Australia: Improving Australian Agricultural Competitiveness

Last Updated: 6 December 2014
Article by Clive Cachia

The Commonwealth Government has released its Green Paper exploring a range of policy options to expand the competitiveness of the Australian agriculture sector and its share of the global market. See the paper here.

The Green Paper serves to progress the Government's long-held ambition to take advantage of the changing food demand profile of the rapidly expanding middle class in Asia. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has predicted that Asia could account for 66% of the world's middle class by 2030 up from about 30% today. As the Green Paper notes, "the Government has prioritised agriculture as one of the five pillars of the economy for good reason". The 700 submissions received from industry stakeholders earlier this year also demonstrate the enthusiasm for the opportunities that exist in these markets.

The Green Paper discusses policy ideas under 11 separate categories. Set out in the table below is a summary of:

  • the key objectives of such policies
  • select legal and regulatory reforms the Government has done, or is doing, to pursue these objectives
  • certain policy ideas which have been proposed by stakeholders in the submission process.
Policy objectives Select recent and current legal / regulatory reforms Further proposed reforms

A. Infrastructure
Building efficient and cost-effective transport and communications infrastructure for supply chain enhancements, opening new markets and innovations in agricultural production.

  1. Implementing the new Port Terminal (Bulk Wheat) Code of Conduct (effective from September 2014) obliging port terminal operators to:
    • negotiate in good faith with wheat exporters for access to port terminal services
    • disclose information regarding available port terminal services.
  2. Not discriminate or hinder access to port terminal services.
  3. Commencement of the Heavy Vehicle National Law aimed at improving productivity and safety through regulatory harmonisation.
  1. Improving regulation (eg coastal shipping regulations) to reduce costs faced by producers. 
  2. Building new transport infrastructure (including all weather access rural roads and promoting air freight hubs in regional Australia) to reduce transport times to markets.
B. Federation
Remove duplication in regulation between States and Territories and the Commonwealth to improve agricultural competiveness.
  1. Preparation of White Paper on Reform of the Federation – due to report in 2015.
  2. Reducing red and green tape through the Council of Australian Governments. (COAG)
  1. Consider deregulation in native vegetation and work health and safety laws and improve efficiency of native title systems. 
  2. Implement the Co-operatives National Law to make it easier to run a co-operative across different states and to issue hybrid securities to attract external capital.
C. Competition and Regulation
Ensure fairness and transparency in the supply chain (notably between farmers and wholesalers/retailers) and amend regulation to create least possible costs for agriculture participants.
  1. 'Root and branch' review of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Harper Review). This is due to report to Government by March 2015.
  2. Extending unfair contract term protections to small business.
  3. Considering whether to prescribe the Food and Grocery Code as a regulation under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.
  1. Improving market competition by increasing price transparency throughout the domestic supply chain and restoring balance of power to the producer.
  2. Strengthening competition laws to make it easier to prove misuse of market power and to remove barriers to consolidating agribusiness companies – designed to facilitate 'national champions' of Australian agribusiness.
  3. Facilitate greater use of co-operative structures to increase farmers' bargaining power.
D. Finance, business structures and taxation
Improving access to financial, business information and advice and ensuring the tax system encourages investment.
  1. Concessional loans through Farm Finance Concessional Loans Scheme.
  2. White Paper on Reform of Australia's Tax System by end of 2015 (Tax White Paper).
  3. Regulatory developments to encourage crowd-sourced equity funding.
  1. Encourage greater institutional investment in agriculture (eg superannuation products for potential equity in farms or special concessionally-taxed Government bonds to encourage agricultural investment).
  2. A range of tax concessions to be explored in the Tax White Paper (eg income tax averaging, zone tax offsets and tax loss trading for farmers).
E. Foreign investment
Continue to encourage foreign investment to build new production capacity and ensuring the regulatory framework takes account of the needs of the agriculture sector.
  1. Register of foreign ownership of agricultural land.
  2. Reforming FIRB scrutiny of agricultural investment proposals including:
    • appointing an agriculture industry executive to the FIRB board
    • lowering thresholds for FIRB security of private foreign purchases of agribusinesses.
  1. Improving transparency by expanding the coverage of the register of foreign ownership of agricultural land to water and agribusiness enterprises.
F. Education, skills and training, and labour
Expanding the pool of labour servicing agribusinesses by increasing education, providing geographic and seasonal flexibility and attracting new entrants.
  1. Vocational, Education and Training (VET) reforms.
  2. Enhanced visa availability including:
    • Temporary Work (Skilled) visas (subclass 457)
    • Working Holiday Maker visas (subclass 417).
  1. Financial support for regional education.
  2. Further liberalisation of visa availability including streamlining application processes and providing clearer pathways for residency for such visa holders.
G. Drought
Continue to promote drought resilience and risk management capabilities.
  1. Various government support measures including concessional loans, tax concessions to manage income variability and environmental resilience.
  1. Promote drought preparedness by:
    • increasing accelerated depreciation for water/fodder infrastructure 
    • grants and concessions to improve access to insurance.
H. Water and natural resource management
Identifying and building necessary water infrastructure and ensuring sustainable and productive use of natural resources.
  1. One-stop shop for environmental approvals.
  2. Identify new water infrastructure projects.
  3. Reviewing the Water Act 2007.
  1. Providing a 50% p.a. deduction over three years for on-farm water reticulation infrastructure investment.
  2. Improve functioning and flexibility of water trading markets.
I. Research, development and extension
Improve productivity by increasing strategic and co-ordinated research and development.
  1. Investment in various Research Development Corporations (RDCs) (eg Australian Grape and Wine Authority and Meat & Livestock Australia).
  2. Providing R&D Tax Incentives.
  1. Decentralising Government agricultural research functions to regional areas.
  2. Increase transparency and reduction in costs of RDCs.
J. Biosecurity
Protecting current animal and plant health status to maintain productivity and access to export markets.
  1. Updating the Quarantine Act 1908 with a new Biosecurity Act.
  2. Pressing for transparent and science-based approaches to biosecurity in all countries to facilitate market access.
  1. Expand legislative improvements to Export Control Act 1982 and the Australian Meat & Livestock Industry Act 1997.
  2. Enhance onshore monitoring including by developing reporting tools and establishing a public Biosecurity Information System to share information.
K. Accessing international markets
Assist exporters to capture high-value markets by addressing technical barriers and ensuring trade negotiations deliver real commercial benefits for the sector.
  1. Concluded Free Trade Agreements with Korea and Japan and Declaration of Intent with China.
  2. Re-opened markets for live exports in the Middle East and Asia.
  1. Improving overseas marketing efforts by, for example:
    • providing more exporter readiness training
    • increasing engagement in bilateral and multilateral forums to promote use of international standards in food regulation.

Submissions on this Green Paper are due by 12 December 2014.

A more deliberative White Paper on Agricultural Competitiveness in 2015 will build on past and current policies and the proposals generated by this Green Paper. It will set out the Government's long-term strategic direction to maintain and increase agricultural production while securing farm-gate profitability and ongoing investment and jobs in the agricultural sector.

We encourage all participants likely to be impacted by some or all of the proposed policy developments, or indeed who have any interest in Australia's agriculture future, to make submissions or otherwise engage with the process. If you have any questions, or would like assistance with any submissions, please contact us. We will update you once the White Paper is released.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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