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2017: Farm advocacy in review

As the farm sector wipes the sweat from its collective brow after another productive 12 months, it's an opportune time to reflect on the year-that-was in agricultural policy and representation.

2017 was characterised by significant highs and lows, both in politics and on-farm.

Natural events like Cyclone Debbie and more recently, in-harvest frosts and storms had farmers shaking their heads in despair. While long-overdue rains in drought-stricken Queensland and buoyant commodity prices provided reasons to smile. 

In the halls of Federal Parliament, it was a tumultuous 12 months. Despite the state of flux, Australia's farm advocates continued to pursue outcomes from farmers. This resulted in significant wins in areas like infrastructure, natural resource management, telecommunications and workplace relations.

We've captured a selection of our favourite highlights, and lowlights...

The highs

Defeating the Defence Land Grab 

Sixty-five landholders, 300,000 hectares and up to 100,000 head of cattle were at the mercy of the Government’s plan to extend defence training facilities in Queensland's Charters Towers and Marlborough regions, as part of a deal between Australia and Singapore.

The NFF and AgForce mobilised quickly, and through the wide-reaching #defendourfarms campaign persuaded the Government to retreat from its land grab plans.

A Federal Budget for farmers

The May Federal Budget contained some important wins for farmers, including: 

  • The retention of immediate asset write-offs for small businesses, following NFF's #SaveTheWriteOff campaign.
  • Funding in full ($8.4 billion) for the Inland Rail project, a freight line from Brisbane to Melbourne.
  • $1.1 billion in funding for Landcare.

A lack of funding for mobile backspots was however, disappointing. Overall, the NFF awarded the Government a B+ for its 2017-2018 Budget.

Improving telecommunications in the bush

As part of its membership of the Regional, Rural & Remote Communications Coalition, the NFF led a delegation to Parliament House, Canberra during March in an effort to put bush communications firmly on the Parliamentary agenda. During the year the RRRCC met with more than 90 MPs and Senators. In June, bush telecommunications users welcomed an almost doubling of Skymuster data limits. The changes came into effect from 1 October.

Members of the Rural, Regional and Remote Communications Coalition address media at Parliament House, Canberra

Leading the global charge for free trade

In Buenos Aires during December, NFF President Fiona Simson, chaired a meeting of the Cairns Group Farm Leaders, where members reaffirmed their support for a global rules-based trading system as overseen by the World Trade Organisation.

The farm sector also welcomed the coming to life of the Peru-Australia Fee Trade Agreement during November. The FTA included significant wins for Australian sugar and serves to continue to build Australia’s trade relations in the Pacific Region.

Balancing the Murray Darling debate

Farmer and irrigator groups from the Northern Basin came together under the #MoreThanFlow banner to urge the Murray Darling Basin Authority to demonstrate that it cares about the social and economic impacts of its decisions.

As part of the campaign, more than 200 individual farmers and community members from across the basin used the #MoreThanFlow online submission generator to send a clear message to the MDBA that irrigation towns were at breaking point and enough was enough.

Celebrating our industry: National Agriculture Day

The inaugural National Agriculture Day on Tuesday 21 November was a fantastic success.

Online, more than 10,000 posts from 4,350 different users celebrated #AgDay.Those posts with their positive message about Australian agriculture reached in excess of 10 million accounts. 

Fifty events were held across the country, with an estimated 2,000 people turning out to attend.

In ‘traditional’ media the AgDay message generated 419 traditional media stories across major outlets such as The Daily Telegraph, Sky News, The Australian, 2GB, Channel 9 and Channel 7. More than 140,000 people saw the AgDay video. A big thank you to our member, industry and corporate partners who helped make AgDay a success.

Decisive action on trusts

In July, Labor surprised farm businesses with a plan to reform trusts. Swift advocacy by the NFF to highlight how the agriculture sector relies on trusts, in particular family trusts, saw farm businesses made exempt from Labor's plans.

The lows

Trump steps backward from free trade

Soon after his inauguration, President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).  Australia and its other TPP partners, refused to raise the white flag on the monumental deal. A new 'TPP 11' was almost over the line in November at trade talks in Vietnam when Canada was a no-show for the final formalities. The terms negotiated under the original TPP offer wide-ranging benefits to Australia’s farm sector and the NFF continues to support a resuscitation of the TPP in some form.

Shortly after his inauguration, US President Donald Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Quad bikes continue to kill

The beginning of the year saw a number of people, including children, killed as a result of quad bikes accidents. Overall deaths from farm incidents rose in 2017 when compared to 2016. The NFF continues to call for a five-star safety rating to be applied to quad bikes to assist farmers’ buying decisions.

Cleaning up backpacker employment practices

The alleged exploitation of backpackers and seasonal workers on Australian farms continues to be a concern. During 2017, the NFF worked closely with Government, industry and Growcom in the development of the Fair Farm Initiative. In 2018, the NFF will continue to work in this space in the best interests of farmers and farm workers.

New inquiries into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan

A 4 Corners investigation in July called into question the compliance of northern irrigators. As a result, four separate inquiries were committed too. An Interim Report by Ken Matthews, delivered in September, gave a frank and fearless review of water compliance and enforcement in New South Wales. A compliance review by the Murray Darling Basin Authority also highlighted issues warranting careful consideration. In 2018, the NFF will continue to work with all Basin Governments, farmers and regional communities to ensure the implementation of the Basin Plan is on time and delivers outcomes for all stakeholders - farmers, communities and the environment.

South Australia disregards science

The South Australian Parliament voted to continue a ban on genetically modified technology until 2025 – a move that subbed science and effectively put the State’s grain growers behind their national and international counterparts.

Looking ahead to 2018...

In 2018, the NFF will continue to further the interests of Australia’s farmers. Our key priorities include:

  • Involvement in the development process for the Inland Rail;
  • Advocating for an ag-specific visa;
  • The timely, effective implementation of the Murray Darling Basin Plan;
  • The progression of preferential trade agreements;
  • Better telecommunications and digital connectivity for bush consumers;
  • Nurturing the farm sector’s social license to operate; and
  • Celebrating Australia’s second National Agriculture Day.


What did you see as the highs and lows of 2017 (farm advocacy or otherwise)? Log in and leave us your thoughts below!

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