The 98-page document is finally out. The committee recommends:
1) that an audit to establish the extent of foreign ownership of commercial agricultural and pastoral land, and ownership of water, in Australia, is undertaken, with emphasis on ownership by sovereign and part-sovereign-owned companies.
(SEF: I think this is definitely necessary)
2) that the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation report to the Senate on the current level of agricultural research in OECD countries as a percentage of GDP and the trend for investment over the last ten years.
(SEF: I think this should be done as a routine task by RIRDC/DAFF . I find it extraordinary that it takes a Committee lasting over 2 years to request something that should be routine).
3) that IP Australia advise the Senate what patents, if any, have been granted over biological discoveries as opposed to inventions, with reasons for them being granted.
(SEF: This is about concerns on the potential for plant gene and related biotechnology patents to be misused. But it really goes beyond, to investigate the nature of the patenting system in Australia and how it works in emerging technology areas).
4) that the Senate re-establish the Select Committee on Agriculture and Related Industries in the new parliament to further examine issues relating to food production, including the implications of any proposed emissions trading scheme for affordable, sustainable food production and viable farmers.
(SEF: This is the Committee asking that other Committee is formed to investigate what they were supposed to investigate in the first case. Lovely…)
OK, to the contents:
Chapter 1 presents the case to maintain food security in a backdrop of water scarcity, declining arable land, declining nutrient inputs, declining agricultural R&D and deteriorating climatic conditions in key food growing regions of the world.
Chapter 2 discusses land use, including competition between land for urban development, biofuels production and mining.
Chapter 3 investigates managed investment schemes and their effect on traditional agricultural enterprises. This discussion includes the collapse of Great Southern and Timbercorp.
In Chapter 4, the document presents evidence of the need to focus and increase R&D expenditure in food and agriculture.
Chapter 5 is dedicated to supply chain issues such as input costs, water availability, transport infrastructure, food waste and, to a minimum extent, retail concentration.
There is a final section that is entitled “Labor Senators’ dissenting comments”. In this section, the aforementioned Senators express their disappointment in the outcomes of the inquiry. The Committee was not able to make findings or recommendations on issues such as:
• The value of rural land and the ability of farmers to make a reasonable return on their investment
• The impact of the supply chain, transport costs and market opportunities on the farmers on the one hand and the consumers on the other
• The impact of trade practices law on the farming community and the issue of the dominance of the retail food sector by two companies, including the likely impact of the marketing of the home brand products on the Australian food manufacturing sector
• The viability of current farming practices and the long term sustainability of farming in some regions given the challenges of climate change
The Labor Senators further suggest that parts of this inquiry should be further pursued by the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Reference Committee. They further indicate that they do not support the recommendations in the majority report.
So, to the 162 organisations and individuals that submitted a paper, that attended the public hearings and that went through the entire interrogation process: how do you feel about the fact that your time was pretty much wasted in this inquiry? Are you as disappointed as I am? Or is it that we simply expect too much from the political machinery making decisions on behalf of farmers, manufacturers and food innovators/entrepreneurs ?