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Turnbull take II: what the new Senate means for farmers

The recent federal election was a gamble for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. After three years of government, the frustration of constantly blocked reforms must have taken a toll.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, the Prime Minister declared a double dissolution election, determined to see through its mandate to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission and tighten up union regulation.

The double dissolution election was a gamble. Looking back in the cold light of day, it’s not one that really paid off. Yes, the Turnbull Government has returned. But it now has a very slim majority and must once again rely on the Senate cross-bench to approve laws that Labor won’t support. Loss of even one Coalition MP will threaten its governing majority, so it’s easy to imagine that each is on notice to play close attention to the rules for the next three years.

Labor also had a tough time in the election, with one of its worst results in recent history. Yet this hasn’t stopped Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and his team jumping out of the starting gates, keeping up campaign momentum in case of a second early election. Expect to see more “Bill bus”, more red shirts and more happy snaps with Bill for the foreseeable future. And constant and vigorous opposition to every Coalition plan (as long as it doesn’t involve national security).

...independents and minor parties... in the absence of bipartisanship... have the ultimate privilege of determining public policy on our collective behalf
Tony Mahar, NFF

Legislation that Labor won’t support will once again be in the hands of the Senate the cross-bench: those independents and minor parties who – in the absence of bipartisanship - now have the ultimate privilege of determining public policy on our collective behalf. Key players in the new Senate are Nick Xenophon and his NXT team (Skye Kakoschke-Moore and Stirling Griff) and One Nation Senators Pauline Hanson, Rob Culleton, Malcolm Roberts and Brian Burston. Bob Day, Derryn Hinch, Jacqui Lambie and David Leyonhjelm each also hold one seat in a mixed bag of principle and passion. As a block, they could vote with either NXT or One Nation to support or stymie reform. And then there’s the Greens – with 9 votes in the Senate, a considerable force if they can align their interests with the minor parties.

So how will agriculture fare, when reform it needs is on the line? What will be the future of free trade agreements, workplace reform and the live export industry?

Bob Day is a long term supporter of workplace reform and free trade. David Leyonhjelm, a qualified vet and former agribusiness consultant, supports coastal shipping reform, free markets and governments staying out of the way. Jacqui Lambie has a keen interest in her home State Tasmania, has vocally supported a solution to the dairy crisis, but opposed coastal shipping reform. Derryn Hinch has a strong stance on animal welfare and opposes the live export trade. The Greens, who want an Office of Animal Welfare and an end to both live exports and ‘unsustainable’ agriculture, have workplace policies that make Labor’s policies pale.

We are yet to see how NXT’s policies will play out in full for the farm sector. While concerned about free trade agreements and protecting ‘Aussie jobs’, NXT believes in small business, regional migration and refugees. Xenophon wasn’t afraid to reverse a decision on the Road Safety Remuneration system after being ‘sold a pup’ that devastated owner drivers around the country. He wants the backpacker tax scrapped and has the energy to make it happen.

Make-up of the Senate in the 44th and 45th Australian Parliaments (source: APH)

Pauline Hanson voted for Work Choices, and might once again support workplace reform. Rob Culleton wants to see greater scrutiny of banks in the farm sector. Malcolm Roberts may take an interest in coastal shipping given his history in coal and maritime industries, but proudly decries climate change, setting the scene for a fascinating debate on Australia’s future climate policy over the next few years. Brian Burston has an interest in national security, which could influence One Nation’s approach to foreign investment, migration and trade – areas to watch.

In a nutshell, navigating reform through the Senate over the next three years won’t be any easier than the last. The Prime Minister’s relationship with the cross-bench will be crucial, as will ours. Farmers and industry bodies will be working hard to encourage more bipartisanship on key issues of national importance – trade, environment & innovation - while making sure the new Senate understands the agriculture sector and what it needs to thrive. And we’ll be calling on you from time to time, to share your stories and help us tell them too.

What’s your number one priority for reforming agriculture? Let us know, by contributing a comment below!

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3 Responses

    I hear these days that the companies trading Australian grain overseas are only trading our grain, they are not marketing our grain, if this is true that might be a priority, we don't produce much food we're not going to be anyone's food bowl but we do produce unique quality food so we need to be marketing this for premium price... which hopefully would spill down to the farm gate.....

    It's probably a case of continuing to progress across a whole lot of fronts including increased export market access, increased R&D, incentives for innovation, encouraging foreign investment, improving animal welfare, improving natural resource management, reducing company tax, improving the effectiveness of industry bodies, more value adding on-farm including provenance branding, achieving greater energy efficiency, up-skilling across all occupations involved in agriculture, improving agricultural and food education from primary through to tertiary, achieving greater supply chain efficiencies, programs to maintain urban contact with agriculture. It's important that crazy ideas of Senate crossbenchers and the Greens don't get traction. This includes NXT's ideas of reintroducing a government scheme of free milk in schools and backtracking on the FTAs! Agriculture performs best in a free market environment. Bob Katter's views on reintroducing statutory marketing arrangements in plain silly. I think someone like Jacquie Lambie also has regulatory tendencies.

    An end to the backpacker tax!

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