THE Agribusiness Council of Australia (ACA) is forging ahead with plans to establish a new peak national body for agriculture and agribusiness, with a formal launch event scheduled for Parliament House in Canberra next March.
The launch will see relevant Ministers and federal politicians of all political persuasions invited, especially those from electorates in regional Australia.
Media, agribusiness representatives and diplomatic ambassadors from key trading countries will also be asked to the launch.
ACA chairman Ian Joseph said he was pleased with the continuing calls and support for establishing a new peak industry body to represent the entire agribusiness sector.
Mr Joseph said with more than 4000 industry groups vying for attention and new single issue groups forming regularly, industry leaders wanted the best way to “speak with one voice” through a new peak body.
The ACA evolved from an agribusiness industry leaders meeting in Canberra 18 months ago, organised by WA Liberal Senator Chris Back to investigate issues concerning chronic skills shortages facing the sector.
Senator Back also instigated a federal Senate inquiry on the skills shortages issue after the convocation, which made several key recommendations in a report tabled in June this year.
Mr Joseph said while the report also identified a “crucial market failure problem” it also recommended establishing a new peak body, which provided the ACA encouragement to launch.
The ACA has also flagged plans to establish a $5 billion trust fund to tackle the industry’s immediate woes and better prepare strategies for dealing with longer-term challenges, like future food security.
But the fledgling body has tried to play down the National Farmers Federation’s concerns, by saying it has no plans to “clone” the peak farm lobby group and will instead develop a one-stop lobbying group where governments can gauge the views of all industry sectors coherently.
Mr Joseph said the NFF would be invited to next year’s launch and were a key part of the ACA’s plans to create a more effective representative structure for agribusiness.
He said a recent Victorian government inquiry made similar recommendations to the Federal Senate and the ACA now awaits an official response from both governments.
“Australia deserves the best industry-wide strategic approach to providing long-term solutions and re-energising productivity performance in the face of rising global opportunities,” he said.
“What the ACA will do is provide the means to focus renewed unanimity of purpose throughout the agribusiness sector, no matter how complex the issues are.”
Mr Joseph said the agribusiness sector broadly encompasses about a third of the Australian economy and has suffered a rising image problem over the last decade or more.
He said increasing comments from industry observers suggested that farmers and agribusinesses must address their own ‘industry attractiveness’ issues.
But until the ACA came along no group has put their hand up to drive that effort, he said.
“The ACA will focus on growing solutions to stimulate industry growth and build industry attractiveness for the long haul”, he said.
“Whilst the industry is broadly united in its views, the industry’s fragmented nature dilutes many genuine efforts to improve its fortunes.
“Most agree that widespread pressure on margins is also causing short-term thinking and distracting industry from finding long-term solutions.
“It’s hard to drain the swamp when you’re fighting crocs.”
Mr Joseph said despite a couple of decades of well-intentioned efforts by many people and institutions of all persuasions, the ag-sector was losing ground as special interest groups eroded its image.
“Over the decades there have been hundreds of inquiries about agriculture in all jurisdictions all basically saying the same thing,” he said.
“Yet even with the facts on the table, ag-related industries still struggle to gain public support and that image is affecting private investor attitudes too.
“Then the along came the global financial crisis.
“The time for another report or another talkfest has passed.
“It is time for new thinking and a focus on growing solutions and for someone accountable to put them into action.
“The ACA will be that accountability focal point.”
Mr Joseph said agribusiness is the engine that drove the nation’s economic productivity in the past and would again.
He said agribusiness was the last great manufacturing industry left in Australia, twice the size of the car industry.
“Current exchange rates are forcing all industries to book in for a productivity tune-up just to stay in the race,” he said.
“It’s long past time to talk about an agribusiness peak industry body, time to action it.
“The ACA will launch in early 2013 and take on solving all hard-to-do longer-term issues it can.
“Importantly, the ACA will put its hand up to drive renewed industry promotional positioning squarely aimed at turning agribusiness into the most exciting and desirable profession that it is, one that feeds us all.”