaszczuk Government has always listened and worked with stakeholders in Queensland agriculture whether it's through AGMAC, BQMAC, fishery working groups or the Timber Ministerial Roundtable.
As I have said before, convening the Agriculture Coordination Group during the COVID-19 pandemic showed a commitment by this government to work with industry at a very challenging time and the results speak for themselves.
Whether it is working with Growcom to develop Future Fields, a new strategic pathway for the horticulture industry, or with QFF and Agforce on the new Low-Emissions Pathway consultation paper, as Minister I will always take the time to consult the leaders of this sector.
8 - What do you believe is the biggest issue or threat facing agriculture? Why should farmers be aware of it?
I am concerned about the threat posed by the biosecurity threats of Foot and Mouth disease and Lumpy Skin Disease. Queensland faces more biosecurity threats than any other state, so we are well versed in preparing and responding.
I would like to thank the new Federal Labor Government for working closely with all the states and territories on helping farmers during this time.
The other issue facing the industry of course is workforce shortages. It is not isolated to farming alone. A national, coordinated approach is needed and I like to thank federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt for re-starting the Agriculture Ministers' Meeting after more than 8 months so that we can address this and other issues facing Australian agriculture.
9 - How do you like your steak cooked? And where was the best steak you've enjoyed in Qld?
I prefer my steak cooked medium! I cannot pick a winner, but I am a Queenslander through and through so I always try and get locally sourced steak wherever I can. I must say Beef Week is the best week as the Minister- it is like being in beef paradise!
10 - Vegetation management laws were strongly opposed by farmers - what response do you get to that legislation now and why did the government stay firm on these laws despite the opposition?
Vegetation management has not been a topic that has been raised as often as some might think- former Minister Lynham consulted broadly, engaged with stakeholders of many differing views and came out with legislation that has shown that Queensland is at the forefront when it comes to proving to our markets that we treat this issue seriously.
11 - Do you believe you've given the industry true leadership?
I believe that I've supported our farmers through some of the most challenging times we've ever experienced. I've assisted primary producers through some of the worst natural disasters, such as droughts, the northern monsoonal event in 2019 as well as the floods this year.
None of the things we have achieved would have been possible if it were not for the hard work of my department and the strong partnerships I have with industry, through organisations like Agforce, Queensland Farmers Federation, Growcom all the other industry groups that represent our producers.
12 - What else do you hope you can achieve in this role?
There is so much, from developing a low-emissions pathway for our producers to continuing much needed reforms to our fisheries sector. I have supported our producers to secure more opportunities to export their produce and be recognised as the providers of the best agricultural products in the world.
Ultimately, I want to see this important part of the Queensland economy continue to grow so that we create more good jobs in regional Queensland. After all, living in rural Queensland is a great lifestyle this government is committed to supporting that through providing better services and creating good jobs.
13 - What do you want to be remembered for as the Queensland ag minister?
I would like to be remembered as a Minister that delivered key reforms to this important part of the Queensland economy, whether it be on drought assistance, sustainability of fishing stocks or animal welfare.
Along with the Premier, I am proud to have delivered the Rural Economic Development grants that have created more than 1600 jobs across Queensland and the Rural Agricultural Development Grants scheme which will further drive the expansion of the sheep and goat industry.
Every agriculture budget I have overseen has been over half a billion dollars, something I'm also proud of.
14 - If you had a career change, would you like to be a cattle producer, a mango grower, a cotton farmer, or have a piggery? Why?
All of these are great careers and in Queensland we truly have a diverse agriculture sector. And in my travels, I have visited many a cattle property, mango orchard, cotton farm and piggery. They are all great jobs providing top quality, green and clean produce for dining tables around Australia and across the world.
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