30 Oct 2014

The Commonwealth releases the Agricultural Competitiveness Green Paper

by Heath Lewis

The Green Paper uses 11 policy areas to group its 25 recommendations.

On the path to honouring a 2013 Coalition election promise to produce an agriculture White Paper, Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce has released the Agricultural Competitiveness Green Paper, a broad-ranging document summarising ideas and options suggested for improving the competitiveness of the agribusiness sector.

The publication of the 172-page Green Paper comes after the two-month consultation period earlier this year following the release of the Agricultural Competitiveness issues paper in February. According to the Green Paper, the issues paper "attracted considerable interest from a range of parties including farmers, businesses throughout the supply chain, research organisations, government agencies and industry groups".

The Green Paper distils the policy ideas put forward by stakeholders during the consultation process into 11 main categories, and seeks further submissions from stakeholders in the agriculture sector. It provides an opportunity for stakeholders to assist the Coalition Government develop Australia's agricultural policy platform, and gives some insight into the Coalition Government's views on policy issues relating to the sector.

The Green Paper's 11 policy areas

The Green Paper explores 25 policy suggestions within the following 11 policy areas:

(1) Infrastructure: the Green Paper identifies that agricultural transport, logistics and communications infrastructure must be efficient and cost-effective.

(2) Working with the States and Territories: given that much agribusiness regulation occurs at State and Territory level, the Green Paper contemplates that competitiveness may be improved via deregulation, particularly removal of duplicated regulation.

(3) Competition and regulation: efficient and effective regulation (including the removal of unnecessary so-called red and green tape) will promote lower costs and competitiveness in the sector, as would strengthening competition laws and increasing price transparency in the supply chain.

(4) Finance, business structures and taxation: productivity and competitiveness will be increased by providing better access to finance and reliable business information and advice, and by ensuring that the relevant taxation system appropriately encourages agricultural investment.

(5) Foreign investment: noting historical benefits to the sector, the Green Paper provides that the agricultural sector will benefit from the continued encouragement of responsible foreign investment, and by ensuring the associated regulatory framework is appropriate for the industry.

(6) Education, skills and training, and labour: improving agricultural education systems will ensure that workers in the agricultural sector have the requisite experience and skill, and that enabling access to a flexible workforce will increase labour availability and thereby benefit the agricultural sector.

(7) Drought: the Green Paper suggests policies relating to the promotion of drought resilience and risk management capabilities, and canvasses the benefits of providing support to drought-impacted farmers, families and businesses.

(8) Water and natural resource management: the Green Paper notes that improved water infrastructure will be beneficial to meeting Australia's future water supply needs, and policies that ensure sustainable and productive use of natural resources will allow for economic growth and development in the sector.

(9) Research, development and extension: the Green Paper suggested that productivity may increase as a result of policies aimed at increasing strategic and coordinated research and development.

(10) Biosecurity: the Green Paper proposes potential legislative changes and improvements to biosecurity procedures to protect the industry from biological risks.

(11) Accessing international markets: the Green Paper recognises that policies aimed at improving Australia's export regulatory framework and reducing technical barriers to trade would give Australian exporters an improved opportunity to capture high-value foreign markets.

The Green Paper outlines the relevant issues relating to each of these underlying policy ideas, gives an overview of the Government's existing actions to address the issues, and sets out the policy ideas put forward by stakeholders to further address the relevant issues.

There is implicit recognition that the Green Paper represents somewhat of a kitchen sink approach, in the expectation that many of the ideas will not find their way into the White Paper on the basis that they are not consistent with existing government policy settings, are incapable of being funded, or are simply too dramatic to be seriously considered at this time.

The next step: the final Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper

Submissions from stakeholders in response to the Green Paper will be used to guide the development of the final Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, expected to be released in 2015. The White Paper will present the Government's long-term strategic direction and policy commitments to promote competitiveness, farm-gate profitability, investment and jobs in the agricultural sector, and will complement the Government's broader policy of boosting productivity, generating jobs and strengthening the economy.

The Coalition Government’s key agricultural policy objective, according to the Green Paper, is "to achieve a better return at the farm gate to ensure a sustainable and competitive Australian agriculture sector". It believes that the attainment of this objective will increase investment in Australian agriculture, increase export revenue, create jobs and stronger regional communities, and strengthen the Australian economy.

Individual and organisational stakeholders have until 5.00pm (EDT) on 12 December 2014 to make submissions on the Green Paper.

If you would like assistance in drafting submissions in response to the Green Paper, please contact one of our agribusiness specialists: Heath Lewis (Perth), Michael Linehan (Melbourne), Karen Evans-Cullen (Sydney) or Andrew Hay (Brisbane).

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Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.