| October 26, 2018

Motion on Australian Agriculture

 I move:

That this House:

(1) acknowledges the importance of irrigated agriculture to the Australian economy;

(2) notes that:

   (a) irrigated agricultural enterprises in 2016-17 contributed $15.5 billion to the Australian economy and accounts for 25 per cent of total Australian agricultural production; and

   (b) in 2016-17 there were 22,103 agricultural businesses that farmed 2,244,000 hectares of irrigated land in Australia;

(3) recognises that of the $15.5 billion contributed to the economy in 2016-17, the major commodities included:

   (a) fruit and nuts $3.5 billion;

   (b) vegetables $3.3 billion;

   (c) dairy $1.6 billion;

   (d) cotton $1.5 billion;

   (e) grapes $1.3 billion;

   (f) nurseries and turf $1.3 billion;

   (g) sugar cane $836 million;

   (h) beef cattle $684 million;

   (i) cereals $308 million; and

   (j) rice $252 million; and

(4) acknowledges the commitment, hard work and investment of irrigators in every state and territory in Australia and the contribution they make to our economy.

The gross value of production at the farm gate of Australian farms at the moment is over $60 billion. Of that, $15.5 billion is in relation to irrigated agriculture. The target set by the industry and fully supported by the coalition government is to get that $60 billion to $100 billion by 2030. It's a very sharp target but one that is achievable in the next 12 years. Irrigation is going to play an enormous part in that projected growth. It is often said in this place that agriculture is the backbone of this country's economy, and I think that's true. I think that's going to be the case even more so in the future. If agriculture is the backbone then I think irrigation within that agriculture is the heart that pumps the life into our agricultural economy.

Unfortunately, there is a misinformed minority that target our irrigators and call them somewhat in the vicinity of environmental vandals. I want to correct that misconception and set the record straight. Irrigators are farmers, men and women, who are champions of producing food and fibre for this great country. These men and women are also champions of sustainability. What they have done in recent years to improve the salinity and acidity of our soils is to be commended. Irrigation farmers produce food for our tables and fibre for our clothing not only here but also to families around the world. Australia's greatest asset is its people, and Australia's greatest limiting asset is water. These efficient, hardworking entrepreneurs manage the water to feed and clothe us and are located in every state and territory in Australia. In Western Australia, it's over $990 million; the Northern Territory, $100 million; Tasmania, over $769 million; Queensland, over $4 billion; New South Wales, $3.65 billion; and the ACT, $3 million. The largest contribution comes from Victoria, with $4.16 billion in irrigated agriculture.

One of the largest sections within Australia is obviously the Murray Darling Basin. While we have a contest going on for water within the Murray Darling Basin, areas like the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District have given up an enormous amount of water over recent periods towards a better balance of water use in this country—so, putting more water back to the environment. But we need to warn everybody very, very carefully that, if we take too much water out of our irrigation systems, we're going to reach a tipping point where the irrigation systems will become unsustainable. There is an element of 450 gigalitres of water that is questionable within the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, and that questionable amount of 450 gigalitres has stipulations placed upon it whereby it cannot be recovered for the environment if it is going to be socially and economically detrimental to the communities. This is an area which will hopefully be cleared up when we hold our next MINCO in mid-December.

I want to thank David Littleproud's officers and also the officers from Victoria and New South Wales, who have been working very hard on getting that neutrality test to ensure that any further water taken from irrigators in Australia can only be done so when it is proven beyond doubt that there will be no social or economic damage to individuals or their communities.

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