WEST Australian Liberal MP Nola Marino used the final week of federal parliament for 2012 to highlight mounting pressure on the financial viability of farmers.
Ms Marino said despite releasing the National Food Plan green paper, the government was “long on rhetoric but short on substance”.
“It is a paper that demonstrates again no understanding of the problems facing food production and food producers in Australia,” she said.
“If a business cannot make a profit then the business closes and frequently that is what is happening to agriculture and food producers in Australia.
“On the land we need to make sure that every hectare counts, but many of those doing the work cannot make a living.”
She said the paper made no attempt to address farm viability and market access, nor did it mention rising costs of production, farm-gate price, or return on capital.
“These are core issues for those in the food production sector,” she said.
“Every cent that adds to growers' costs of production means they are less likely to be able to produce the food and fibre we need into the future.”
However, shadow parliamentary secretary for agriculture Sid Sidebottom said the green paper did address producer viability, as well as outlining how current policy addressed issues including agricultural productivity, market access, and rural skills and development.
It also addressed potential changes to policy, including increasing public expenditure on rural research and development, and expanding trade opportunities with Asia.
“[The food plan] is an important step to ensure a more integrated, co-ordinated and strategic focus to food related policy along the supply chain.
Victorian Liberal MP Dan Tehan said rural producers were hurting across the country.
“All the feedback and information I am getting at the moment is that it is very hard for our farmers to make a living,” he said.
He said there were three immediate steps the government could take to address the problem: put downward pressure on the Aussie dollar, get rid of the carbon tax, and improve access to overseas markets.
“Whether we like it or not, [the carbon tax] has to go to help our farmers,” he said.
SA Liberal Rowan Ramsey said Australia has one of the lowest levels of government support for agriculture in the developed world.
He said subsidies were often hard to identify and come in various guises, including direct subsidies, tariffs, quotas and trade barriers disguised as something else.
But our biggest agricultural competitor, the United States, pumped around $20 billion a year in direct subsidies into US agriculture, plus it imposes stringent import quotas to a range of products, including beef and sugar.
Meanwhile, the European Union spends 57 billion euros a year on agriculture.
“In comparison, Australian agriculture has very little support notwithstanding the recent emergency exceptional circumstances arrangements during the drought,” he said.