This chapter considers the key issues discussed during the hearings for the Agriculture, Water and the Environment portfolio on 23 March 2021.
The committee heard from divisions of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (the department) and portfolio agencies in the following order:
Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment Corporate Matters (Corporate and Business Services; Finance; Information Services; People; and Legal Divisions);
Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment Outcome Three (AGVET Chemicals, Fisheries, Forestry and Engagement; Agricultural Policy; Climate Adaption and Resilience; Drought and Bushfire Response; Portfolio Strategy; Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences; and Trade, Market Access and International Divisions);
Department of Agriculture and Water Resources Outcome Four (Biosecurity Animal; Biosecurity Operations; Biosecurity Strategy and Reform; Biosecurity Plant; Compliance; Exports and Veterinary Services; Plant and Live Animal Exports; and Trade Reform Division /Digital Trade Initiatives Divisions);
Inspector-General for Biosecurity;
Australian Wool Innovation Limited;
Australian Livestock Export Corporation (LiveCorp);
Regional Investment Corporation.
Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (Agrifutures Australia), Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Horticulture Innovation Australian Limited, and Animal Health Australia were released during the hearing without providing evidence.
Mr Andrew Metcalfe AO, Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, read a short statement detailing some highlights and challenges facing the department including:
Severe weather events occurring across eastern Australia;
One year since the department formed under machinery of government changes;
The role of frontline staff in supporting the response to the COVID pandemic; and
The work of the department's remote staff on Macquarie Island and the three Antarctic bases.
The committee also heard evidence from the department detailing total funding arrangements across the agriculture portfolio.
Topics discussed under Outcome Three include:
Ongoing mouse plague plans and measures;
Challenges due to international trade tariffs;
Arrangements to bring Pacific labour workers into the agriculture industry;
The national horse traceability register;
National agricultural workforce shortage;
The Samuel forestry review;
Australia Post's transport of perishable goods service;
Climate change research and adaption measures; and
Funding arrangements and planned projects under the Future Drought Fund.
Topics discussed under Outcome Four include:
Fruit fly prevention measures;
Implementation of the new Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock;
Biosecurity resourcing; and
The implementation of the Craik review recommendations.
Inspector-General for Biosecurity
Questioning from the committee centred on the February 2021 review into the operational model of the department's biosecurity areas. Mr Rob Delane, Inspector-General of Biosecurity, spoke about potential risks and weaknesses in the biosecurity system, particularly at the border. Mr Delane also spoke about his recommendation that the department take action on co-regulation and cooperation with industry, an area that he acknowledges the department is working on.
Australian Wool Innovation Limited
The committee heard evidence from Australian Wool Innovation on a range of topics including:
Processes for board elections;
Implementation of recommendations made by the Ernst & Young review into corporate governance;
Emerging market strategy, particularly in North Korea; and
The agency's sponsorship of the Prada racing yacht.
Australian Livestock Export Corporation (LiveCorp)
Mr Troy Setter, Chairman, read a short statement detailing the challenges faced by the live export industry. Mr Setter reported that sale prices have risen to record highs due to the shortage of cattle and sheep. Due to this, there is reduced demand from price sensitive markets and the agency has revised down its forecasted volumes for the 2020-21 financial year. The agency expects demand to rebound in 2021-22.
Further questioning from the committee centred on exports to Indonesia and challenges to live trade more broadly.
Questioning from the committee centred on the impacts of Chinese tariffs on the Australian wine industry. The committee received details including:
The introduction of 200 per cent tariffs on approximately 1.8 billion litres of red wine;
A 98 percent year-on-year reduction in exports to China due to the tariffs;
Growth in other markets including the USA, UK, and Canada; and
The impending launch of the Australian Wine Connect virtual platform to enable exporters to connect with buyers internationally.
Regional Investment Corporation
The committee briefly heard evidence on the eligibility of breeders in the thoroughbred industry for primary producer loans. Additionally, evidence was also heard on changes to loan application, approval, and review processes. The agency gave evidence that loan approval rates had increased as a result of the changes to processing.