An opportunity to compare agricultural policy between the two major parties was missed on Tuesday at the National Press Club debate between minister for agriculture David Littleproud and shadow minister for agriculture Julie Collins.
While Littleproud announced a new policy in the $75 million Future Farmers Guarantee, Collins missed numerous opportunities to outline Labor’s position on topics such as live sheep exports, the Agriculture Visa (which was announced last August), and biosecurity. On each occasion, Collins gave a similar answer to the effect that Labor will be announcing those policies later in the election campaign.
On Labor not taking a position on the Agricultural Visa, for example, Collins said: “There’s no workers here under [the Agricultural Visa], and there was only an MOU signed recently, and the detail of it only went up on the website as caretaker mode was announced. We need time to have a look at that detail. We need time to make sure, and we’ve been talking to the Farmers Federation and talking to farmers.”
Collins did refer to already announced Labor policies relevant to agriculture, such as $8 million for the development of Australia’s seaweed farming policy and a $400 million fund to upgrade regional telecommunications.
The Coalition policy envisages the government guaranteeing loans of up to 40% of equity for new properties. The government would act as the guarantor for the loans, with banks ultimately deciding who would receive the loan.
“I don’t want to see big corporates and foreign companies coming in and taking out the opportunity for succession to take place where the son or daughter wants to have that go,” said the minister on the policy.
“And we’ve stood in the way, we’ve taken away that opportunity. This is just using the tools that are available — using them effectively and trying to get a return on investment for the Australian taxpayer.”
The minister disagreed with the characterisation of the policy as a subsidy, stating that the $75 million only gets called upon if there is a default on the loan.
The debate featured some heated back-and-forth between the two, at times talking over one another. Littleproud accused Collins of not understanding the sector, which Collins disagreed with.